Some structures are only erected over a piece of land. But some are designed and constructed for storytelling and legacies to follow. Each structure withholds a story, some can tell, and some can show. But only a few can give the experience without words. Showcasing the extraordinary work through its essence and aesthetics, Harwell Harris stepped beyond the meaning of contemporary architecture. Thought and efforts put into the project validate the bond between the dreamer and the artist, Havens, and Harris. The journey of Haven’s house will never fit into one article, but the glimpses will walk through it as a storyline. Beyond the rule of timeline, Havens House stood straight and tall in today’s contemporary world as it did in 1941. 

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form and function_©Darren Bradley
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AKA: Havens, Weston, Residence, Berkeley, CA
Structure Type: built works – dwellings – houses
Designers: Harris (firm); Harwell Hamilton Harris (architect)
Dates: constructed 1940-1941

1. Embark on the Journey 

Harris’s professional life was still in its early stages. From 1929 until 1932, he worked under Neutra’s instruction. However, Frank Lloyd Wright was the main inspiration for most of his work. There were a few chances for Harris to put his skills to the test during the Recession. The Pauline Lowe House in Altadena, the Fellowship Park House in Los Angeles, the Helene Kershner House in Los Angeles, the De Steiger House in Pasadena, the Greta Ganstedt House in Hollywood, and the Pumphrey House are just a few of the respectable residential works he produced despite his financial hardships.

 2. Bond and Built  

Havens and Harris shared many common attributes. Both of them were born only four months apart. They had a common background with an Anglo-American California that prioritized independence and pragmatism. This choice made them seen differently from the rest of the nation. When they were young, Californians still had a clear, yet emotional, connection to their founding past. This recollection was important in the development of the two men’s identities. They both had a passion for a modernist vision. They bonded over their common ideals and origins, developing a connection that would last a lifetime.

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3. Blend with Nature

Originality retains its value forever. Despite this, Harris’s theory of the three inverted trusses continues to be praised. The three supports for the roof, lower and main floor define the house in all its perspectives. The thoughtful use of imagination to make the house look floating over the valley catches the eye. Symbolizing the entire concept and existence of a house in a repetition of one geometric plain thrice signifies the potential of the designer. 

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section_©ResearchGate

4. Extending the Limits 

Harwell Hamilton Harris designed the masterpiece known as Weston Havens House in the year 1940 for John Weston Havens Jr. Harris belonged to the generation which saw architecture beyond its traditional boundaries. Those who pursued the dream to reshape the American suburb into a cultural space. This path was followed in the footsteps of Frederick Law Olmsted and Frank Lloyd Wright. 

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wall of books_©Jake Taylor

5. Inspiration became Competition 

The Havens House was praised for its unique structural design and enticing appearance even before its initiation. It has been compared to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Richard Neutra’s Lovell Health House as notable works of architectural merit. In 1944 Elizabeth Gordon wrote, “one of the most perfect examples of contemporary American architecture.” She was an editor of the highly influential publication House Beautiful.  

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curved steps_©Man Ray

6. Eatsern Volume  

It takes a while to realize the formal decisions that have shaped this experience. The home comprises two volumes that are connected by a bridge and divided by a court. The eastern volume includes the garage and the maid’s apartment is fastened to the street’s higher slope. The service points and entry rather play a vital role in the functioning of the house. This is notably considered and carefully designed in this initial part. 

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living in light_©Man ray

7. Western Volume 

The other, western volume spills into the view from the slope. Three inverted trusses that are layered vertically and face the view make up this second volume. These roof and ceiling assemblies are piled vertically to give justice for both form and function. The truss-created slanted ceiling tilts the room’s area toward the view. In the meantime, the truss structure’s interior functions to radiate the heating. Additionally, the upper truss has discreet high ceilings windows that welcome morning and afternoon light into the main room.

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Light and shadow_©Maynard Parker

8. Deatiled Internal Planning 

The house is operationally and spatially organized using a three-foot grid, typical of Harris’s work. The doorway, upstairs bedroom, bathroom, kitchen with its original appliances, living room, and dining room are all located on the main floor. Mural of the globe without boundaries that divides the dining room from the kitchen pass-through. Two additional bedrooms and adjacent bathrooms are located on the lower floor. The harmony of privacy and public just like light and shadow, and the strictly followed backdrop of nature is a concept that runs across the entire house and is continued in all small yet open spaces.

9. Memories into Materials 

The house showcases not only the artifacts but all the memories of Havens from the voyage of life. The home is filled with authentic pieces created by well-known Scandinavian designers that Haven discovered while traveling there. Haven’s house reflects the rich textural sensitivity and creative usage accomplished by Harries. Such as Celotex fibreboard closet doors, Johns-Manville Flex board ceiling panels, and walls made of books and untreated timber. 

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memory lane_©Maynard Parker

10. Challenging the Conventional 

The Havens House prefers the intuitive and experiential to the conventional. It depicts a singular period of cultural enthusiasm when California aimed to forge its own modernist identity. The Havens House also exhibits the creative interaction between a gifted architect and an optimistic dreamer who encouraged the architect to push the limits of his creativity.

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courtyards_©Maynard Parker

References 

1-     Berkely college of environment design. Weston Havens House. Available at:

 https://ced.berkeley.edu/about-ced/our-spaces/havens-house

2-     AIA California. Havens House: Forgotten Masterpiece of California Modernism(2018).

 Available at: https://aiacalifornia.org/havens-house-forgotten-masterpiece-california-modernism/

3-     PCAD. Havens, John Weston, Jr., House, Berkeley Hills, Berkeley, CA (2010).

 Available at: https://pcad.lib.washington.edu/building/10832/

Author

Bhakti is in her last year of B.Arch. Having a keen interest in scopes of print media; She is exploring the communicative branches of architecture through various mediums. She enjoys experimenting with intangible interpretations of the relationship between space and people, moving beyond the tangible features of Architecture.

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