Living Lightly on the Land: Bernard Judge’s “Triponent” and “Tree” Houses
Architect Bernard Judge’s “Triponent” House, which Julius Shulman helped make famous with his above iconic 1961 image has a fascinating back-story which few people other than personal friends of the designer are aware. Judge’s personal residence, begun in 1958 while still an architectural student at USC, was also coined the “Bubble” House by legendary Los Angeles Times Home Magazine editor Dan MacMasters. (See above cover). Judge’s AIA Award-winning “Tree” House, his residence for the last 35 years, also has quite a story to tell. (See below). Recent publication of Judge’s “Waltzing With Brando: Planning a Paradise in Tahiti” and hearing him speak at a recent book-signing event at R. M. Schindler’s Buck House, now owned by Jocelyn Gibbs and Gene Lichtenstein, piqued my interest in the man and his architecture and prompted in the following story.
Judge was drawn to architecture through his architect father Joseph who was Dean of the School of Architecture at Penn St. University and later worked for Eggers & Higgins. Various projects took Joseph and his family to different parts of the world including France, Mexico, and Nicaragua. While still in high school, Bernard helped his father build a house, thus learning the construction process firsthand. Experience in his father’s office also led him to his first job after high school as a draftsman for Harrison & Abramovitz working on the United Nations Headquarters Building. This was an exciting time for Judge who recalls, “There were literally two architects from every nation in the U.N. in the drafting room. So for me that was a way of looking at architecture in the universal sense rather than in the parochial sense.” (Smith, Kathryn, “Bernard Judge, AIA,” L.A. Architect, March 1980, p. 2).
“Bucky” Fuller, whom Time Magazine deemed “The Dymaxion American” in a January 10, 1964 cover story (see above) was a prodigious, seminal, free thinker without a college degree, was an engineer, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist. Fuller published more than 30 books, inventing and popularizing terms such as “Spaceship Earth“, ephemeralization, and synergetics. He also developed numerous inventions, but it was mainly his “doing more with less“ architectural designs which held potential for prefabrication for the common man, such as the Dymaxion House, Dymaxion Deployment Unit, Wichita House, Autonomous Dwelling Unit and the Geodesic Dome, which held his interest throughout his lengthy career. A summary of the highlights of his lightweight, transportable housing will serve as an intro to the later dome discussion.
The (From R. Buckminster Fuller: Inventor, Designer, Architect, Theorist (1895-1983) at DesignMuseum.org).
The DDU’s sanitary unit is enclosed in a separate cylindrical element. Two units can be attached directly to each other. (See floor plan below). The pylon (see above right) is important, though originally Fuller conceived of it merely as a simple way to set it up: it holds up the dome that is built beneath it. From a constructive perspective, and even more from a structural perspective, Fuller was breaking a path that years later would lead away from the idea of a central supporting pylon to the supporting shell of the geodesic domes.
Dymaxion Deployment Unit floor plan. (From Your Private Sky: R. Buckminster Fuller, edited by Joachim Krausse and Claude Lichtenstein, Lars Muller, 1999, p. 214).
Dymaxion Deployment Unit for domestic use, metal, adapted corn bin, built by Butler Brothers, Kansas City, May 1941. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott.
Fuller’s expertise in the field of lightweight demountable housing was again enlisted by the U.S. government to explore post-war housing possibilities. These studies led to the famous 1946 Wichita House, a full-size family dwelling weighing only 4 tons that was designed to be assembled on wartime bomber production lines. The prototype (see below) is arguably the most important prefabricated house design of the 20th century, and certainly the greatest lost opportunity of the years of the post-war building recovery. Life Magazine, a close follower of Fuller’s work, featured the Wichita House in an article the same year. (“Fuller House,” Life, April 1, 1946, pp. 73-4, 76).
When revealed to the public at the end of World War II, the image of the Wichita House (see above) was a revelation. The lightweight metal building was essentially a cylinder, just over one thousand square feet in area, with a domed roof enclosing a single volume. As with the DDU, it was hung from a central mast, its “double wire-wheel” structure relied on tension as the main structural principle. At the top, a wide aerodynamic sheet metal ventilator was designed to rotate or lift and alter the internal environment depending on wind direction. Designed to facilitate transport, erection, and dismantling, the majority of the components weighed less than ten pounds each.
Frustrated, but undaunted, by the Wichita House not going into full-scale production despite a major marketing effort, Fuller began preliminary “geodesic” studies in his Forest Hills, New York apartment in the fall and winter of 1947-8 by assembling a series of four-foot diameter three-way grid structures. (See models above). Immediately following the geometric discoveries of the spring of 1948, Fuller took teaching positions at the Institute of Design in Chicago and at Black Mountain College. His research activity merged seamlessly into his modeling-based work with students.
It was Josef Albers who invited John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, and Beaumont and Nancy Newhall to teach at the 1948 at Black Mountain College. At the time they were all struggling and unknown artists. He also invited Buckminster Fuller to teach a class in architecture. Established in 1933 by John Andrew Rice, Theodore Dreier and other former faculty members of Rollins College, Black Mountain was the first American experimental college boasting complete democratic self-rule, extensive work in the creative arts, and interdisciplinary academic study. Josef and Annie Albers held central positions at Black Mountain from 1933-49 arriving shortly after their previous home, the Bauhaus, had been closed by Hitler. (See Appalachian History).
“whirled off into his talk, using bobby pins, clothespins, all sorts of units from the five-and-ten-cent store to make geometric, mobile constructions, collapsing an ingeniously fashioned icosahedron by twisting it and doubling and tripling the modules down to a tetrahedron, talking about the obsolescence of the square, the cube, the numbers two and ten (throwing in a short history of ciphering and why it was punishable by death in the Dark Ages), extolling the numbers nine and three, the circle, the triangle, the tetrahedron, and the sphere, dazzling us with his complex theories of ecology, engineering, and technology. Then he began making diagrams on a blackboard. He drew a square, connecting two corners with a diagonal line. ‘Ah’, he said affectionately, ‘here’s’ our old friend, the hypotenuse.’” (Elaine de Kooning quoted in Mary Emma Harris, “The Arts at Black Mountain College,” p. 151).
“Two weeks into the (1948) session “this strange man Buckminster Fuller arrived.” Snelson recalled that no one really knew who Fuller was and that he was not particularly interested in taking a class in architecture. Albers asked him to help Fuller unload (see earlier above) and assemble the many models from his aluminum trailer in preparation for Fuller’s community lecture. Although Snelson expected to find models of small houses based on the cube and rectangle which he would organize and assemble, he found instead models made of Venetian blind strips, marbles, straws, and other materials based on the tetrahedron and geodesic geometry. He recalled that he was “mesmerized” by Fuller’s first three hour community lecture and enrolled in his class. He, along with other members of the community, was captivated by Fuller’s message of saving the world through technology, economy of means, and by his fascinating geometry.” (From BMCProject.org). (Note: For a great video demonstrating the Snelson’s tensegrity concept which he would later incorporate into his now famous sculptures see “Playing with a Tensegrity“).
In addition to his models. Fuller came to Black Mountain packed full of ideas and projects. Shortly before his departure, he had sketched out a project on 15 June: the construction of a transparent geodesic dome that would enable its occupant to locate his or her correct position in the universe. This was clearly the origin of the idea that was connected to the construction of geodesic domes. Fuller called it “Your Private Sky.” At Black Mountain College, he planned to execute the small great-circle model on a larger scale, utilizing lightweight metal Venetian blind sashes to create the first dome. (See below).
Fuller’s first full-scale dome, a forty-eight foot diameter ”necklace” structure with a height of twenty-three feet which would cover an area of fifteen hundred square feet and was to weigh less than 270 pounds. The students measured the Venetian blind slats and computed the tensile strength of each unit. Each strip was coded and the points marked where they would meet. On a rainy day Fuller and his students gathered in a grassy area (see above) while rest of the community watched from the Studies Building or the nearby FHA units as the class began to connect the points on the strips.
The “Supine Dome” under construction, Buckminster Fuller, Summer 1948, Black Mountain College, Photographs: Beaumont Newhall. Courtesy of the Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate, Scheinbaum and Russek Ltd., Santa Fe, New Mexico. © Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate.
The dome collapsed to the ground when tension was applied during its attempted erection. (See above). Fuller had said in advance that it probably wouldn’t hold due to the choice of materials, but decided to go ahead and complete the class project anyway. When the dome did not rise, it was coined the Supine Dome by Elaine de Kooning. Fuller reassured the class that “failure” is a part of the process of inventing, and success is achieved when one stops failing, a valuable lesson for the young students. (From Black Mountain College Project).
Buckminster Fuller as Baron Medusa and Merce Cunningham as the mechanical monkey performing in Erik Satie’s The Ruse of the Medusa, Black Mountain College, August 14, 1948. (From Your Private Sky: R. Buckminster Fuller, edited by Joachim Krausse and Claude Lichtenstein, Lars Muller, 1999, p. 323).
It Your Private Sky: R. Buckminster Fuller, p. 320).
At Black Mountain over the 1948-49 winter a crisis culminated in the resignations of Theodore Dreier, the last of the college founders, along with Josef and Anni Albers and other members of the arts faculty. On the recommendation of Josef Albers, the remaining faculty asked Fuller to return to direct the 1949 summer session. Fuller accepted and invited as summer faculty Chicago friends and colleagues: Diana and Emerson Woelffer, John and Jano Walley, and Indian dancer Vashi and Pra-veena. He also brought a group of students from the Institute of Design, his “Twelve Disciples” (Black Mountain designation): Louis Caviani, Arthur Boericke, Eugene Godfrey, Mary Jo Slick Godfrey, Joseph Manulik, Alan Lindsay, Jeffrey Lindsay, Ysidore Martinez, Donald Richter, Robert Richter, Masato Nakagawa, and Harold Young. (From bmcproject.org).
Fuller had previously assigned the design project to develop the “Standard of Living Package,” aka “Autonomous Dwelling Unit” (see above right and below) to students at the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1948: To make the complete furnishings for a household of six people that could be packed into a container and transported with a trailer. The students developed a box that was eight yards long and two yards high and wide, with collapsible walls that were fastened by hinges. When folded down, the walls also served as the floor for the furniture and household items, as well as for the corresponding zones of the floor plan: bedroom, living room, two baths. The overall useable area was ninety square yards. The exercise was influenced by the technique developed during the war for transporting delicate airplane parts in trucks that were packed full. This exercise was also related to the design for the “Sky Break” (see above left), an easily constructed house whose climatic skin is a geodesic cover, designed according to the necklace principle, that stretches over the unfolded – in this case two-story – living space and storage compartments. (Note: The Sky Break model presages a similar project assigned by Calvin Straub to an architectural class at USC in 1957 in which Bernard Judge participated which provided the inspiration for his “Bubble” House. See L.A. Times article and discussion later herein).
Fuller and his class succeeded in re-erecting the “Necklace Dome.” (See above). This dome, a thirty-one great circle structure, was made of aircraft tubing laced with cable which ran from the tubes through connectors at the joints. When the cable was tightened, the dome was erect; when relaxed, it collapsed into an easily-transported compact form similar to a necklace. The prototype for the dome which Fuller brought with him, had originally been constructed for a demonstration at the Pentagon in the winter. Assuming it would be erected indoors – it was actually erected in the Pentagon courtyard (see later below) – Fuller had reduced the size to fourteen feet in diameter to accommodate an indoor space.
The students erected the dome on a terrace at the end of the Studies Building. They demonstrated its strength by hanging by their hands from the structure and from a suspended platform on which a number of people could sit. Its light-weight was demonstrated by having three students lift it above their heads. (See two above).
After the late 1940s Chicago Institute of Design and Black Mountain summer sessions, Fuller’s dome work rapidly evolved with the continuing help of Black Mountain disciples Snelson and Lindsay whom he recruited as Fellows and Trustee in his Fuller Research Foundation along with Charles Eames, George Nelson, Knud Lonberg-Holm and others. He wrote of the first practical dome development experiments with Jeffrey Lindsay in Montreal in 1950 which would eventually end up as the actual framework for the Judge “Bubble” House in Beachwood Canyon,
“In December 1949 a 14-ft. necklace Geodesic was assembled at 6 Kinzie St., Chicago, at the request of the Air Force, and in February 1950 it was installed in the Pentagon Building garden at Washington, D.C. (See above). In December of 1950 the prototype of a specialized geodesic structure 49 feet in diameter was built in Montreal. (See below). I designed it to be an Arctic installation. The components of the structure were tubular aluminum struts weighing about one pound each. The structure was so light that we did not need a mast to lift it. Instead it was lifted locally in order to add more struts to the bottom. When the structure was completed we looked up at the blue sky through this thing and began to realize that something very pleasantly exciting was happening to us. We knew that it was light, knew that it was strong, but we did not know that it was going to do just that to a blue sky. Those are the very typical sensations we get when we tend to solve only the scientific side of the problem. The qualities of economy that are synergetically resultant in the end do something to us in the way of challenging our sensibility to new sensorial limits. Looking over against the birch trees, the slenderness ratios of these very high strength trees and of the Geodesic struts seemed to be very much akin.” (See below). (From “Your Private Sky,” p. 334).
The 1950 Montreal dome experiments and findings were published as a cover story in the August 1951 issue of Architectural Forum which also included a profile of Fuller and an illustrated summary of his earlier Dymaxion work. (See above and below). The article also described the Fuller Research Foundation’s plans for marketing and development of geodesic domes and their potential uses, most of which soon became realities.
Fuller shortly thereafter presciently applied for a patent on the dome concept in December 1951. (See below). Patent licensing fees would within the next few years make Fuller a wealthy man. Although Fuller held dozens of patents on his inventions over the years, this is the only one that made him any significant money as he licensed to numerous other companies the rights to use his technology in future dome shelter production.
UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE
Richard Buckminster Fuller, Forest Hills, N. Y.
Application December 12, 1951, Serial No. 261,168, p. 1.
Fuller’s patent application summary describes the elemental specifications of what would become the outer framework of Bernard Judge’s 49 ft. diameter Hollywood Hills house.
“A good index to the performance of any building frame is the structural weight required to shelter a square foot of floor from the weather. In conventional wall and roof designs the figure is often 50 lbs, to the sq. ft. I have discovered how to do the job at around 0.78 lb. per sq. ft. by constructing a frame of generally spherical form in which the main structural elements are interconnected in a geodesic pattern of approximate great circle arcs intersecting to form a three-way grid, and covering or lining this frame with a skin of plastic material.
My “three-way grid” of structural members results in substantially uniform stressing of all members, and the framework itself acts almost as a membrane in absorbing and distributing loads. The resultant structure is a spidery framework of many light pieces, such as aluminum rods, tubes, sheets, or extruded sections, which so complement one another in the particular pattern of the finished assembly as to give an extremely favorable weight-strength ratio, and withstand high stresses. For example, the “8C270 Weatherbreak” constructed in accordance with my invention will support 7 lbs. with each ounce of structure and is able to withstand wind velocities up to 150 miles per hour. It is a dome 49 ft. in diameter, enclosing 20,815 cu. ft. of space, yet the frame is made of light short struts which pack into a bundle 2 ft. by 4 ft. by 5 ft., weighing only 1000 lbs. The plastic skin weighs 140 lbs., making the total weight of this “weatherbreak” a mere 1140 lbs.” (Patent No. 2, 682,235, p. 7).
Felix Candela: Shell Forms exhibition catalog fron cover, May 1957, text by Esther McCoy. From Archives of American Art Esther McCoy Papers.
The Spring 1957 semester on the USC School of Architecture campus were heady times for Judge and his classmates as noted Mexican architect-engineer Felix Candela also visited the campus for a May exhibition shortly after they had finished their dome projects. (See above and below catalog covers). The hosting committee and sponsors for the show were a veritable ”Who’s Who” of the Los Angeles architectural community. (For more on this exhibition see my Selected Publications of Esther McCoy).
Felix Candela: Shell Forms exhibition catalog fron cover, May 1957, text by Esther McCoy. From Archives of American Art Esther McCoy Papers.
Grand opening of the Kaiser Dome with an evening symphony concert, February 1957, the same day the structure was completed within 24 hours after arrival of the components. (From “Your Private Sky,” p. 384-5).
A couple months later a Life Magazine feature article on the UCLA arts programs led off with a model for a proposed domed arts workshop building for the campus designed by seminar teacher Jeffrey Lindsay. (See above). The article also included a photo of a kite Lindsay frequently used to demonstrate the inherent lightness of dome components. (See below). (See “Art Rides High at a Great University,” Life, May 20, 1957, pp. 92-103). A Buckminster Fuller exhibition was organized by Pomona College the following December and January and Fuller was often in town for lectures over the next few years.
Recently married and intrigued with the idea of building a dome house for himself and his new wife, despite almost everyone at USC skeptical of his chances for success, Judge decided to take on the challenge. He planned to build the residence along the lines of the Case Study House Program using mostly donated materials and student labor. With much encouragement from Lindsay and the gift of the dome he had erected in Montreal in 1950, Judge purchased a difficult to build on, thus inexpensive, lot in Beachwood Canyon in 1958. Lindsay had the components for the dome framework shipped to Judge from Montreal in a 3ft. x 4ft. by 6ft. shipping crate and design conceptualization began.
Judge decided to build upon Fuller’s highly theoretical “Autonomous Dwelling Unit” idea which included a portable, Gypsy-like “living package” enclosed by an easily collapsible dome. Whereas Fuller’s ADU concept envisioned off-the-grid living, Judge’s concept was a more pragmatic, somewhat rooted and prefabricatable, three-component living system he labelled, a la Fuller, ”Triponent.” His triponents consisted of what he called the envelope, the utility core, and free space.
Like Fuller, Judge envisioned his “Triponent” proposal as housing system that could be standardized for the most part, to keep future construction costs down. The envelope, in this case the dome, would protect the living spaces from the elements and could be a somewhat standardized design using materials based upon the needs presented by regional climate conditions. He imagined the utility core, i.e., bathroom(s), kitchen, laundry room and HVAC, as being a totally prefabricated element that could be standardized for all future units no matter where the location might be. That left the “free space” for customization to suit the needs of each individual homeowner. Judge’s thinking was that this “Triponent” approach would appeal to a broader cross-section of potential home-buyers than Fuller’s completely rigid, standardized designs.
During this period, Judge recollected receiving inspiration from instructors Conrad Buff, Calvin Straub, Gregory Ain, and Emmet Wemple and guest lecturers Konrad Wachsman and especially Fuller. Despite encouragement from his instructors (see above) most of classmates remained highly skeptical of his chances for success. With the “Triponent” House, Judge was charting new territory, not only by adapting the first large-size experimental geodesic dome for residential use, something the resourceful Lindsay had not even dared to attempt, but by getting the dome itself and the myriad of space-age materials he was using for his envelope approved by the City of L.A.’s Department of Building and Safety. This process added at least two years to the four-and-a-half-year construction time.
Cover images reflect Fuller’s influence on close friend George Nelson’s designs. George Nelson: The Design of Modern Design by Stanley Abercrombie.
Late 1958 and early 1959 found Fuller in collaboration with his former Fuller Research Foundation Trustees George Nelson and Charles Eames, and Welton Becket & Associates and Kaiser Aluminum on the installation of the dome to house the American National Exhibition in Moscow, site of the famous “Kitchen Debate” between Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev and Vice-President Richard Nixon, held during the summer of 1959. Nelson was named by the U.S. government to lead the overall design effort for the exhibition and when he was presented with an almost impossible-to-meet design and construction schedule immediately called his old friend Fuller and Becket knowing they could get the job done with a quickly erected geodesic dome.
Inside Fuller’s dome, the seven screens for the Eameses’ film, Moscow, 1959. From George Nelson: The Design of Modern Design by Stanley Abercrombie, p. 174..
Fuller at the opening of ”Three Structures by Buckminster Fuller,” Museum of Modern Art, September 1959. (From RWGrayProjects).
“So important have domes been throughout man’s total experience that the roots of the word for God, home and dome are the same-domus, domicile and dome. In the language of the sailors of Denmark and Iceland, the word is dom. Because of the agelong interactions of mysticism, with religions of hope and fear, in the daily lives of men, always centering in the home, the dome, ages ago, became symbolic of all the cosmic thoughts, hopes, supplications and glorious conceptions. From its comprehensive pre-eminence, the dome conception gave root to the words dominate and dominion. As a result of the slow process of communication casualties in the hearing and mimicking of sounds, prior to the written word, a great interchangeability of the consonants prefixing the syllable om took place. The D was interchanged with the T in designation of the dome as a mortuary shrine and with a W as the gestation or pre-nativity shrine. Thus man went from W-OM-B to T -O-M-B via the H-OM-E. Even the B-OM-B is a derivative of dome as the super-accelerated explosive nativity container. The Bikini bomb was dome-like in shape.
In ecological patterning, early man was the hunter and fisher, operating at extreme radius from his domicile center. His mate operated at the domicile. She became the dome-man, the homeman, the w-om-man; also, she was the man with the dome inside, the w-om-b man. Greater and lesser ecological circles, characterizing male and female peregrinations respectively, are still the ecological domains of the swift running wild mammalian life. Later the thought-hunting and recollection-researching male, hibernating in his domicile center, became H-OM-O sapiens, domo sapiens.” (Buckminster Fuller, “Ideas and Integreties: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure” edited by Robert W. Marks, Prentice-Hall, 1963, p. 148).
“…having spent many years in underdeveloped countries, and the problem of human shelter- shelter in its most basic form – seemed to him paramount. He saw two thirds of humanity housed in shacks and slums; and on the other side he saw the technical and industrial potential to produce wholesome housing for every living soul. To exploit this potential, to make human habitation an experience of lasting enjoyment, seemed to him the top task of coming generations of architects. It was to be above all his own first task. He finished his studies at the University of Southern California and set out to do a house without precedent, a house that could become a point of orientation for our age.” (“Beautiful Homes and Gardens in California” by Herbert Weisskamp, pp. 146-149).
“I erected the dome in California city in order to test various skinning materials. It was a lot easier there as I didn’t have to lug every thing up the hill and I did not have to have any permits. I got permission from he developer to use the site as a USC student project. About 20 of my fellow students put it up in a day. We tested glass, plexyglass, Mylar and some other materials but they all failed after several months. It was only later during the load testing that I realized what the problem was, i.e., the movement due to temperature change.” (Bernard Judge e-mail to the author, August 22, 2011).
Bernard Judge atop his dome, “Los Angeles in a New Image,” Life, June 20, 1960, pp. 74-75. Photo by Ralph Crane.
Framework for lower living platform, 1960. Photo courtesy of Bernard Judge.
Heat control was a primary concern in the design. To provide natural ventilation, Judge installed a 12 feet diameter opening at the top of the dome while close to the ground he provided a narrow ventilation strip screened with nylon gauze. This established an upward air flow pattern illustrated in the above cross-section. The hill blocked the sun from the west. A fixed sunshade consisting of a spherical section of white glass-reinforced neoprene was also added to provide shade and protect the top opening. It had a silvery coating on the outside to reflect the sun’s rays. (See below). Judge recalled seeing information on the material used originally in the Project Echo communications satellite testing program conducted by NASA.
Judge described what it was like living in the dome,
“Living there was unique in that we were conscious of the outside weather at all times, day and night, yet shielded from it. It made for a comforting awareness. The fact that we had a closable curtain from the upper deck enclosing the bedroom on the lower deck meant that we could have privacy (both from the weather or the feeling of being exposed) when we wanted it. Ultimately, my idea was to plant trees around the house, as later I did in around the ‘tree house’ which gives it a sense of privacy. The fact that we had no gate at the street level (see entrance below) made it possible for people to come up the stairs to see the house. This was annoying at times – but I got my first client that way.” (Judge to author e-mail, August 17, 2011).
Poster for “Smog” from Movie Poster Shop.
Shortly after its completion, the house caught the attention of location scouts for the Italian movie ”Smog.” In it a man on a plane flight is unexpectedly held over in Los Angeles. At first he finds it exhilarating to do as he pleases, free of life-long inhibitions. But then he begins to fall prey to emotions and fears, to disintegrate. The crisis comes when he is left alone one evening at the Judge house. ”No, no-the stars are too close!” he cries. “I feel too near to my Maker here. There’s no place to retreat but my own soul.” Apparently this is too formidable, and so be goes back to the·reassuring stone and concrete of Italy.
Upon seeing the Ralph Crane photo in Life magazine, Julius Shulman visited the job site, befriended Judge and began taking photos for what he knew would eventually become a cover spread in the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine edited by his long-time friend Dan MacMasters. Once that happened, on July 1, 1961, the below photo became one of Shulman’s most iconic images, published numerous times over the years. (See also opening photo of this article above).
Hollywood Hills with grading for Trousdale Estates and Bird Streets at the upper left. Judge “Tree” House site on Crescent Drive at the top of the “green belt” above the Bird Streets and abutting the Trousdaale Estates boundary. 1961 Dick Whittington photo from USC Digital Archive.
Central Mall Space Frame, Simon Fraser University, 1967, Vancouver, British Columbia, Arthur Erickson, Geoffrey Massey and Jeffrey Lindsay. Plans and Specifications by Bernard Judge. Photo from The Bridge Studio.
Judge’s meticulous preparation of the plans and specifications for this project saved Lindsay from a major lawsuit. The space frame suffered snow damage due to connecting rod failure. Judge remembered from his Seabee experience to specify “upset” rods as so that their required cross-sectional area wouldn’t be compromised when the they were threaded. The rods delivered and installed were not “upset” which resulted in a structural failure after a heavy snowfall. The only people involved with this project who ended up not being “upset” were Judge and Lindsay.
Above drawing shows seven houses clustered and connected by walkways. They might be a hunting lodge in Kenya, condominiums, apartments or even commercial offices. This system would be useful on a flat site only if land cost was very high and several units could be developed. (From MacMasters, Dan, “A Tree House for the Hills,” Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, April 10, 1977, p. 15.
Sometime in the late 1960s, Lindsay asked Judge to design a tree house that could be used for a hunting lodge in Kenya (See above). It was to use local materials and be so simple that native workmen, with a little instruction, could put it together by traditional methods. The hunting lodge never got built but the idea was too good to give up. Why not use it for putting houses on those “unbuildable lots” scattered through the hills around Los Angeles? And for developing steep slopes without massive earth-moving? When Judge failed to interest local builders, he decided to build a tree house for himself. The concept worked perfectly for his precipitous 35 degree Crescent Drive site which he broke ground upon with the help of partner Ron Smart in 1968.
Judge “Tree” house on a lot that slopes at a 35-degree angle down from the street. The view is to the southwest. Photo by Julius Shulman. (From MacMasters, Dan, “A Tree House for the Hills,” Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, April 10, 1977, p. 12).
Steel columns set on 8-foot centers form the basic core of the house. Wood framework of house attached to the steel plates welded on before the columns were set. Photo by Julius Shulman. (From MacMasters, p. 13). MacMasters, p. 13).
“Judge lived there for awhile, too. He maintained a studio in Schindler’s old studio. He introduced me to Mrs. Schindler about 1966. He embodies the spirit of the place.”
Judge is in charge of restoring the house, a project expected to cost $150,000 to $200,000. The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded FOSH a matching grant of $15,393 for restoration work, and this grant has been matched by several professionals.
“So many people have contributed their time,” Bobrow said. “For Instance, Kathryn Smith organized the house tour and lecture series lest year-fund raisers to help pay some of the operational expenses. She also was a part-time curator, getting the grant applications ready to send in.
“Then there is the firm of Latham & Watkins, attorneys, who have contributed several hundred hours of their time. We would have been in bad shape without them.
“The Redwood Assn. has indicated it will provide all the redwood to restore the house, and we are looking for contributions from the construction industry.
“Donations of time have been made by FOSH’s historians-Smith, Esther McCoy, David Gebhard and Stefanos Polyzoides, who is secretary of FOSH and is in charge of the educational program-an ambitious proposal involving competitions, archives, research, a library, exhibitions, publications, lectures and seminars that ultimately would tum the Schindler House into the Los Angeles Architectural Center.
Restoration work must be done first, and the historians have prepared the way.
“They have researched the house,” Judge said, “to see what it looked like at different periods.”
As a result, FOSH will restore the place to the time of Schindler’s death.
“We’re doing drawings for the restoration and designing a plan for remedial work to be done immediately,” Judge said, “work like fixing the leaky roof and some broken windows.
“Then we will have to raise money to do the rest-removing wood that is termite Infested, rotted or in bad shape; taking off the floor material to set down to the concrete slab, taking off the paint from the concrete walls.
“When Schindler had it, there were only five materials in the house-redwood, glass, canvas, concrete and Celotex-a board made out of sugar cane -which was also unpainted. Half the house had been painted since Schindler died.” There is also some fire damage from the 1930 that he said needs repair.
That fire happened long before Judge knew the house so well. He moved into it about 15 years ago after Mrs. Schindler answered an ad.
“I advertised that I wanted to live in a garden atmosphere In the middle of the city,” Judge recalled. “Mrs. Schindler said, ‘I have what you want if I like your work.’ .. He paused. “She did.”
Later, Judge moved his famlly out but kept his office there. “About half of the house was used as Schindler’s office,” he said, “and after his death, that was passed on from architect to architect. I was the last in a series.”
After restoration “about half of the house still will be used as offices,” he said, “and we have made arrangements with the Friends of the Schindler House, the group representing Watts Towers and the new museum for architects. So this will be a headquarters for the architectural profession in Los Angeles. It will be open to the public, and there will be a docent service.”
(Ryon, Ruth, “Group Saves House Designed as Social Experiment,” Los Angeles Times, July 6, 1980, pp. VIII-1-2).
Judge further recalled,
“I got involved in the saving of the Schinder house because I lived and worked there for so many years, that I knew Pauline until her death, and promised her that I would be sure to save the house after her demise. Because of that, I became involved in other “preservation projects.” The Watts Towers Restoration Committee, the Frank Lloyd Wright Ennis House, The Master plan for El Pueblo State Historic Park, and member of the LA City Cultural Heritage Commission (1980-86). Those activities led to actual paying jobs as an architect, like saving the Subway Terminal Building downtown, (1970) The Clark Hotel, LA, Restoration Plan, (1991), the Original Broadway Department Store, downtown, (1991), the Hollywood Professional Building, (1994), and the Max Factor Building (1996). One thing leads to another- as it did in the South Pacific, i.e., Site analysis in Fiji and Western Samoa.” (Bernard Judge e-mail to the author, 08-31-2011).
Based upon his involvement in helping save the Watts Towers in the late 1970s, Judge was appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley to the City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission in 1981 where he served for 6 years. He has also lectured at UCLA on histrorical preservation issues.
In researching this article I have gained the sense that Bernard Judge, like his idol and inspiration Buckminster Fuller before him, is a totally ‘free-spirited” and adventurous architect who is unafraid to tackle projects in uncharted territory. Whether using indigenous materials on the nearly inaccessible, coral reef-enclosed Tetiaroa or new space age materials to economically solve seemingly insurmountable design problems on his “Triponent” House in Beachwood Canyon, he was able to achieve his life-long goal of creating an architecture that “lives lightly on the land.” He continues to live that dream in his “Tree” House aerie in the Hollywood Hills. His work on the restoration plan for the Schindler House, arguably the most important icon of modern architecture in Los Angeles, or the world for that matter, is terribly under-recognized and noteworthy.
I highly recommend as a follow-up to this story the upcoming exhibition at the Schindler Kings Road House
Also stay tuned for a possible book-signing event for Judge’s “Waltzing with Brando” in conjunction with the exhibition.