Thursday, October 3, 2019

Knorr Website

To Our Friends and Clients:

We have been working hard in recent months to redesign, update, and improve navigation on our web site. With the help of e-wizard Craig Freeman, we have finally launched our new look.

Some of you will recognize your own project, which we feature with gratitude for your support. Other projects did not have enough high-quality photos to include, but know that we always approach our work with respect and enthusiasm regardless of size or budget. Whether a large custom home or a backyard addition, we like every project.

On the updated site you will find examples of our contemporary, classic, multi-family, mountain, and commercial work. You may be surprised at how versatile we have been over the years. Please explore, provide feedback, and spread the word that we aim to create living architecture that enhances the experience of being in this world. 

Our newly revised website can be seen here: www.michaelknorr.net


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Update: Lloyd Wright's Architecture

This blog has several times covered Lloyd Wright, the overshadowed architect son of Frank Lloyd Wright. Most recently we wrote about his design for the Sowden residence on Franklin Avenue in Los Angeles. It has been reported in the press that the house has been sold to cannibis entrepreneur Dan Goldfarb and his wife Jenny Landers.  What an appropriate custodian for this dreamlike fantasia! It will be used to host charity events.



Sunday, May 5, 2019

Knorr Architectural Design Sets Record

Front elevation, 460 St.Paul Street, Denver, CO.
This past month one of our architectural designs in the Denver Cherry Creek neighborhood went on the market for $14 million. There is no decimal point missing in that number; at $14 million it is the highest price ever asked for a residence in Cherry Creek and nearly double the previous high. We've always been quite proud of this design. It combines rectilinear geometry with sweeping curves. A series of interconnected courtyards introduce greenery and the sound of water to a compact urban
Living room fireplace. 
site. The house was designed by our office and built by Paul Kobey in 1999. The house was sold to its current owner after a few years. They then purchased a 35'x125' adjacent parcel and asked us to design a gym addition. This resulted in a dramatic multi-level space that makes a beautiful private gym, but would also make an excellent art gallery should the next owners be serious collectors.

Click this link to the realtor's listing containing a detailed description with additional pictures.
Lounge area.

Skylight over gym juice bar.

Two story gym.

Koi pond.

Skylight over main stairway. (Used for our blog title page.)
Courtyard between gym (left) and main house (right).
Living room. 
Gym left, main house right. 
Steps from sunken garden.
















Images: Rob Munger.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Lloyd Wright Architecture on TV

The central courtyard of the Sowden residence. 
I caught a brief flash of architecture during a promo spot for the upcoming TV series I Am the Night starring Chris Pine and Patty Jenkins. It was the Sowden residence designed by Lloyd
Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright's son. It looks like the house features prominently in the limited series starting January 28, 2019 on TNT.

The first time I saw this Lloyd Wright masterpiece, before renovation. 
The Sowden residence, built in 1926, is a quirky landmark on Franklin Avenue. This is the Los Feliz neighborhood, contiguous to Hollywood and not far from the senior Wright's more famous projects, the Ennis house (1924) and the Hollyhock house (1921). You may notice similarities to the Ennis house in my previous blog entry.

The Sowden project is an enigmatic landmark, with only a glimpse of the facade visible from the street. The architecture, usually described as Mayan revival, is closed and secretive. Exotic and mysterious, shrouded in thick vegetation it could easily be a pagan temple from an Indiana Jones movie. Rarely are its interior secrets revealed to the public; it looks like they will be fully exposed in this new TV production. The plot is a fictionalized account of the notorious Black Dahlia murder mystery of 1947.

The Sowden house has endured several ownerships. At the time of the Black Dahlia case it was owned by a corrupt Hollywood doctor, George Hodel, who was actually a suspect. That sordid tale is recounted by Hadley Meares in an fascinating on-line article.  This is worth reading before seeing the TV series, just to keep the facts straight.

The Sowden residence was recently restored and listed for $4.888 million. You can explore the house virtually by clicking this link to a 3-D walkthrough used to market the house. Another interesting thing to try is exploring the Sowden residence form the air using Google Earth (5121 Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles). What appears to be a very complicated piece of architecture in photos is actually quite simple. The schema is a rectangle with a flat roof. A courtyard is carved out of the center with all major rooms opening to it. This explains the blank walls on most of the exterior. Front and rear, two high-pitched roofs animate the architecture with Churrigueresque-like decoration against planar surfaces.

The Sowden residence is one of the most unusual homes in America. But it is a perfect fit for Los Angeles.
Vintage photo.
Lloyd Wright's floor plan and east side elevation.
Recent photo from the courtyard looking in.
The living room. 



Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Architecture For Sale


One of my favorite houses is for sale. If only I had $23 million.

The 1924 Ennis house in Los Angeles, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is on the market. It is recognizable to many people from films, playing prominently in Bladerunner (the original) and Day of the Locust, among many others. It was even used in a Michael Jackson music video. The house is very noticable from the streets below its perch in the Los Feliz district of LA. The Ennis house, named for the original client, looms above Sunset Boulevard like a Mayan temple. It is one of several concrete block houses designed by Wright for Los Angeles clients in the 1920s. It is also the biggest.



The Ennis house was in danger of being lost to architecture afficianados due to earthquake and mudslide damage. For a time the city of Los Angeles owned it, but never found the resources to adequately restore it. The current owner and seller, billionaire Ron Burkle, has pumped a sufficient amount of money into stabilizing and restoring this classic design. By Los Angeles standards it is no doubt worth the asking price.



I don't know why this is one of my favorite houses. There is something very exotic -- almost decadent -- about it, even for Wright. I feel a little guilt for liking it. The decorative light fixtures and original furnishings have been attributed to Wright, but they don't look like his work to me. I believe they might have been designed or selected by  Lloyd Wright, his son and also an architect. Lloyd assisted his father on the concrete block projects and acted as his local representative. The younger Wright's work tended to Hollywood theatricality, so this makes sense. Other non-Wrightian features are beamed ceilings (Wright almost never used exposed beams), black-and-white ceramic tile in one of the bathrooms, red and black tiles in another, and white travetine in a main gallery. Wright's color schemes were normally earth toned. Perhaps an interior decorator co-opted some of these decisions.  Those design details are a mystery to me. It is no wonder that so many movies have used this Mayan palace as code for intrigue and mystery.

If you have the wherewithal to make an offer, click here for the realtor's website.















Tuesday, April 3, 2018

An Architect Abandons Facebook

I have never been a big fan of Facebook. Years ago the conversation among business people was insistent: "You have to be on Facebook. It's a sure-fire way to generate business leads." The advice was so relentless that I started to feel guilty for not having a presence on Facebook. Eventually, I opened an account, posted a few things about my architectural practice, and let it sit there as a little-visited on-line presence. If people commented on my material I hardly noticed because I seldom visited Facebook. I did gain a few re-connects with some old friends. That was nice, but they probably would have found me anyway with a Google search. The rest of what I noticed on Facebook was mostly pictures of people's dinner food or brags about their vacations. I understand that many people use social media as a way of staying in touch with family and friends. I also hear about people with rare diseases getting information and support they might never have found without Facebook. There are many good and useful reasons to enjoy Facebook. In my case those were not strong incentives. So, when comes the recent revelations of Facebook facilitating unsavory political activity by Cambridge Analytica it was not difficult for me to jettison Facebook from my collection of aps. I thought it would be a good way to protest the insidious and over-sized influence of this platform. A way of removing a thumb from the scale of political debate. I realize for me it was not a great sacrifice; others will have a difficult time cutting the Facebook tether. It won't be the right thing to do for everyone.

I killed my Facebook account last Wednesday. (By the way, account death does not happen immediately. Apparently, Facebook needs time to ruminate over my decision. Weeks, in fact. I don't know why.) That afternoon I heard commentary on the radio that for every 100,000 users in the United States who may quit Facebook, there are 100,000 new users in India who replace us every day. Outrage and protestations in the U.S. are not going to put a dent into the billions of users Facebook profits from worldwide. My feeble protest felt like a finger in the dike against a tsunami of mis-information threatening the foundations of reality.

That last sentence is not hyperbole. Think about what Facebook actually allowed to happen: Cambridge Analytica mined tidbits of Facebook data to identify (through psychographic profiling) those likely to be influenced by false and/or one-sided information in support of presidential candidate Donald Trump. This statistical knowledge was used to create an on-line environment that presented one-sided "facts" and "news" that encouraged and disseminated a Trumpian view of the world. This was done with the intent of creating a sense of outrage among likely Trump supporters that would nurture their votes.

Some will say this is simply a form of advertising for a political product. No. This is not advertising. Advertising looks like advertising. Cambridge Analytica created a cyber environment where opinions masquerade as facts. This is a world where low-rent prejudices commandeer debates. Where conversations become shouting matches. That is not advertising, nor is it possible to identify it as such. This was done in secrecy.

A woman was quoted on the evening news, "I don't worry about my data being mined... I have nothing to hide." Others have said they're not influenced by things they see on-line; they simply don't pay attention to it. Both of these positions miss the point. This is not about any particular individual and their on-line experiences. This is a dark game of statistics and algorithms. Cambridge Analytica was able to gather millions of innocuous data points in order to identify likely Trump voters and people sitting on the fence. They didn't advertise to these people. Instead, they literally changed the digital world these people saw without their knowledge. Cambridge Analytica created an alternate reality for these particular people. How many Trump voters did this drive to the polls? That is unknowable. But common sense tells us it was some number of people. In a close election, did that make a difference?

The monetary worth of Facebook is $500 billion. Owner Mark Zuckerberg has a personal worth of $64 billion. (!!!)  These numbers have been dented in recent days by a stock sell-off, but Facebook will certainly rebound. Other corporate behemoths have similar wealth. Google, Twitter, Amazon, YouTube, Apple. Wealth is power. As we have recently learned, much of that power is exercised in secretive and hidden ways. If the singularity (look it up) is imminent, we need to get a handle on the tech giants who run our world in order to direct our own futures in a positive direction. To be explicit: a handful of corporate entities have created an information monopoly. They have the potential to run amok and need to be regulated. Just as the monopoly of ATT was broken up at the beginning of the cyber era, perhaps these monopolies of the new millennium should at least be regulated.

This is the first article I've written that strays from the stated purpose of this blog. There's nothing here about architecture. There's not even a picture of a building. I feel this subject is so important that other matters are trivial. I will no longer use Facebook as a promotional tool for my architectural work. But I still have this blog. And I post occasionally on Instagram. Oh, wait a second. Instagram is owned by Facebook. And this blog is run by Google. I surf the web on Apple devices linked by their iCloud. Yikes! Is it already too late?

The issue is controlling the trafficking in human data. This is a new kind of corrupting power.

Twenty-first century technology is not inherently bad. Many beautiful things are possible because of it. I would like to end this discussion on a positive note. I don't have an image of a remarkable work of architecture to illustrate this article, but here is one of the most stunningly beautiful images I have seen in recent years in any category: the simultaneous landing of two rocket ships by Elon Musk's Space X corporation. This is the good we are aiming for in our techno-cyber world.
SpaceX simultaneous vertical rocket landing. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Architecture of Power 3: The Supreme Court

The triad of American government is the Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court. These are established as co-equal branches of government. The Capitol building and the White House are the architectural edifices housing the first two. The remaining seat of power is the Supreme Court building. The architect for the Supreme Court faced a big challenge: how to make a building with relatively few programmatic requirements look as important and commanding as the other two loci of power.
Main facade of the Supreme Court building by architect Cass Gilbert. 
The Capitol building houses 435 representatives and 100 senators, plus an immense support staff (a substantial part of our bureaucracy), lobbyists, and the constant flow of journalists.  There is a lot going on in the Capitol, which is why it has expanded over the years with multiple additions and updates.  The Capitol is an ungainly, bloated edifice after accreting power for over two centuries. The architecture struggles gamely to cohere the sprawling results of multiple expansions.
The Contemplation of Justice by sculptor James Fraser.
The Authority of Law by sculptor James Fraser.
The design of the White House, on the other hand, downplays the immense power of the presidency, even though the administrative functions it houses are equally immense.  The President is, after all, a man of the people, not a king. The design strategy has been to minimize and disguise the numerous renovations, additions, and expansions. The White House still looks like a home, not the sprawling office building it mostly is.
The pediment contains nine figures by sculptor Robert Aitken in the manner
of Greco-Roman architecture. 
The Supreme court has specific and clearly defined powers that do not require much space - not in comparison to the former two branches of government.  After all, what does the Supreme Court need?  It is only nine people, plus staff. It has a library and meeting rooms, but no massive support bureaucracy. The architectural challenge for the Supreme Court building is to create a presence that can stand equal to the other arms of government.  Surprisingly, the architectural results are up to the task.
The floor plan reveals four open air courtyards. 
Originally the Supreme Court had no building of its own. The building we see today was commissioned by Congress in 1929. Chief Justice (and former President) William Howard Taft convinced Congress that the Court needed its own digs. Cass Gilbert, who had designed several state supreme court buildings, was chosen as architect. Though known for neo-Gothic architecture, Gilbert employed the neo-classical style for the Supreme Court.  By the 1930s, neo-classical architecture was so closely identified with governmental power he could hardly take any other route. Designed by one architect in a short period of time, the Supreme Court building does not suffer from the additions, remodelings, intrusions, and rebuilding that burden the other two branches of government. The Supreme Court building is a beautifully coherent composition. Powerful in its simplicity, it seems fitting for a court of law. We expect clear and well-grounded decisions from this clear and well-grounded building. We do not always see such clarity of purpose in Supreme Court decisions, but at least we get a sense of that ideal in the architecture. One device used by the architect to expand the apparent size of the building is a series of four courtyards hidden from street view. Cass Gilbert increased the apparent mass of the building by devoting nearly half of its footprint to...nothing.
Organization of the main room of the Supreme Court. 
Where solemn chamber where the nine Supreme Court justices take their chairs. 
The heart of Washington D.C. is the Mall. One of the great urban spaces in the world, it stretches nearly two miles in length. The east end is bordered by the Capitol building, the middle by the White House, and the remainder is bordered by our most important museums and monuments. Nowhere to be seen is the Supreme Court building. This is a significant symbolic oversight. The three pillars of our government, supposedly equal in power and authority, are not equally represented in our most important civic space.  The Supreme Court is tucked away behind the Capitol, out of sight and out of awareness. This, in my opinion, is an enormous planning flaw. This is hardly Cass Gilbert's fault, of course. But one would logically expect to find the Supreme Court located at the site of the Lincoln Memorial or, perhaps, at the Jefferson Memorial. Those would be positions of importance equal to the White House or Capitol. Nevertheless, the architecture of the Supreme Court successfully conveys calm equanimity and power. The architecture is successful, even if the siting is not.
Main gallery in the Supreme Court Building. 
The Supreme Court building was brought in under its 9.74 million dollar budget. In fact, the treasury received a $94,000 refund upon its completion in 1935.