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IRVING JOHN GILL
 
 
 
 
  Name   Irving John Gill 
       
  Born   April 26, 1870
       
  Died   October 7, 1936
       
  Nationality   USA
     
  School    
       
  Official website    
       
     
 
BIOGRAPHY        
   

Shortly after the turn of the 20th century in southern California, Irving Gill emerged from under the influence of various historical revivals and began to create a simple, straightforward architecture that looked to the future and not the past. Instead of highlighting traditional building methods (i.e., heavy frame construction) and materials (i.e, wood or stone) as most of his Californian Arts and Crafts contemporaries, such as the Greene Brothers, Ernest Coxhead, and Bernard Maybeck, were doing, Gill began to experiment with modern structural methods and materials as well as undecorated surfaces. The result was an architecture of aesthetic severity, technological breakthrough, and social inventiveness. As exemplified by his most famous building, the Walter Dodge House (1916), Gill created a sprawling reinforced-concrete frame of irregularly massed cubes organized around a raised patio and clad in nothing other than white stucco.

For the first 15 years of his career, which included a stint working in Louis Sullivan’s Chicago office, Gill’s buildings
ranged over the terrain of 19th-century historicism. After 1906, however, most of Gill’s buildings began to be orchestrated by his own design method of straight lines and smooth plaster walls. Aside from arches, placed at entrance vestibules or covered passageways, or rustic columns, used around courtyards, Gill’s buildings are soliloquies of the unornamented, crisp right angle. In the Russell Allen House (1907), Gill worked from a central box modulated by selected projections and perforations and relentless in its use of lean moldings around windows and the flat roof, The only ornament was a pair of columns at the entrance.In 1908, the rectangular Wilson Acton Hotel and Scripps Build- ing, both in La Jolla, eschewed ornament altogether, relying only on a regular pattern of fenestration within quadratic white
surfaces for their compositional effect.

Gill was among the first American architects to design principally from the fundamentals of geometry and modern construction. He envisioned a new aesthetic based on the visual revelation of structure and the banishment of cluttering ornament. As he wrote in his essay, “The Home of the Future” (1916), “There is something very restful and satisfying to my mind in the simple cube house with creamy walls, sheer and plain, rising boldly into the sky, unrelieved by cornices or overhang of roof, unornamented save for the vines that soften a line.”

This stance on ornament is often compared to that of Adolf Loos. Yet, although the two architects shared an interest in blank surfaces as well as the savings of labor and materials brought about by eliminating ornament, Gill went further than Loos in his conception of inexpensive houses mass-produced for a democratic society of workers. The recently discovered technology of reinforced-concrete construction was the basis for Gill’s new aesthetic of line and plane. Using either a concrete frame with, hollow terra-cotta tile in-fill or poured-in-place concrete walls, Gill began to experiment with very thin walls, bringing down a building’s mass to its utilitarian essentials and bringing down its cost to middle-class affordability. For the La Jolla Woman’s Club (1913), Gill was one of the first architects to experiment with the new idea of tilt-up construction, which combines the permanence of concrete with the low costs of shortened construction schedules that come with the elimination mitre.

Concrete appealed to Gill because of its strength, long-term cost savings, and permanence. He was opposed to the cheap, temporary wood-frame construction common to California home design, a method that encouraged ‘senseless ornamental buildup. A concrete house expressed its interior arrangement on the exterior and derived its expressive power from concrete in both realms. It also provided the possibility for energy-efficient insulation and easy maintenance. In 1915, Gill published an article, “New Ideas about Concrete Floors,” that promoted the idea of mixing color with the cement to produce polychrome tones in a floor, what he described as “an effect of old Spanish leather.”

Given his interest in designing for the California landscape, Gill created a number of site plans that maximized the connectiyity of indoor and outdoor spaces. The Bishop's School (1908) in La Jolla featured long arcades (influenced by California’s Mission architecture) that created an expansive intermediate space between interiors and the central lawn as gathering space. At the Henry Timken House (1911), three loggias open onto a screened court that in turn faces onto a large garden and pool. The Paul Miltimore House (1911) is tied to its landscape by great projecting pergolas supported by rustic columns. However, perhaps Gill's most innovative planning took place in larger apartment
complexes for workers, such as the Bella Vista Terrace (1910), a set of 12 cottages grouped around a central pergola. In contrast to typical workers’ apartments, each cottage had a great deal of light and possessed private as well as shared community garden spaces. In 1912 Gill took these ideas further and designed several commercial and residential structures for the model city of Torrance, a Y-shaped plan oriented to give a view of Mount San Antonio in the San Gabriel Mountains.

In all, over the course of the first decades of the 20th century, Gill’s architecture was one of the rare cases in which American scientific and practical approaches were embedded not only in building systems analysis or program efficiency but also in a forward-looking art of architectural composition and massing. By marrying aims of structural expression and geometric elementalism, Gill let architecture speak from the cubes and lines that emerge from the complexities of constructional actions and those that lead back to the most basic simplicities.


Mitchell SCHWARZER


 
 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE        
   

26 April 1870 Born in Tully, New York (near Syracuse), son of a farmer, carpenter, and building contractor;

1889 No academic architectural training. Employed in architectural office of Ellis G, Hall, Syracuse;

1890 employed in architectural office of Joseph Silsbee, Chicago, who helped introduce the Shingle style into the Midwest;

1891-93 worked in architectural office of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, Chicago , where Frank Loyd Wright war chief draftaman;

1893 Arrived in San Diego;

1894-95 Went into partnership with Joseph Falkenham, designer of Queen Anne homes;

1896-1907 went inco partnership with William Sterling Hebbard, former draftsman for firm of Burnham and Root;

1907 established new partnership with Frank Mead;

from 1907 independent architectural practice;

1910 Elected secretary of San Diego Architectural Association ;

1914 took on Louis Gill, his nephew, as partner;

1928 Married Marion Waugh Brashears;

7 October 1936 Died in Carlsbad, California.

 
 
 
 
 
 
FURTHER READING        
   

Gebhard, David, “Irving Gill,” in California Design, 1970, edited by Timothy Anderen, Fudorsh M. Moore, and Robert Winter, Pasadena, California: Design Publications, 1974

Gebhard, David, “Irving Gill,” in Toward 4 Simpler Way of Life: The Arts and Grafts Architects of California, edited by Robes Winter, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997

Hines, Thomas S,. Irving Gill and the Architecture of Reform A Study in Modernist Architectural Culeure, New York: Monacelli Press. 1999

Jordy, Wiliam H., "Crafismanship at Reductive Simplification: Irving Gill's Dodge House,” in Progressive and Academic Ideals at the Torn of the Twentieth Century, by Jordy, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1972

Kamerling, Bruce, Irving j. Gilt: Architect, San Diego, California: San Diego Historical Society, 1993

McCoy, Esther, Fine California Architects, New York: Reinhold, 1960

Schaffer, Sarah, “A Significant Sentence upon the Earth: Irving J. SGI, Progressive Architects," parts 1 and 2, Journal of Son Diego History, 43 and 44 (Fall 1997 and Wincer 1998)

Selected Publications

“Now Ideas shout Concrete Floors," Sunier Magazine (December 1915)

“The Home of the Future: The New Architecture of the West, Small Homes for a Great Country,” The Craftsman (May 1916)


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