by Frank Lloyd Wright, Ladies Home Journal, April 1907
The cost of building has increased nearly forty per cent in the past six years. The thirty-five-hundred-dollar wooden house of six years ago would cost nearly five thousand dollars now; so at the present time it would seem that five thousand dollars ought to represent a low enough cost standard, if the result be permanent and the cost of maintenance lessened.
Changing industrial conditions have brought reenforced concrete construction within the reach of the average home-maker. The maximum strength peculiar to the nature of both concrete and steel is in this system utilized with great economy. A structure of this type is more enduring than if carved intact from solid stone, for it is not only a masonry monolith but interlaced with steel fibres as well. Insulated with an impervious non-conducting inner coating it is damp-proof; it is, too, warmer than a wooded house in winter and cooler in summer.
The plan for a small house of this type, submitted here, is the result of a process of elimination due to much experience in planning the inexpensive house. What remains seems sufficiently complete and the ensemble an improvement over the usual cut-up, overtrimmed boxes doing duty in this class, wherein architecture is matter of "millwork" and the "features" are apt to peel.
As an added grace in summer foliage and flowers are arranged for as a decorative feature of the design, the only ornamentation. In winter the building is well proportioned and complete without them.
No attic, no "butler's pantry," no back stairway have bneen planned; they would be unnecessarily cumbersome in this scheme, which is trimmed to the last ounce of the superfluous. A closet on the level of the stair landing takes care of trunks and suit-cases, and a dry, well-lighted basement storeroom cares for whatever doesn't classify in the various closets. The open kitchen, with pantry conveniences built into it, is more pleasant and as useful as the complement of kitchen, kitchen pantry and "butler's pantry." Access to the stairs from the kitchen is sufficiently private at all times, and the front door may easily reached from the kitchen without passing through the living-room.
The walls, floors and roof of this house are a monolithic casting, formed in the usual manner by means of wooden falsework, the chimney at the centre carrying, like a huge post the central load of floor and roof construction. Floors and roof are reenforced concrete slabs approximately five inches thick if gravel concrete is used. The roof slab overhangs to protect the walls from sun and the top is waterproofed with a tar and gravel roofing pitched to drain to a downspout located in the chimney flue, where it is not likely to freeze. To afford further protection to the second story rooms from the heat of the sun a false ceiling is provided of plastered metal lath hanging eight inches below the bottom of the roof slab, leaving a circulating air space above, exhausted to the large open space in the centre of the chimney. In summer this air space is fed by the openings noted beneath the eaves outside. These openings may be closed in winter by a simple device reached from the second-story windows.
All the interior partitiions are of metal lath plastered both sides, or of three-inch tile set upon the floor slabs after the reenforced concrete construction is complete. After coating the inside surfaces of the outside concrete walls with a non-conducting paint, or lining them with a plaster-board, the whole is plastered two coats with a rough sand finish.
The floor surfaces are finished smooth with wooden strip inlaid for fastening floor coverings, or at additional cost noted they may be finished over a rough structural concrete with a half-inch thick dressing of magnesite mixed with sawdust, which renders them less hard and cold to the touch, and when waxed presents a very agreeable surface in any color.
The interior is trimmed with light wood strips nailed to small, porous terra-cotta blocks, which are set into the forms at the proper points before the forms are filled with concrete.
In the composition of the concrete for the outside walls only finely-screened birds's-eye gravel is used with cement enough added to fill the voids. This mixture is put into the boxes quite dry and tamped. When the forms are removed the outside is washed with a solution of hydrochloric acid, which cuts the cement from the outer face of the pebbles, and the whole surface glistens like a piece of gray granite. This treatment insures uniformity of color, and if the wooden forms have been properly made of narrow flooring smoothed on the side toward the concrete and oiled, the surface throughout should be smooth and even without unsightly seams.
The house has been designed four sides alike in order to simplify the making of these forms, and so that, if necessary, forms made for one side may serve for all four.
The windows are casement type, swinging outward. The screens or storm sash are fitted within as a part of the window trim, swinging in when the windows need cleaning. All windows may be operated independently of screens by a mechanical device accessible from within at all times and closing beneath the window-sills. The outer sash might at no very great additional expense be made of metal.
The trellis over the entrance might give place to a concrete roof slab similar to the roof of the house should a covered porch be a necessity.
The house may be placed with either the living-room front or the terrace front to the street, as indicated in the exterior perspectives.
Concrete construction, masonry and plastering ... $3100
Carpentry, millwork, sash-door and screen, labor and trimming ... $1100
Plumbing and furnace ... $460
Wiring ... $70
Painting and glazing ... $160
Hardware ... $90
(Subtotal = $4980)
If magnesite floors are used add $320
TOTAL ... $5300
NOTE — The architect, Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright, Forest and Chicago Avenues, Oak Park, Illinois, has agreed to furnish plans, specifications, details and complete service for ten percent of the cost of the house. Where plans, specifications and details only are wanted his charge will be seven and a half percent of the cost, provided the purchaser agrees to employ a competent superintendent and to execute the drawings without changes, unless agreed upon in advance with the architect. As the estimate is based on Chicago prices it is well to remember that in different parts of the country the figures will vary, according to local conditions.
SOURCE: Wright, Frank Lloyd. "A Fireproof House for $5000." Ladies Home Journal, April 1907, 24.
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