The Charnley-Norwood House
A Turning Point in the History of American Environmental Design
The Charnley-Norwood House, situated along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is a lesser-known vacation bungalow drawn by Frank Lloyd Wright as an experiment while working under his “Lieber Meister”, Louis Sullivan. Built in the latter part of the 19th century, it exemplifies a turning point in American architecture as the groundwork for Wright’s signature Prairie Style was taking root. Embedded within this structure are fundamentals about an organic approach to architecture, clearly demonstrated by the assimilation of the building into the interworkings of both site and climate. Sullivan and Wright scholars both agree that this house, undocumented to-date, serves as a significant milestone in the history of American environmental design. What is unknown about the house is how the dictates of the coastal gulf climate influenced its spatial disposition and how this composition grew out of well-established traditions of environmental design. The Tshaped bungalow encompasses many distinctive features including its overall horizontality, an overarching parasol roof plane, a permeable building exterior and intermediary space types along its perimeter. The open plan organization follows its predecessors in its thinness with rooms dispersed along each axis, creating multiple exposures that alter the orientation of interior spaces to year-round climatic effects. Operating in concert, these attributes serve to admit prevailing breezes, extend views to the surrounding landscape, and shade inhabitable areas; hallmarks that would alter the course of 20th century residential architecture in America. Using computational simulation tools, this paper discloses how the bungalow advances strategies of passive design utilized by early 19th century predecessors and paves the way toward an environmentally integrated 20th century period of residential construction. Additionally, this paper offers insight into a formative moment in architectural history when two American masters were in direct collaboration.
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