AARON G. GREEN AND CALIFORNIA ORGANIC ARCHITECTURE


Maynard L. Parker, photgrapher. Courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

As Modern architecture evolved through the mid-twentieth century, architects practicing Organic Modernism as pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright offered a vibrant alternative to the pared-down “glass box” architecture favored by International Style Modernism. Among the many devotees of Organic design, Aaron G. Green stands out both for his own work and his close association with Frank Lloyd Wright during that master’s last fruitful decade.

All Modern design sought fresh responses to the new conditions of life, technology, and materials introduced during the twentieth century. Organic Modernism is distinguished by its conscious integration of Nature with architecture. Following Wright’s Organic precepts, Aaron G. Green conceived his buildings as unified designs made up of articulated parts, just as a tree is a unified whole even though its trunk, branches, and leaves taking different forms to serve their specific purposes.

Green expressed these natural principles in several ways:

Using richly textured natural materials, such as redwood, brick, and stone. Green uses the mix of colors and surface textures in natural stone to bring visual variety to his buildings, where traditional architecture relied on applied historical ornament. By using uninterrupted expanses of brick, Green creates a strong rhythmic pattern to complement other natural materials. Redwood panels, intentionally left unpainted, contribute their color and grain patterns to the spaces. These varied colors and textures are carefully combined to create a rich yet balanced character to the overall space.

Connecting a building to its natural site, as if it grew there naturally. Green’s hillside houses are situated on the edge of the hill, and sloped terrace walls (often of stone) echo the lines of the slope to form a base. By using natural materials, the houses relate directly to the surrounding natural setting.

Joining individual living areas into a single flowing space, instead of dividing them into separate rooms. Interior space determines the design of an Organic house; the walls, ceilings, and floors are there to shape the space. Green often used triangulated geometries, instead of rectilinear geometries, to emphasize this flow. Frank Lloyd Wright spoke of “destroying the box” (the rooms of traditional houses) by creating one space that combines living room, dining room, and kitchen. Each one had its own functional character (comfortable seating in the living room, a table in the dining room, counters and cabinets in the kitchen), but they were designed to be one space.

Blending interior spaces with exterior terraces and views. Connecting a house to its natural site included bringing the outside inside, and vice versa. Patios became outdoor living rooms. Large walls of glass oriented to outdoor views – whether it was an intimate patio garden or a panorama of the Pacific Ocean – brought the outside into the house. Sometimes Green would actually bring nature inside by placing a landscaped atrium open to the sky in the middle of a house, blurring the distinction between inside and out.

Integrating built-in seating, cabinetry, and furniture as part of the structure. The structure, spaces, and functions of an Organic house are designed together as a unified whole. Built-in couches, tables, cabinets, and bookshelves become an integral part of the structure and space.