The Durst House was designed by Williams, architect and founder of the University of Arkansas’s Department of Architecture. David Durst, then head of the university’s Art Department, selected Williams after having worked with him on the programming and design of the recently completed Fine Arts Center (WA26.4) for the university, itself a notable architectural feat by Edward Durell Stone. Radically modern for its time and place, the Durst House reflected the progressive vision of Durst and his colleagues, bringing a freshened awareness of art and design to northwest Arkansas. Distinguished by its simple, nontraditional appearance and long articulated mass, the house initially confounded passersby, who commonly mistook it for a chicken coop or other utility structure. Clad in smooth tongue-and-groove tidewater cypress boards, its flat roof forms (enhancing interior views to the south), bridged entrance (to negotiate the site’s ravine), and high clerestory windows (to enhance interior air flow) contributed to the unconventional nature of the house and necessitated private construction financing after refusal by local lending concerns. The interior spaces were marvels of efficiency and ingenious planning. Living and dining spaces were combined and offered splendid views to the Boston Mountains to the south through glassy floor-to-ceiling windows. The kitchen was positioned so that it would have views into the living area and provide surveillance into the adjacent children’s play area. The children’s bedrooms, across from the play area, were designed for maximum flexibility: large enough for little more than a bed and the adjacent built-in cabinets and desk, they were closed off at night by accordion doors and opened wide by day to extend their boundaries. The master bedroom also adjoined this space, but with a more private enclosure, as well as a private master bathroom. Several years after initial occupancy, the Dursts enclosed the previously open space beneath the house to create additional bedroom and bathroom space; access to these spaces was made via a tight-radius circular steel stair cut into a corner of the play area. David and Mary Margaret Durst were as progressive in their social views as they were in their design patronage. In this house they hosted several distinguished university visitors, offering lodging to African Americans, including Ralph Bunche and Louis Armstrong, who were otherwise unwelcome in local hostelries, despite their level of fame and accomplishment.
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David and Mary Margaret Durst House
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