Greene & Greene Architects

An Introduction

David B. Gamble House

Northwest corner, David B. Gamble house, Pasadena, 1907-09.

In 1916, Charles Greene moved his family from Pasadena to Carmel. This seemingly innocuous event marked the unofficial dissolution of one of the most noteworthy architectural firms in early 20th century America. Many other firms have enjoyed more acclaim, longer tenure and greater numbers of commissions but few have left such a distinct imprint on residential architecture in this country.

During the first decade of the 20th century, Greene & Greene developed a unique architectural style, "a new and native beauty," by fusing elements from the Arts & Crafts movement and Japanese imperial buildings and temples. They refined these elements by incorporating the requirements of the Southern California environment and an obsessive attention to detail. Finally, adding a unity of design concept, seldom seen before or since, resulted in the iconic forms for which they are remembered today.

Charles Sumner Greene (1868-1957) and Henry Mather Greene (1870-1954) were Midwestern boys who followed their parents west to Pasadena in 1893. California was, even then, a land of seemingly limitless opportunity. As Charles Greene wrote, "California, with its climate, so wonderful in possibility, is only beginning to be dreamed of, hardly thought of yet." So it was that early in 1894 the young brothers established the firm Greene & Greene Architects.

Houses for the firm's earliest clients were quite modest though size, and expense, increased over the course of their first decade in practice. Designed in a variety of styles, these jobs constitute an eclectic set. Some designs had an English flavor with timbering and leaded windows. Others bore some elements of the California mission style. Many are easily identifiable as Victorian, although somewhat subdued for that form. Even the chalet style, a form to which they would return quite successfully in 1905-06, makes an early appearance in the house for their first client.

There is, of course, no vice in the use of various styles. Nor is there virtue in uniformity merely for uniformity's sake. In the Greenes' case, the diversity they displayed early on is indicative that they had not yet discovered a philosophy with which they were at ease. At this stage of their nascent careers, the young architects were exploring, searching, learning about themselves and the strange surroundings that would play a significant role in shaping them and their aesthetic. It may also be that, due to their tender years, they were not yet comfortable suggesting the unanticipated to their clients. Perhaps they were simply designing what they thought, or were told, was expected of them. At the dawn of the 20th century, however, the Greenes found their own voice, a voice in harmony with their environment and an emerging philosophy; a voice that would define them for posterity.

Cora C. Hollister House

Courtyard, Cora C. Hollister house, Hollywood, 1904-05.

That voice, once found, evolved quickly resulting in the style with which Greene & Greene are inseparably associated. There is more to this change than the adoption of easily identifiable design elements, though those elements are brilliant and beautiful. No, perhaps the most significant development is the gestalt philosophy to which the brothers began to adhere. From about 1902 on, they would no longer be content to limit their designs to structures. They began creating furniture, lighting, art glass, household implements, even textiles. Structures, exteriors and interiors, unified through integrated design, became their domain. Greene & Greene were hardly alone in this approach. Arts & Crafts designers and theorists on both sides of the Atlantic advocated designing complete environments. Perhaps more than any other firm, however, they perfected the concept.

Continued: Greene and Greene

Links

Poems of Wood and Light

Books

Greene & Greene Furniture: Poems of Wood & Light
Greene & Greene: Design Elements for the Workshop
Greene and Greene: Masterworks




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