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Architectural Record, mid-May, 1956

Diamonds in the Forest

By Sarah Amelar

In launching this special annual issue, record set out to promote Modernism. But first, the editors needed to convince their readers that real-life people—families with kids and pets—could actually eat, sleep, entertain, and play in open-plan, Minimalist houses. Further implying that such designs could even enhance daily life, the magazine commissioned two shoots: one by the architectural photographer Ezra Stoller; and the other by Life photographer Elliot Erwitt, showing the good-looking Franzens frolicking with their children and hosting a dinner (with, close scrutiny reveals, record’s editors as the guests).

Designing a dramatic, yet easily assembled, double-diamond roof cantilevered over twin decks, Franzen envisioned the 1,850-square-foot pavilion as a low-cost prototype, which he recalls building for some $58,000. The frame—a roof structure composed of 2-inch steel angles with eight supporting steel columns—was erected in a single day. “When the steel went up,” the architect says, “I felt as if I’d saved the world.”

But following a divorce, the family eventually sold the house and moved on. According to the current owner, by the beginning of this millennium the entire property had lapsed into disrepair, languishing on the market for nearly two years at an asking price approaching $2.4 million.

Enter Fernando Barnuevo, a Spanish-born banker and father of five. In 2002, he recalls, a friend asked him to invest in “a great 2-acre, wooded property with a little 1950s house—a tear-down—we could replace with a 7,000-square-foot, $5.5 million colonial.” But one look at the Franzen House, and Barnuevo was smitten. The building instantly evoked his wife’s story of a single night’s stay at a Schindler house, which changed her life. Though the Franzen House was too small for Barnuevo’s family, he negotiated a price and bought it—nearly destroying the friendship with his potential investment partner. Since then, the owner has restored and rented out the place. His dream is to offer students a chance to stay here (perhaps at a nominal fee) to inspire their own life-altering experiences. He’s approached some architecture schools to help realize his vision.

In the meantime, the far-reaching influence of the Franzen House, now widely published, is still apparent. As Barnuevo reports, he occasionally encounters a Japanese tourist, peering into this secluded property, just trying to catch a glimpse of the house.

Click images to see larger.
Photo © Ezra Stoller
The distinctive double-diamond roof (above), floating visually in the forest, relied on a steel structure (below) that was assembled in a single day.
Photo courtesy Fernando Barnuevo
One of the original Architectural Records layouts from mid-May 1956 shows Elliott Erwitt’s candid shots of the Franzen family alongside an Ezra Stoller photograph of the architecture alone.
 

     
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