Innovative 1931 Long Island ‘Skyscraper House’ Was Built by the Father of Palm Springs Modern

Posted On Mon, April 25, 2016 By

Posted On Mon, April 25, 2016 By In Architecture, Features, Historic Homes

In a 1932 article in Modern Mechanix magazine, the design of this three-story Long Island “skyscraper house” was touted as the “latest in homes,” with an all-metal frame and glass walls. What the story doesn’t mention is that this little house in the ‘burbs was designed as a case study home by noted architects Albert Frey (who spent his early years in Le Corbusier‘s studio) and A. Lawrence Kocher. Known as the Aluminaire House, this diminutive dwelling is among the earliest examples of European-inspired modern architecture in the eastern U.S.. It was included by Philip Johnson in a MoMA exhibit in 1931 that later became the manifesto for the International Style of architecture–one of only six American buildings in the show to exemplify the style.

With the Coachella music festival in the recent spotlight, visions of Palm Springs-style desert homes have been popping up at every turn, and though this little skyscraper house couldn’t be further away geographically, its co-creator Albert Frey is known for establishing the “desert modernism” style exemplified in those iconic Palm Springs homes. And as with many ideas in the ultra-creative 1930s, the construction of this Modernist gem in 1931 was well ahead of its time.

Aluminaire BW collage

Designed for the Architectural and Allied Arts Exhibition held in New York City in 1931, the home’s cubic shape was unfamiliar to most Americans at the time, though the Modernist schools of architecture–like the Bauhaus in Europe–were gaining exposure in the ’20s and ’30s. With its pared-down form, “with no fancy and expensive curlicues” the home was suggested as a prototype for, among other things, affordable housing for families with an annual income of $1,800 or less. Its innovative steel framework gave the 1,200-square-foot home “the durability of a skyscraper skeleton.” Glass was used to bring in maximum light.

Skyscraper House MM
Image: Modern Mechanix.

Test

Aluminaire House Kitchen

Resting on six columns, the home’s exterior walls were made of corrugated metal sheathing backed by waterproof paper, over a structure of two-inch steel angles. Interiors were innovative as well: Details and finishes included Fabrikoid-covered walls in the living spaces, neon tubes running above the windows to light the interiors with dial controls that could adjust the level and color of illumination, and built-in metal, glass, and rubber fixtures designed to minimize maintenance. Beds were suspended from metal cables. A combination china cupboard and retractable dining table had legs on wheels to allow easy extension.

Aluminare House plans

Inside the home were three bedrooms, a garage, a laundry room, kitchen, dining room, a large terrace in the back, a roof garden, “and practically all the usual home conveniences…provided at a minimum of expense and slight costs of repair and upkeep.” As a prototype for prefabricated, modular housing design, it would enable construction costs to be kept low at $2,500 or less. Billed as a “House for Contemporary Life,” the Aluminaire House was made entirely of donated materials and constructed in ten days; it was the first all-metal house in the United States.

Aluminaire House Model Cross Section

Frey’s partner was a Beaux-Arts-trained California architect and managing editor of the Architectural Record; it was partly through his connections that, in 1932, the Aluminaire House was chosen for the MoMA-sponsored Architectural League of New York exhibition titled “The International Style-Architecture Since 1922.”  The exhibition became the book, “The International Style,” by the show’s curators, architect Philip Johnson and architectural historian Henry Russell Hitchcock Johnson, which then became a manifesto for the International Style of architecture.

The home was one of only six American buildings chosen for the exhibition. Similar to Richard Neutra’s Lovell House (1927–29), the Aluminaire represented the meeting of innovative building technology and advanced architectural expression often seen in Le Corbusier’s five points of architecture. This wasn’t accidental: Frey had worked in Le Corbusier’s studio early in his career.

The Palm Springs modernist style pioneered by the Swiss-born Frey expressed both the exuberant American idiom and the academic modernist influence of Le Corbusier, resulting in a new regional architectural subgenre. Frey was awarded the Neutra Award for Professional Excellence in 1996. In 2015, ten Frey-designed buildings in Palm Springs were added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Albert Frey Luminaire House

Aluminaire House was, in several ways, also similar to Le Corbusier’s design of a detached single-family house, with an open living and dining area that stretched the full width of the house and a double-height ceiling above the living space; folding screens and translucent partitions gave the house a feeling of openness despite its small size.

After the MoMA show, the little “skyscraper house” was reassembled for $1,000 by prominent New York City architect Wallace K. Harrison–designer of the original Rainbow Room–on his Syosset, Long Island estate and became part of an extensive complex, and later a guest house. However, as with most things American and suburban, the property was subdivided in the 1980s, and new owners planned to demolish the home.

After a failed effort to designate it as a landmark, the house was donated to the New York Institute of Technology and reassembled on the school’s Central Islip campus. When the campus closed, it was transferred to the Aluminaire House Foundation, disassembled and put into storage.

Raymond Loewy House Palm Springs
Raymond Loewy house. This iconic Palm Springs home was built in 1946-47 by Albert Frey for the noted industrial designer as a bachelor retreat. Photo: Moderndesign.org

Frey Gas Station
Tramway Gas Station (1955), Palm Springs, designed by Albert Frey and Robson C. Chambers. Image: The Palm Springs Modern Committee.

Academics and modern architecture buffs have since championed the restoration of the home, and in early 2015 it was announced that the Aluminaire House would be moved to Palm Springs to join other works by Frey. The project is currently seeking funding; Dwell magazine covered the home in 2015 for its celebration of Palm Springs Modernism Week. If all goes according to plan, the Aluminaire House will be rebuilt for display on a site opposite the Palm Springs Art Museum in 2017 at a cost of about $600,000.

You can find out more about–and help fund the next chapter for–this innovative Modernist design here.

RELATED:

Images courtesy of Aluminaire.org except where noted.

Tags : , , , , , , , ,

MOST RECENT ARTICLES

  • Distinctive 1969 modern Westchester County home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright acolyte asks $1.1M

    Distinctive 1969 modern Westchester County home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright acolyte asks $1.1M

    Nestled in a wooded enclave in the tranquil town of Briarcliff Manor in Westchester County, NY, this striking midcentury modern house was built ...
  • Park Slope co-op with custom bookshelves reaching 18 feet asks $1.65M

    Park Slope co-op with custom bookshelves reaching 18 feet asks $1.65M

    A renovation for this Park Slope co-op left it in lovely condition. The lofty floorplan–which boasts 18-foot ceilings–was taken full ...
  • Weekly highlights: Top picks from the 6sqft staff

    Weekly highlights: Top picks from the 6sqft staff

    Swale floating park returns this spring with a new look Kushner Cos. vision for 666 Fifth Avenue has Zaha Hadid ...
  • Stackable furniture line from Debra Folz Design makes storage stylish

    Stackable furniture line from Debra Folz Design makes storage stylish

    There are all types of stackable furniture out there, and while many of them function perfectly well, they’re not always ...
  • This $4M Riverdale mansion, known as the Esmeralda, was built in 1899 and still impresses today

    This $4M Riverdale mansion, known as the Esmeralda, was built in 1899 and still impresses today

    The historic mansions of Riverdale never fail to impress, and this gem is no exception. Built in 1899 and known ...
  • Renzo Piano’s 565 Broome Street on the rise; the world of Hamilton at Green-Wood Cemetery

    Renzo Piano’s 565 Broome Street on the rise; the world of Hamilton at Green-Wood Cemetery

    After launching sales in September, Renzo Piano’s two-towered 565 Broome Street is finally on the rise. [CityRealty] The quest to ...
  • FREE RENT: This week’s roundup of NYC’s rental concessions

    FREE RENT: This week’s roundup of NYC’s rental concessions

    Upper West Side Beaux Arts Beauty ‘The Willard’ Offering Two Months Free, 1-Bedrooms From $2,996/Month [link] Live at LIC’s Hayden: ...
  • 432 Park would have generated $30M for affordable housing with de Blasio’s mansion tax

    432 Park would have generated $30M for affordable housing with de Blasio’s mansion tax

    Outside of 432 Park Avenue, Mayor de Blasio held a press conference on Thursday to discuss his mansion tax. The ...
  • City reveals garment district rezoning plans, citing incentives to move makers to Sunset Park

    City reveals garment district rezoning plans, citing incentives to move makers to Sunset Park

    At a Manhattan community board meeting Wednesday evening, city officials told garment industry representatives of plans to remove Midtown‘s manufacturing ...
  • The Urban Lens: Behind the counter and into the caves at Murray’s Cheese

    The Urban Lens: Behind the counter and into the caves at Murray’s Cheese

    6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. ...
  • New renderings revealed for NYCHA’s raised earth Red Hook Houses by KPF

    New renderings revealed for NYCHA’s raised earth Red Hook Houses by KPF

    When Superstorm Sandy hit the community of Red Hook, thousands of residents were left without power and basic necessities for ...
  • Judge once again stops work at Pier 55 over environmental concerns

    Judge once again stops work at Pier 55 over environmental concerns

    If you thought the roller coaster that is Pier 55 was over since construction began in November, you may not want ...

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTERS

Thank you, your sign-up request was successful!
This email address is already subscribed, thank you!
Please provide a valid email address.
Please complete the CAPTCHA.
Oops. Something went wrong. Please try again later.