I recently received a request for photographs of the Ennis House, a 1923–1924 concrete block home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for a neighborhood south of Griffith Park in Los Angeles. An Italian architect is preparing an interesting series of architectural documentaries to include Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van Der Rohe, and Gio Ponti.
I had the opportunity to photograph these homes when access to them was surprisingly easy. For my first book project, Romanza, the California Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, I collaborated with architectural historian and University of California Santa Barbara professor, David Gebhard. He referred to the Ennis House as a 20th century version of a Mayan temple, but called out that the temple illusion fades once on the hill because of the home’s low horizontal massing.
As Gebhard explains, by layering textured and plain concrete blocks, the structure recalls America’s pre-Columbian past in Mexico and Central America. Lloyd Wright (Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr.) supervised the construction and served as landscape architect. In his landscape design, the vegetation supports the illusion of a ruin in a jungle environment
In contrast to the rest of the home, the main living area has a strong verticality where the large panels of clear art glass allow grand views to the surrounding city. The views are possible, in part, because of the steepness of the lot.
The slope of the site and the experimental nature of the concrete blocks both make this home remarkable, but at the same time they have hastened its decline. The mix of local soils in the original block led to the blocks’ deterioration and associated structural damage, and the Northridge earthquake and erosion from heavy rains deteriorated the steep building site. A large investment has preserved the home, and it has transitioned to a private home. Fortunately, by agreement the homeowner opens the home on certain prearranged days.
Davis Gebhard observed that the Ennis home’s corridors seem endless, comparing it to a Hollywood set. In fact, the Ennis house is familiar to most as a set in numerous films and music videos, including scenes from Blade Runner.
It is always interesting to me to revisit old photos. While certainly I have more technical skills and better equipment now, I sense how much the architecture moved me when I made these photos.
That feeling remains. No matter how many buildings I have photographed, I feel in awe of Mr. Wright’s genius and sensitivity to beauty both then and now.
For more by Scot Zimmerman, take a look at our Photo Friday page!