affleck house archived articles

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Community Spotlight - Bloomfield Hills LivingApril 2014
Affleck House Oldsmobile Ad PDF image
Friends provide for future of Wright's Affleck House
- September 1987
Righting a Wright - Autumn 1981
Luckey is the man who can live here - January 1980
House at Bloomfield Hills, Michigan - October 1946
Frank Lloyd Wright - designed house gifted to Lawrence Institute of Technology - College of Architecture On-campus magazine


 


Lucky is the man who can live here

Toss this story in the basket marked "providential." Try to kiss it off that way. Otherwise, you might turn the color of a rubber tree with the knowledge that Jim Luckey - an appropriately named person - inhabits a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Bloomfield Hills for free. All he pays is the phone bill.

Luckey, 27, is a fifth-year architecture student at Lawrence Institute of Technology, where he was at the top of his class - a fact in his favor when LIT sought a caretaker for the Gregor Affleck house 1 1/2 years ago.

Affleck, a chemical engineer and friend of Wright's, died several years ago. His children gave the 2,350-square-foot house to LIT. Wright had designed it in 1941, using his so called "Usonian" principles of flowing space. The two-bedroom house on 2.3 acres cost $19,000 to build and would cost $800,000 to duplicate today, Luckey said.

Luckey, now separated, was living with his wife when he applied, and LIT chose him to live in the house, keep it clean, act as host for LIT functions and be a guide for tourists.

"I felt as though I had been chosen by the gods to scale Olympus," Luckey recalled in a spirit of overstatement. But it wasn't total hyperbole. He knows Wright's work better than many architects; he had studied it as an art history major at Wayne State University. He had grown up in Racine, Wis., where Wright's famous Johnson Wax Co. Administration Building stands.

Even so, the move for the Luckeys was a drastic change from a tract house in Rosedale Park, coincidentally built the same year as the Affleck house. But what a difference. The Rosedale house, after all, is a house. The Affleck house is a sculpture.

It exploits the tensile strengths of steel and concrete. Rooflines and porches sweep over a steep ravine split by a creek. Characteristically, Wright had the Afflecks pick a site where no other architect would build.

The Affleck house contains, and is contained by, brick, cypress wood and concrete. Brick wraps concrete piers. Concrete, stained red, composes all the floors, etched in four-foot squares and laced beneath the surface with steam pipes which function as the heating system. It's an expensive system, which drinks 400 gallons of heating oil every winter month. But what does Luckey care? He's not paying for it.

The cypress walls and windows bend and flow in mysterious ways, swooping up to a ventilating skylight in the kitchen where one enters the house, and twisting into recessed pockets lit indirectly by fluorescent lights and clerestories. Bands of cypress ripple down the spine of the living room and splay into a glass-filled atrium.

In summer, the atrium works as a natural air-conditioning system. The house juts over the ravine, and the atrium is over a small pool. Through a glass enclosure on the floor, the pool is visible. When the enclosure and a skylight are opened, cool air is sucked in and circulated through the house.

The house abounds in evidence of Wright's fastidious attention to details. For example, every one of the brass screws, which attach wood panels to superstructure, are turned so that screw grooves parallel wood grain.

But Wright's attentions also can make his houses difficult for anyone who likes to "personalize" a home. Luckey moved in knowing that he would have little room for his own furniture and wall hangings, thanks to the Wright designed sofas and 600 feet of built-in shelves.

Wright furniture isn't known for evoking orthopedic ecstasy. The little couches in the house promote back problems. When Luckey wants to relax, he sits in a non-Wright sofa left here by a previous tenant.

Cleaning the place is no lark, either. The glossy cement floor emphasize the faintest footprints, and the skylights are only slightly harder to clean than iron pots covered with burned eggs.

Maintenance wasn't very difficult at first. Luckey's wife helped, though they are now separated (through no fault of the house, he said). Meanwhile, Luckey's work load at school has increased and he has an architectural drafting job at Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, so he has few leisure hours.

All this may make you feel sorry for Luckey, especially if you're some kind of sap. Don't feel sorry for Luckey. The wonders of this house vastly overshadow the aggravations of sloshing a mop on the floor.

On hot, sunny days, for instance, Luckey opens the French doors and outside seems to merge with the inside.

On rainy days, he opens the glass door on the atrium floor to let the sound of splashing water echo through the house.

On snowy days, more light than ever cascades into the house. Ice makes enchanting formations on the eaves. And when Luckey builds a fire, the flames form what he terms a "kinetic sculpture."

"It really took a whole year in this house to see how it changes," he said. "Sunny, cloudy, rainy - it's a delight."

Luckey never forgets, however, what this house signifies to him as an architect.

"It's the gauntlet," he said. "It's a challenge. And it's a challenge that may never be exceeded, but it's always there. It's a sublime goal to reach for."

But he may have an advantage. A painter, after all, might benefit if he could study an original Matisse in his living room.

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Frank Lloyd Wright - designed house gifted to Lawrence Institute of Technology

Affleck House, the Frank Lloyd Wright designed residence of the late Gregor S. and Elizabeth B. Affleck, has been gifted to Lawrence Institute of Technology, Dr. Richard E. Marburger, president, announces.

The home, in the City of Bloomfield Hills, was given in memory of their parents by the Affleck's daughter, Mary Ann (Mrs. Karl F.) Lutomski of Bloomfield Hills, and son, Gregor P. Affleck of Royal Oak. It has been valued for its artistic merit at more than $800,000 by Dr. Wiliam A. Storrer, University of South carolina professor and author who is generally considered the nation's foremost authority on Wright's architecture.

"Mother and dad loved the house," Mrs. Lutomski said, "and we want to help LIT by providing students an historic and creative architectural example from which to learn." Gregor S. Affleck died in 1974 at the age of 81 and his wife, Elizabeth B., died in 1973 at the age of 72.

Affleck House, commissioned by the owners and completed in 1941, is one of Wright's most significant achievements according to architectural scholars. It represents the last great period of Wright's architecture he called "Usonian" - a way of building a structure in harmony with a site. The style included open planning in the living areas, small bedrooms, and a sense of zoning that sought to maximize whatever spaciousness a smaller home might have. It also featured ship-lapped siding, and then-novel radiant heating in the polished concrete floor.

"This extraordinary residence designed by America's greatest architectural visionary, Frank Lloyd Wright, is a gift of enormous importance to our program and the world of art," comments Karl H. Greimel, dean of the College's School of Architecture. "The opportunity to experience first hand one of his most noteworthy accomplishments is an academic encounter without equal."

William Storrer says Affleck House is "both a unique item among (Wright's) architectural output, and an important representative of a particular line of development thought.... Further, the house is Wright's one satisfactory solution to the... need for a 'home for sloping ground.'" He adds, "This makes a particularly significant structure, representative of this architect's sensitivity in relating structure to site."

The Michigan Historical Commission has placed Affleck House on the state Register of Historic Places.

Lawrence Institute of Technology's plans for Affleck House have not been finalized. However, it is anticipated that the home will continue as a residence.

"We will gradually restore the home and grounds to the condition that they were shortly after the Afflecks moved in," Dr. Marburger commented.

"Naturally, too, we would ascertain the residence is also available to LIT students for examination and study. If arrangements can be made that won't disturb our neighbors, we'd hope the general public could be visitors on an occasional basis."

Gregor P. Affleck estimates nearly 10,000 names appear on the visitors register his parents carefully kept while they lived in the home.

"I'll never forget the morning two bus loads of Japanese students knocked on the front door to ask whether they could walk through the house," Mrs. Lutomski said. "As I was growing up that was probably the biggest drawback; we could never sleep in on Saturday mornings because of the likelihood someone would want to see the bedrooms - and mother insisted the rooms be spotless. I think we had people visit from almost every country."

"Mother and dad enjoyed the unusual," Mr. Affleck recalls. "And dad liked nothing better than to have his puttering around interrupted by a visitor who wanted to talk about the house."

It was this desire for uniqueness that led the elder Afflecks to build a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Gregor S., a chemical engineer and 1919 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, had first become acquainted with Wrightian architecture growing up near Wright's boyhood home in Wisconsin. Years later, he and his wife saw drawings and renderings of the Wright-designed "Falling Water" residence of Edgar Kaufman at Bear Run, Pennsylvania, and fell in love with its soaring decks and "oneness" with its surroundings.

"Find a site that no one else can build anything on," Wright answered the Affleck's initial inquiry, beginning a friendship with them that would last long after the house was completed and until Wright's death in 1959. After months of searching, the Afflecks purchased a wooded ravine in the then-hinterlands of Bloomfield Hills, traversed by a tiny stream and overlooking a sylvan pond.

"Wright didn't actually visit the house until a few months after its completion," says Mr. Affleck. "The work was supervised by one of his assistants and the contractor was Harold Turner."

"One of the first things Wright did when he walked in was pick up a saw and cut off the end of a built-in bookshelf that made the space for our piano a little tight," Mrs. Lutomski recounts. Visitors to the home can still rub their fingers over Wright's own rough sawn handiwork.

Both Affleck children became favorites of Wright. Gregor P. spent one and one-half years at the Wright Fellowship at Taliesen West Mary Ann was a houseguest of the Wright's.

"I'm sure I treated him as casually as any eight-year-old treats her grandfather," she smiles.

In a 1953 NBC interview with Hugh Downs, Frank Lloyd Wright said, "... an art cannot be taught. You can only inculate it. You can be an exemplar. You may be able to create an atmosphere in which it can grow."

It seems, therefore, Wright would approve of the Affleck's generous gift to Lawrence Institute of Technology.

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Righting a Wright

By Bill McDonough
Reprinted from The Tech News LIT
student weekly 

Eight LIT students in the employ of Jack Armstrong, director of campus facilities, found themselves hard at work over the summer restoring a masonry retaining wall adjacent to the driveway at the College-owned Affleck House. Affleck House, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the late 1930s, was donated to the College in 1978. It is in Bloomfield Hills.

The building was constructed in 1941. Since the driveway was built on the slope of a hill, a retaining wall was necessary to keep it from eroding away. Unfortunately, inadequate drainage allowed large amounts of water to build up in the soil on the uphill side of the wall. Over the years, this problem, coupled with the fact that the wall was constructed with no steel reinforcing, caused a section of the wall to collapse early last spring.

The students, after spending a day or two acquainting themselves with the site and the task at hand, dove right in and attacked the job with great enthusiasm.

"These eight students: Juan Angel, Fred Bartlett, John Boomer, Bob Goffney, David Johnson, Jim Oliver, Randy Turnbull, and project supervisor, Rob Dornboss, really did a fantastic job, and I'd recommend any one of them to any potential employer," Mr. Armstrong said.

The process of restoring the wall began by tearing out the original wall and excavating the site. The next step involved building the forms for the concrete and placing the reinforcing steel. Concrete was then poured, forming the basic structure of the wall. Drain tile was installed to prevent the same water buildup which was blamed for the failure of the original wall. The student workers then proceeded with a backfill operation and completed the project by assisting a mason, who rebricked the exterior portion of the wall so that it would match the original as closely as possible.

The drawings from which the restoration was done were provided by Dale Jerome, a junior in the architecture program.

In addition to re-constructing the retaining wall, the eight man task force also tore out an old boiler and readied the house for the installation of a new gas fired boiler system.

Happily, both employer and employee are pleased with the past summer's work. The feelings of the students were summed up by David Johnson, a student in the mechanical engineering program, who said, "I learned more this summer than I have ever learned."

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Friends provide for future of Wright's Affleck House

The Frank Lloyd Wright designed Affleck House of Bloomfield will be open for visitors, 2-4p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13.

The house was given to Lawrence Institute of Technology, LIT, of Southfield by the Affleck children, Mary Ann Lutomski and Gregor P. Affleck in 1978. It was completed in 1941 as a cost of about $20,000.

The revoation began slowly and progressed with greater speed once the Friends of the Frank Lloyd Wright Affleck house with a board of governors, headed by Ivabell Harlan of Bloomfield Hills, was formed.

Working in cooperation with Ed Darling, project director from LIT, the board raised funds for restoration, formed a strong volunteer garden group and increased memberships in the Friends of the Frank Lloyd Wright Affleck House.

"The whole project is really under the (LIT) school of architecture, it was really given to the school of architecture," said Darling.

He said that the exterior work is finished. "We have removed the winter wrappings (the plastic the house was wrapped in for a year while the work continued) and all but one wing of the interior is completed."

A volunteer garden group, headed by Saida Malarney of Bloomfield Hills, works each Tuesday and Thursday morning, and as a result the landscaping and plantings are neat and attractive.

The garden group still needs and welcomes volunteers. Much of the shrubbery that spoiled the view from the back has been thinned and a wild-flower garden is blooming in one section of the yard.

"We will be saluting the volunteer garden group at the open house," said Darling.

For the fund-raisers, volunteers and members of the Friends group, however, one of the most gratifying sights is the new cypress on the exterior. Brought in from Georgia, it is a close match to the original, so close in fact that after some time in the weather, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to tell from the original. Each piece of the old cypress that was removed was numbered and the replacement cut and matched exactly.

There will be a final fund-raising party later this fall, Darling said. There will be a $100,000 maintenance fund for the house established and the interest will be used to keep the house in good condition.

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House at Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

 

When Gregor Affleck and his wife went to Mr. Wright to design their home, they told him: "We have seen the other houses and we don't like them and we like yours... We don't like attics; we don't like basements, and we don't like furniture." Their needs were simply stated - "a house with a lot of windows, a large fireplace, a carport instead of a garage, room enough for three people to live in but large enough for six for sleep in." On their architect's advice, they bought a very uneven piece of land - "something with a little character in it, something nobody else could do anything with." Mr. Wright carried on from there. On succeeding pages, we assay the result.

During construction, visitors came in swarms, sample remarks:
"I hear that the man who is building this house is and architect and he is crazy."
Visitor: "Did you ever think what would happen if you tried to sell this house?"
Mr. Affleck: "Sure, I think I could sell it. Did you ever think how foolish it is to build a house you don't like so that you can sell it to somebody who will not like it either?"

"Wouldn't you think that fellow could find some level ground to build a house on?"
Visitor: "We are going to design our own home. We know what kind of house we like."
Mr. Affleck: "Why don't you write your own music? You know what kind of music you like."

Exterior walls of wood are built of double layers of one-inch-thick overlapping boards screwed together, with continuous insulation between the layers. While ingenious (the structure itself forming both interior and exterior finish), this sloping-wall construction seems rather prodigal in the use of the material and something of an anachronism, in that it creates hard-to-justify shearing and overturning stresses at every joint and (where it serves as a non-bearing wall) its solidity seems excessive.

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