Henry Klumb: Two Buildings, One Idea

The seed for this post was originally a discussion on the architecture of Henry Klumb* sponsored by the Preservation Committee of Puerto Rico’s Architects and Landscape Architects Association (CAAPPR) and docomomo_puerto rico (the local chapter of the International Organization for the Documentation and Conservation of Modern Movement) that I proudly presided at the time.

As expected, I have slightly edited the text.

On March 29 (2015) opened the exhibition Latin America in Construction: Architecture (from) 1955 (to) 1980 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It celebrated the 60th anniversary of the exhibition that MoMA organized in 1955 about Latin American architecture built by 1945. At that time, the architectural production of a decade was presented and in representation of modern architecture in Puerto Rico, two works were exhibited: the Caribe Hilton Hotel by Toro y Ferrer Arquitectos and the Sanctuary of San Martín de Porres by Henry Klumb.

In the later exhibition, although it included architecture produced in a span of a quarter of a century, only one work from Puerto Rico was selected; Henry Klumb’s intervention of a traditional nineteenth-century hacienda in Río Piedras.**

In the assembly of a large-scale exhibition like this one, omissions are understandable, especially since including a whole sampling of works and figures from multiple countries is most certainly not an easy task. The problem — or rather what bothers me to this day — which is what somehow happened with the works chosen to represent Puerto Rican modern architecture 60 years ago — is that MoMA seems to perpetuate the promotion of IMAGES before IDEAS.

To reduce the architectural production of a quarter of a century in Puerto Rico to one surrounded by exuberant nature, or open to natural ventilation is to limit architectural ideas to mere tropical iconography. Whether or not intentional, it is somewhat offensive that peers do not acknowledge architectural sophistication in the Antillean Region.***

In the 1955 exhibition, its curator, Henry Russell Hitchcock, chose to describe the Sanctuary of San Martín de Porres — when comparing it to the ecclesiastical work of Oscar Niemeyer — as lacking dramatic spatial effects, just for the simple fact that its scale is not as monumental as the work of the Brazilian architect.

Referring to the diagonally arranged piers employed by Klumb at San Martín as light deflectors — dazzled perhaps by the fact that the chapel is open to natural ventilation — Hitchcock wasted the opportunity to recognize the spatial idea behind the structural elements.

With the piers, as designed and built, Klumb recognized the religious commitment of the Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominican Order, to amplify and promote the spread of the gospel.

If the first Dominican churches in the New World resorted to monumentality to carry over the word of God, at San Martín, Klumb used the angled walls dramatize the diffusion of the Dominican ecclesiastical message.

More importantly, it surprises that despite the fact that the 2015 exhibition had the support of the Architecture and Construction Archive of the School of Architecture of the University of Puerto Rico (AACUPR in Spanish), curators wasted the opportunity to include a more representative work. Henry Klumb’s Dominican Friars Convent built in 1958 in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, would have proved a better example.A work in which the late architect, 10 years after having conceived San Martín de Porres, had enough time to rethink and mature the spatial ideas and architectural details he would rehearse in Cataño.

The following analytical drawings further illustrate the point.

Abstract axonometric animation on the evolution of the spatial ideas at play at the Sanctuary to San Martín de Porres the Dominican Convent.

The photographs and sketches above illustrate how the diagonally arranged piers provide a dual spatial experience. On both buildings, while attending mass (looking at the altar) the angled piers become a solid plane that frames our attention towards the liturgical event. In contrast, looking away from the altar the piers become a transparent plane that allows the interior space to extend beyond its built boundaries.

In contrast to the tight suburban lot where Klumb had to erect the sanctuary, the site at the convent was larger. Therefore, the spatial quality achieved at San Martín, aided by the hanging plants and low concrete walls, was further expanded at the Dominican residence, not only at the church space, but throughout the complex.

At the time of the lecture on this subject (in 2015) many of those present at the event did not know the Dominican Seminary. And that should have made us think, that while we recognized the omissions of the exhibition of the Museum of Modern Art, we also needed to reconsider ours locally. MoMA’s omissions are justified because any exhibition constitutes an act of summarizing. And anyone that summarizes, at the same time undoes and, as result, remakes history.

Notes:

* Henry Klumb, was a German architect born in 1905. He emigrated in 1927 to the United States to become an apprentice at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin North in Wisconsin. After five years, he left Taliesin and worked briefly with Louis I. Kahn and Louis Metzinger, forming the Cooperative Planners firm in Philadelphia during the period of the Great Depression. In 1944 he was invited by Rexford Tugwell (Governor of Puerto Rico at the time) to work as design consultant at the Public Works Design Committee. A few years later, he established the Office of Henry Klumb in San Juan from where he designed all types of private and public projects all over the Island.

** The exhibition catalog included a black and white photograph (right image at the second illustration above) of La Parroquia Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Cataño, Puerto Rico designed by Henry Klumb in 1959. For an earlier post on Casa Klumb, please refer to: https://wp.me/p1hCI1-a2

*** Despite the myopia with which MoMA decided to carry out the exhibition, Dr. Enrique Vivoni (former director and founder of the Architecture and Construction Archive of the School of Architecture at University of Puerto Rico; entity that preserves the historical documents of myriad architectural firms of the Island) clarified in the commented bibliography section that he was asked to produce for the exhibition catalog, the existence of an analytical/critical tradition of architecture in Puerto Rico.

Our critique of MoMA’s short sightedness has also been diagnosed by others. For example, on the introduction of Aalto and America, Stanford Anderson calls-out MoMA’s myopia when they organized the Finnish architect’s Cenntenial Exhibition and “…gave spare attention to Aalto’s relationship with America, which is all the more surprising for the fact that New York, and indeed the Museum itself, figured largely in Aalto’s experience of America.”

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Casa Klumb

The Klumb house, previously known as el Rancho Cody, was acquired by Henry Klumb in 1947. The house belonged to José Ramón Latimer and his wife Esther C. Cody who rented out rooms. In 1949 Klumb remodel the structure which was a traditional pitched-roof wood structure raised from the terrain with a surrounding balcony that opened directly towards the outside.

The intervention instead of consisting of additions to the original layout was more about subtraction as if adhering to Mies’ “less is more” predicament. Klumb eliminated — almost entirely — the enclosing walls to allow continuity between the public spaces of the house and the veranda. Thus, the living room (in the front) and the dinning room (at the back) — maintaining the original layout — were left completely open. The bedrooms remained partially enclosed and large operable pivoting windows allowed for privacy while allowing cross ventilation and when opened visual and physical connection with the balcony.

Klumb, his wife Else and their two children Peter and Richard lived in the house until 1984 when Klumb and Else died as a result of a car accident.

After their death, the house was acquired by the University of Puerto Rico in 1986, but was left abandoned to its current state of deterioration. In 1997 it was included as a Regional Monument in the National Register of Historic Places and in 2012 it was elevated to the status of National Monument by the same entity. In 2014 the house was included in the World Monuments Watch and in March Comité Casa Klumb was created to aid at the restoration of the structure.

Here are a few drawings I made during a visit to the Casa Klumb organized by the committee as part of a series of activities aimed at raising awareness of the house condition and its future restoration.

IMG_1791.JPG The living room

IMG_1792.JPG The dining room

IMG_1790.JPG The dining room table

IMG_1789.JPG floor plan and axon

concrete forms: brise soleils of Henry Klumb

After years of photographing, sketching and even having listened to unsatisfactory explanations, it wasn’t until recently – while visiting the Río Piedras Campus to see the remains of an experimental green roof – that I gained consciousness of the constructive, or rather assembly logic of Henry Klumb’s brise soleil system at the Osuna Building. The following sketches and photos aim to illustrate my understanding of these and other quiebrasoles found at several of the German master’s buildings.

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20130101-042423 p.m..jpg Based on the concrete brise soleil system at the Juan José Osuna Building, Pedagogy Faculty at the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras.

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20130101-044853 p.m..jpg Based on the concrete façade system at the former IBM building in Santurce, Puerto Rico. The same system was used at the Student Center at the Mayagüez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico.

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20130101-050351 p.m..jpg Sketch is based on the reinforced concrete brise soleil system at the Law School building at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus. The same system was used at the main library at the Mayagüez Campus.

These are the sketches I made on the visit to the green roof.

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Plan of the green roof at the Faculty of Social Studies and a small site plan indicating its location within the building. The section of the main hallways that lead to the classrooms shows the spatial relationship of the quiebrasoles; the drop and gap between screen and hallway accentuate the separation of the façade freeing it from the main structure. This sketch fails to illustrate the fact that at every level the brise soleil displaces outward at least 6 inches from its vertical axis; a subtle change only visible to those who pay attention. (I wasn’t on that day since I was amazed of my recent discovery).

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This pages (a rather awkward composite of sketches) illustrate several aspects of the system; the one point perspective tries to emulate the spatial feeling of the hallways; while at the margins a section and elevations of the screen give way to the ‘blow up’ details of the concrete spacers.

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Here’s a section of the classrooms that i made on a separate visit. It not only illustrates the screen’s displacement as you climb floors, but also shows the stepping of the courtyards as one progress from one to the next.

sketching por la isla, 2do recorrido / UPR río piedras

Estos son algunos bocetos que realizamos el pasado sábado en la UPR de río piedras.

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plano parcial del campus y una vista de las escaleras principales de la biblioteca lázaro

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varios intentos solapados para representar el atrio a doble altura del área de lectura en la lázaro. arquitecto, henry klumb

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sección representativa de uno de los volúmenes de salones de clase de los edificios de sociales. arquitecto, henry klumb

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varios bocetos de las relaciones espaciales en el nivel terrero del edificio de estudios generales. arquitectos, toro+ferrer

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edificio de estudios generales. arquitectos, toro+ferrer