Greene & Greene: Creating A Style
by Randell L. Makinson and Thomas A. Heinz
Published by Gibbs Smith
96 pages, 2004
Reviewed by Adrian Marks
If one weren't careful, it would be possible to think that Frank Lloyd Wright was the only architect to truly add to the vernacular of American architectural design. Of course this is not true. While Wright had the temperament and legendary appetite for bad deeds done well that put him on a par with so many American celebrities of both then and now, international architecture has been added to by many designers born and raised in the United States both before and since Wright stormed the scene.
Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844) was responsible for much of the look that we associate with the height of Americana, including the U.S. capitol building. Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) brought a stark Euro influence to his work and is best known today for the TWA Terminal at Kennedy Airport and those wonderful chairs. Wright's mentor and former teacher, Louis Sullivan (1856-1924), had an incredible body of work of his own that included many of the buildings that continue to make fans of authentic Chicago architecture swoon. I.M. Pei, Alvar Aalto, Louis Kahn and, indeed, former president Thomas Jefferson all made significant contributions to a design sensibility that is uniquely American.
However, few American architects have been as widely influential and as spectacularly overlooked as Ohio-born brothers Charles and Henry Greene.
To my mind, what makes these two stand so far out is that fact that, though their work would be visually recognizable to many North Americans, very few know their names or very much about them. This is probably due to the fact that the two didn't find their hearts moved by the huge cathedrals of commerce and politics that shot other architects of their era to fame. Rather, they focused their careers on creating sublimely perfect dwellings quite unlike any that had gone before. In Greene & Greene: Creating A Style author/photographers Randell L. Makinson and Thomas A. Heinz describe what makes a Greene & Greene house unique:
While it is clearly a part of the Arts and Crafts movement, their imagery set it apart from the general movement and from the so-called "bungalow style." Their designs transcended the eclecticism of the past and emphasized the appropriateness of designs evolving directly from the site, rendered by a highly refined set of proportional relationships and a level of detail and craftsmanship that remains unsurpassed.
What that means in the real world is that, one way or another, Charles and Henry Greene managed to design a whole lot of houses around the beginning of the 20th century that not only still stand today, they continue to have relevance and resonance into the 21st century and -- I doubt not at all -- quite beyond.
One of the nicest things about Greene & Greene: Creating A Style is that this is a book that's meant to be read and enjoyed as much by neophytes as by architecture buffs and experts. In part one, the authors look at the various plan types the Greenes favored. Part two discusses their preferred materials. Part three the interiors of the homes they designed, including architectural details, decorative arts and furniture because, like Wright, the brothers liked to have a hand in all aspects of the homes they created from the masonry, stained-glass windows, the lighting, carved wood panels: all the details, large and small.
The decorative arts were a joy to the Greenes and an important part of their architectural palette. They relished the opportunities to explore and invent with new mediums integral to parts of their artistic vision, incorporating a broader range of materials than most architects of their time.
Whether you're a student of architecture, a design enthusiast or an armchair decorator, Greene & Greene: Creating A Style will make a valuable addition to your bookshelf or, indeed, your coffee table. | January 2005
Adrian Marks is an author and journalist.