Saturday, September 22, 2012

Forgotten Architectural Jewel

1. Temple Hoyne Buell's Mullen Nurses Home, 1933.
Buried on a side street in Denver's flourishing Uptown neighborhood is an overlooked art deco masterpiece: the Mullen Nurses Home designed by Temple Hoyne Buell in 1933. (Now part of St. Joseph Hospital.)
2. Entrance to Mullen Nurses Home.
Though in reasonably good condition (and on the state register of historic places) the building is subsumed by the massive medical campus around it. No one seems to notice the gaudy loveliness of this gem amidst all the parking structures, doctors blocks, and patient accommodations that comprise a modern hospital.
3. Brick detailing.
Buell was an immensely creative architect who worked in a variety of styles. He is credited by some as inventing the modern shopping mall and is known nationally for his philanthropy. I remember seeing him at charity events in the 1980s as an octogenarian with jet black hair and a Snidely Whiplash mustache.  But he should be remembered most of all for the astonishing art deco buildings produced early in his career. Best among these is the Mullen Nurses Home. The effulgent brickwork on this building is an astonishing exercise in decorative detailing and craftsmanship. The depth and complexity of the red brick designs against a plain field of beige brick is reminiscent of seventeenth century Churrigueresque architecture. This is excess fighting against restraint. In the twentieth century, only Gaudi had the audacity to play with forms as lush as these. 
4. Churrigueresque revival at San Diego's Panama-California Exposition, 1915.
Perhaps Buell's work is misclassified as art deco. Art deco contained its decoration in streamlined shapes and disciplined curves. The decorative bricks in Buell's architecture ooze out of the structure and refuse to be confined by convenient definitions. That is what makes this one-of-a-kind structure really good architecture and not just a building
5. Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. 
1thru 4, MJK.
5, R. Munger.

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