An increasingly popular model of subdivision planning for affluent Americans is the grouping of houses to overlook the greens of a golf course. A golf course provides a permanent green space and a recreational and social facility enjoyed by many Americans. The houses surrounding a private course and clubhouse are usually expensive. Typically they exemplify ranch, Tudor, colonial, and other assorted styles affirming the taste of the user, each one unrelated in design to the next. The Cunningham Residence is located in this kind of setting.
The owners are Dr. Cunningham, as orthodontist, and his wife, the owner and operator of a bookstore. They had become avid golfers and were active members of the country club. Both owners requested a fine house, one that would be comfortable but not cozy. Neither Mrs. Cunningham nor her husband was interested in kitchen or hobby shop domesticity. Mrs. Cunningham had become aware of architectural philosophy through her reading; she was interested in a house that could make an important philosophic statement but did not want a traffic-stopping curiosity. Both owners wanted to avoid upsetting the neighbors.
The Cunningham’s furnishings included bent plywood and Danish blonde wood furniture. Scandanavian glassware and Riija rugs from Finland were favorite possessions. Mrs. Cunningham preferred fabrics with natural colors and textures-for her clothes as well as for her furniture. Both her conversation and the objects she chose to have about her disclosed an interest in quality gained by form a proportion, with execution in homely fabrics such as denim before it became fashionable. She liked the Oklahoma common red brick of the house in which she then lived. The brick was flash-marked with cream colored irregularities, providing a feminine quality to what is usually a masculine material. We used the same type of brick in the new house but included vertical rows of dark umber headers to harmonize with the umber wood soffits. Lighting was important. Mrs. Cunnignham wanted direct rays of sunlight to penetrate to the heart of the interiors. At night indirect lighting was to soften glare and shadow.
The house was designed for a lot with a fifteen-foot embankment sloping down to the golf course. Viewed from the street side the house presents a visually restrained, low, one-story façade formed by brick walls with few openings. The severe effect is partly a withdrawal from the surrounding colonnades and other examples of architectural heraldry. The visual interest is primarily on the interior where users can enjoy it.
The roof is a tilted plane. At the street entrance a continuation of the roof descends to confirm human scale and to protect and welcome the users. This roof projection drains the entire roof into a reflecting pool, with a waterfall effect. The top surface o f the roof, covered in brick chips to match the brick walls, is designed for effective waterproofing and for minimal visual interest when viewed from the street. The under surface hovers and soars, differentiating the interior spaces and responding to the rolling greens and prairie horizons. The roof is tilted with an up-and- away gesture that this architect has sometimes found valuable in expressing a sense of human longing and aspiration. The under surface of the roof is made of rough- sawn cedar boards. The deep umber stain grows gradually lighter until it merges with the golden red color of the unfinished cedar boards that are farthest from the source of natural light. This gradation of color acts to lighten the interiors. It also harmonizes with the variety of wood furniture and is in counterpart with the undulating rhythms of the ceiling forms. The underside of the roof was conceived as the most expressive feature of the house in order that the walls and structural roof might remain of simple construction. It was hoped that the plans would attract local contractors and increase their confidence that they could handle this kind of job. Nonetheless, much of the building is like handcrafted sculpture, requiring a degree of craftsmanship, attention to detail, and careful supervision that under present market condition is being priced out of the reach of all but the wealthy. Strategies to cope with this situation are developed in the Courtyard City project.
The front entry of the Cunningham house in eight- foot width glass, a gesture of openness and welcome in contrast to the privacy of the high brick walls. A soon as one enters, the greens of the golf course are visible beyond the living spaces. These spaces, including dining, living, and kitchen areas, are recessed into the hill. One descends into protected, enveloping space, and at the same time the roof is seen to lift toward the horizon. The free-standing brick piers and trellises beyond the glass offer a sense of privacy and help to mark off a defined place for habitation. Brick paving starts at the street and flows essentially uninterrupted down the steps, through the living space, past the piers, and down the escarpment to the green. The paving loses its identity as a sidewalk or as a floor confined to a room. It is dramatized as a continuous field upon which occurs a grouping of sculptural events. The piers and the trellises, for instance, happen on this field. The drama between the user and objects in the field is heightened if the field has the characteristics of a stage, or as here, is a discernibly unifying layout with appropriate qualifications of texture, placement, and form. The piers and trellises were devised to filter the summer sun through the vines. Since this exposure was to the southwest, redwood slat blinds had to be provided as a second line of defense where pictures hung in places exposed to the sun. The functional deficiencies of the trellis are compensated for by the delicacies of shadow that result. The trellises, thought of as sculptures in their own right, suggest an image of sending or receiving information. The suggestion is reinforced by the animate, lifelike aspects of the roof and is probably related to the “looking out at the world."
It was Dr. Cunningham’s idea to face the escarpment with brick and thus avoid maintenance of a steeply sloping lawn. The resulting brick base or pedestal for the house with its narrow stair adds formality and lessens the sense of approachability from this side. Given the somewhat public location on the golf course, we consider this characteristic to be an asset. The house as viewed for the golf course is meant to be impressive, but it is made so by forms that act together as a harmonious combination of experiential references: a recessed space sheltered by a massive roof, a habitation that fits the land, a responsiveness associated with animate life, and a lifting off that suggests freedom from being bound to earth.