What We Can Learn From an Architect and Artist Collaboration

A while back ago, I visited Wharton Esherick’s fairytale abode located in the outskirts of Paoli, Pennsylvania. It’s dreamy nature felt like a scene from Hansel and Gretel. Each portion of the house was added incrementally, to either meet a family or studio need.

I first heard about Wharton Esherick in the first year of my Master’s studio class, learning about how he was a Philadelphia native and found his artistic expression through wood. It was pretty exciting to see in person and further learning about his process. His work evoked the beauty of nature and the numerous gifts Allah’s creations provides us. What further excited me was the woodworking that was a resemblance of my uncle’s woodworking shop in Syria. The work is certainly not the same, with Eshericks being curvilinear and my uncle’s being geometric, but local craftsmanship is what makes each part of the world unique.

Esherick’s house was built at a time when building inspection and policies weren’t as strict. However, later on the township asked for floor plans or his house would be confiscated. It quickly became complicated for him to provide the documents so he collaborated with Louis Kahn to build a new workshop (yup, makes total sense, but luckily they were ok with it).

Here is where the collaboration tension began. Esherick loved curvilinear contours while Kahn was on the opposite side of the spectrum. What I learned is that art can teach us to freely express form and architecture teaches us to edit the unecessary. It becomes a measure of complexity hidden in simplicity. Which is literally what happened, Esherick sneaked a curve in the wall structure during construction (third image down, unfortunately its not as visible in a photo as in-person). While this is a minor collaboration it can still inform us how both parties were satisfied. Collaboration is necessary to avoid making socially or environmentally damaging mistakes, because an architect knows his trade may not know his place.  

Esherick’s philosophy was “If it isn’t playful than why do it.”  I might add if it isn’t playful, sustainable, and socially equitable, than why do it. (hey that rhymed!) Enjoy the photos and talk to you soon!

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