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Betty and Irving Abrams House

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1982, Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown. 118-A Woodland Rd., Squirrel Hill

The clients had previously lived a few blocks away in a ranch house next to the stringently modernist A. James Speyer–designed house ( AL110), which may have spurred them to postmodernism here. Though they first considered postmodernist architects Charles Moore and Michael Graves for the commission, they chose the firm of Venturi, Rauch, and Scott Brown. The Philadelphia architects took as their point of departure the difficult setting of the proposed building site, slightly downgrade from Woodland Road, in a shallow valley split by a creek. The lot, one of five carved from the old Tudor Revival estate next door, contained an ornamental stone bridge from the 1920s that spanned the creek. The architects used the bridge as the main landscape incident that can be viewed from the oversized living room windows, and the creek's water fills ornamental pools at the front and rear of the structure.

The dynamic, curvilinear form of the Abrams House emerges from the green and white wooden clapboards and the colored enamel panels that form strident, raylike, decorative motifs from the center of the facade over a gray background. The left half of the facade is dominated by an oversized fan-shaped window that hints at a mill wheel—perhaps an allusion to the creek over which the structure is built. The interior plan of the house is simple, allowing the architects to syncopate the large rectangles for the more important areas of the home with smaller squares for secondary bedrooms and storage and utility rooms. The most striking aspect of this interior is the changes in scale and the interplay of open and closed spaces. These effects are most notable in the living room, where a balcony extends the full width of the house to create a snug sense of enclosure for a narrow bar on the floor below it. This enclosure acts as a foil for the adjacent living room, underscoring the unexpected twenty-four-foot height of its gracefully curved ceiling.

The Abrams House represents the dynamic forms and dramatic juxtapositions for which the firm was acclaimed. By any measure, this quirky house on an inconvenient and waterlogged site is an exceptional addition to the architectural pedigree of Woodland Road.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lu Donnelly et al.
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Citation

Lu Donnelly et al., "Betty and Irving Abrams House", [Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/PA-01-AL113.

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 1

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, Lu Donnelly, H. David Brumble IV, and Franklin Toker. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010, 117-117.

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