Friday, January 11, 2013

Frank Miles Day Surprises

Michael Lewis' Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind has got to be one of the best written architectural biographies. I was engrossed in ch. 5, which reveals the big bang of the exposed steel frame, when it was time to walk home. On my way, I decided to swing by the Thomas Hockley House, which in ch. 5, revolutionizes American architecture.

But on my way to 21st St.,  I was captivated by a highly romantic row house on 1922 Spruce St. I had to quickly sketch it, if only to remember the salient elements. The same thing had happened to me a few weeks ago  on 17th and Latimer Sts, amidst of Christmas shopping. With freezing hands, I doodled the basic elements.

As it turns out, both were designed by Frank Miles Day, a major Philadelphia architect (mentor and later partner of Charles Klauder who designed half of my college). Both houses are blatantly medievalizing, but have smooth monochromatic fleshy surfaces with material variations of stone, brick and iron. Both work with slight asymmetrical compositions and contain objects of medieval curiosity, such as niches, sculpture, or grills. My gut had placed them in the 1920s, and I was thrilled to learn they were much earlier. A web search led me to one of Jeff Cohen's Bryn Mawr Cities classes, a site created by student Alexis Gorby. The scholarship on Frank Miles Day is not huge, unfortunately. He's very well known among the Philadelphia scholarly community. His drawings are well cataloged at the University of Pennsylvania Architectural Archives. Patricia Keebler's dissertation  is still the last word, see "The Life and Work of Frank Miles Day" (U Delaware, 1980). See also  Philadelphia Architects.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States