California has Spanish architecture

The invention of a Californian architecture

Charles and Henry Greene wanted to create their own style for the west coast. Influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement and Japan, the brothers revolutionized the architecture and design of California. Her work can now be seen in an extensive retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

In 1908/09, the British artisan, architect and social reformer Charles Robert Ashbee toured the United States. His lecture tour began on the east coast, then via the Midwest he finally reached California and the Pacific Northwest. The trip fell at a difficult time for Ashbee: Shortly before, his life's work, the Guild and School of Handicraft, founded in 1888, had failed. With the workshops he wanted to continue the reform work of the Arts and Crafts Movement begun by John Ruskin and William Morris. That was initially quite successful, but when the guild moved from London to rural Chipping Camden in the Cotswolds in 1902, it marked the beginning of the end: the escape from the big city to an area that had apparently been spared the industrial revolution, turned out to be the romantic illusion of a city dweller who, with his idealism, met with little approval from the local population and above all not with customers - in 1907 the Guild of Handicraft had to be liquidated.

The New World as a model

The recent trip to the USA - he had already visited Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago at the end of 1900 - also took Ashbee to Pasadena to the architecture firm Greene & Greene. The Englishman was fascinated by the work of the two brothers, who were then at the zenith of their careers, and even preferred it to that of Wright in terms of its subtlety. In no other workshop across the Atlantic, he noted, did he feel so at home. The unspoken visit of Ashbee represented a change of perspective: in the late 19th century it was American architects like Henry Hobson Richardson or reformers like Elbert Hubbert, the founder of the Roycroft Community near Buffalo, who made a pilgrimage to England, the motherland of the reform movement Visit William Morris. Now the old Europe looked at the new world. And in 1910 Ernst Wasmuth published the famous portfolio with buildings and projects by Frank Lloyd Wright, which was to cast a spell over an entire generation of European architects.

The brothers Charles Sumner and Henry Mather Greene, who were born in Cincinnati in 1868 and 1870, first completed their craft training at the Manual Training School of the University of Washington in St. Louis, studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, and for a while worked there in various architectural offices worked. In 1893 they moved to Pasadena, where their parents had recently settled. The town northeast of Los Angeles changed its face at this time: With the connection to the railway network, the once agricultural settlement advanced to a winter vacation spot for wealthy Americans from the Midwest. In its wake, a tourist infrastructure was created, consisting of large hotels and a cable car to Mount Lowe towering over Pasadena. Advertisements such as "Switzerland and Italy - from Roses and Orange Groves to Snow in Two Hours' Time" advertised holidays in Pasadena, which should replace the classic European trip. The need for holiday homes, but also permanent domiciles, made it possible for the young architects Henry and Charles Greene, who were only 23 and 25 years old, to open their own offices.

Impulses from Pasadena

The representative building tasks in America at this time were dominated by two styles. One was the Richardsonian Romanesque, a monumental, purist neo-Romanesque style that Richardson had introduced into the architecture of his time and which was the first genuinely American style to have an impact on the European continent. The other was the neoclassical Beaux-Arts style triumphed at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. - In private house construction, on the other hand, a stylistic mix that was based on English models, but also adapted the shingle style of the American east coast, spread. The first, mostly more modest buildings that Greene & Greene erected were not very spectacular, corresponded to the conventions of a cultivated bourgeoisie and would hardly have looked otherwise anywhere else in the USA. They were more closely related to historicism than to the English Arts and Crafts Movement, which Greene & Greene increasingly focused on when Charles returned in 1901 from a journey of several months through England, Scotland and Europe.

More and more, however, the architects began to ask for a specifically Californian architecture. The «Missions», those 21 Franciscan mission stations that were established between 1769 and 1823 under Spanish rule, functioned like a ferment in the fermentation process that was to lead to new styles. Greene & Greene began to integrate elements of the mission into their designs - particularly clearly in the Arturo Bandini House, which was built in 1903 (and now destroyed) with its three single-storey wings, which encompass a central courtyard in a U-shape. In terms of plan, the building was based on the mission architecture, but in the details it was much simpler and more purist and thus embodied an antithesis to the decorative Mission Revival of the time. There was also a noticeable detail of the open walk around the courtyard: the wooden posts did not stand on the ground, but rested on rough boulders that were half embedded in the earth. This motif did not come from the Californian tradition, but from classical Japanese architecture.


A few years after opening up to the West, Japan exhibited at a world exhibition in London for the first time in 1862. The art and architecture of the country, cut off for centuries from the rest of the world, sparked a lasting fascination in Europe and the United States - Japonism was born. The Asian island state presented itself again and again in the following years as part of large exhibitions. It is known that Greene & Greene stopped in Chicago in 1893 on their way to Pasadena; in this case the Japanese were represented with the Ho-o-den, a replica of a temple complex from the 11th century. The personal views of the architects, who never visited Japan themselves, were supplemented by the publication "Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings" by Edward S. Morse, which was central to the reception of Japanese architecture and donated his exquisite collection of Japanese ceramics to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts . It is possible that the Greens had known Morse since their study days in Boston, which was considered the center of American research on Japan. Morse's book did not come into the possession of Charles Greene until 1902, as the owner's note suggests.

The fact that the Arts and Crafts movement was latently inspired by Japanese models has already been demonstrated by Hermann Muthesius in his standard work “The English House”, particularly with regard to furniture design. The discussion is also evident in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, who initially collected woodblock prints and later, with interruptions, spent six years in Japan himself. Nowhere is the reference to Japanese form notions as clear as in the work of Greene & Greene. For the first time, the Japanese influences can be seen in the fireplace framing and the ceiling design of the house for James A. Culbertson (1902), which was still strongly committed to the Old English Tudor style, but inside was equipped with state-of-the-art furnishings: furniture by Gustav Stickley, ceramic items from the Rookwood Pottery and glasses and lighting fixtures from Tiffany. After attending the 1904 World Exhibition in St. Louis, where the Japanese presented an extensive building and gardening ensemble, the Adelaide A. Tichenor House was built, in which the entire structure was reduced to an orthogonal wooden structure. The diagonal bracing of the half-timbered construction, reminiscent of the Tudor style, had disappeared, Greene & Greene developed an open, almost structuralist construction system that did not imitate Japanese models, but adapted them.

The heyday of Greene & Greene's oeuvre falls between 1907 and 1914. It was during these years that their masterpieces were created in Pasadena: the Blacker House and the Gamble House. The latter, which is now the only building by the architects to be seen as a museum, served as a holiday home for David and Mary Gamble from the Cincinnati-based company Procter & Gamble. Like many of the Greene & Greene houses, it is located northwest of the center of Pasadena in a scenic location, high above the Arroyo Seco canyon. A unique ensemble of buildings was created here in just twenty years: Not only are a large number of other buildings by Greene & Greene within walking distance of the Gamble House, but also works by contemporaries who were also oriented towards Arts and Crafts, and finally that as «La Miniatura »Famous Millard House by Frank Lloyd Wright from 1923, the first of the« textile block houses »made of ornamental concrete elements. Almost like the ruins of a Mayan temple, the small structure is overgrown by the lush vegetation of Pasadena.

The Gamble House, built between 1907 and 1909, embodies the architectural ideas of Greene & Greene as a prototype. It is actually an amalgam of heterogeneous elements: a little chalet and a little log house, plus shingle style, Japanese tectonics and, moreover, influences of the prairie house, which Frank Lloyd Wright and his school developed at the same time. Miraculously, this combination does not lead to an accumulation of the incompatible, on the contrary. The mature houses from Greene & Greene look extremely harmonious and they seek a connection with the environment. Slightly inclined gable roofs cover the volumes, and their wide overhangs protect the outside spaces from the Californian sun. Verandas, pergolas and open courtyards make it possible to shift day or night life outside. The handling of the materials is impressive: clinker brick joins the bizarre cobblestones, sequoia and oak come together. And inside, too, the wood is decisive - mahogany and teak, but also local varieties. There is no point in judging where the line between carpentry and carpentry runs: the houses of the brothers from Pasadena are nothing but praise for layering, joining and connecting.

The architects are more concerned with the ostentatious display of what is made than with aestheticism and refinement. This continues in the furniture, for which the Greene brothers brought in a pair of brothers from Sweden, Peter and John Hall. Furniture and interior design form a unit, complemented by art glass, carpets and ceramics. And, especially between 1912 and 1914, more and more metal and blacksmith work. This is where the widely used term “total work of art” applies, for which there is no American translation. - Subcutaneously, Greene & Greene stage the myth of the “frontier territory” in their buildings, which, with a few exceptions, were built in Pasadena. The rustically raised chimneys, the massive layered beams, although full of perfection and not devoid of elaboration, are burdensome and rustic, as if it was a matter of clinging to the terrain.

It is symptomatic that the brothers' partnership broke up during the First World War. While Henry continued to run the Pasadena office under his own name, but with modest success, in 1916 Charles and his family relocated to Carmel-by-the-Sea, an idyllic location on the wooded Pacific coast south of San Francisco that is valued not least by artists. This is where his late work was created, a villa for the Kansas City porcelain, glass and silver dealer David L. James. A mile south of Carmel, directly above the cliffs and with a spectacular view of the ocean waves, rises an ensemble of granite buildings that appears to be a continuation of the rock by other means. The interior design that Charles Greene had devised could never be carried out, even when the family moved in in 1922. The whole building looks strange: it has little to do with the previous creations of the Greene, appears more like the petrified form of an Italian village.

Late work

In fact, however, Charles Greene based himself on the English village of Tintagel, which he had visited in 1909 on a trip to Cornwall. Probably for the first time Greene had quoted well-known role models from his own perspective relatively directly. For example, with a slightly gothic portal opening in a wall, which here, as in Tintagel, reveals an imposing view of the sea, but leads to nowhere without any function. Picturesque architecture like that of Villa James, however, had become out of date in 1922. In the same year, Rudolph Schindler, who immigrated to the USA from Austria, completed his pavilion-like building on King's Road in Los Angeles. Schindler, who had previously worked at Wright, also used Japanese influences in his own debut work. Schindler's reductionism led into the modern age, while Greene & Greene ultimately remained caught up in their arts and crafts world. This also distinguishes them from Wright, who after a period of crisis in the twenties with Fallingwater in 1936 regained the interpretative sovereignty over American architecture and was to retain it for the next two decades. Henry Greene died in 1954, his older brother Charles in 1957; 1959 followed by Frank Lloyd Wright, who was almost the same age.

While it was initially quiet around the brothers, interest in their work resumed in the 1940s - and thus during their lifetime. If the advocates of modernism constantly ignored Greene & Greene, Henry Russell Hitchcock - after all, co-responsible for the legendary exhibition "International Style" at the Museum of Modern Art New York in 1932 - soon led them back into American architectural history. He is followed by Harvey Hamilton Harris, a former Neutra employee. Greene & Greene are now considered to be the architects who guided California into the 20th century. Alongside Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, Willis Polk and Irving Gill, they are among the innovators on the Pacific coast after the turn of the century. In southern California, Gill's architecture offered the real alternative to the architecture of the Greene brothers. Interpreting the mission architecture in an elementary, puristic way, he experimented with the new building material concrete and with small apartments and was no longer limited to villas for a culturally ambitious upper class. Now there is the opportunity to study Greene & Greene's work in greater detail for the first time outside of California, as it is currently being recognized by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with a major retrospective.