Remembering back 60 years - how am I doing?
|Winslow Wedin, ca 1999, painting a model|
1. Some time in the mid 1950’s I began to think about designing with free forms. I
will have to investigate more. Was it the Mexican and other Latin architects?, Was it
Bruce Goff? Was it the hyperbolic shells of Antonio Gaudi and his tiled curved
facades? Was it Eric Mendelson? And then there was the class in ceramics. working
with clay in coils, slabs and wheel i had a good feeling for a malleable material.
2. Bob Mittlestadt (1959) - I met Bob at Ben Gingold’s office. On a social basis we
would gather (Bob, Carol, Patty and myself and discuss Architecture as a free space to
be lived in- A plastic world of no right angles. After a few glasses of Johnny Walker
Black, we had the designs worked out, but seldom a material to build with. Concrete
was too expensive and wood frame with stucco not organic enough.
3. Free forms - I am not sure if I ever designed with pure non structure non
objective forms. My father Elof was investigating free shapes but I could not directly
relate this to Architectural form.
4. HP’s (1957 - ) In this time period I built a number of models of cardboard and
string to generate the Hyperbolic forms. I may have stretched nylon panty hose to
investigate forms . but never found a satisfactory surface coating.
5. The 1956 House for the Architect in Colorado was in curved shapes but not
6. 1957. - Travels in Mexico, Texas, and Paolo Soleri were inspirations
B. MY FIRST PROJECTS
1. The Wedin Guest Studio, 1959 - 4 HP’s on 4 supports based upon a 30 - 60
triangle grid. This was not truly free design. However, the roof was insulated with 2” of
polyurethane foam and covered with hand lay-up fiberglass coating.
2. Other sketches (the Country Club in watercolor + ) Some interesting
watercolors and spray paint of pure organic designs.
3. Fri Otto’s work of 1960’s This German engineer was investigating thin film
forms related to soap bubbles. He did not have a material for covering. The spider web
was studied for thin cables and an organization of support points.
4. Paolo Soleri ,1960’s - Soleri was working in many forms and many forming
techniques using concrete. I studied his work extensively. I especially liked his earth
forming idea, first experienced in our visit in 1957
C. THE ENSCULPTIC SERIES (1964 to 1972)
E-I, Boot Gordon and Richard Scott - Richard Scott (A sculptor), his family and
ours were great friends and we discussed architecture , sculpture and design
extensively. Richard introduces us to Stewart (Boot ) Gordon, a teacher at Blake
school in Hopkins. Boot also lived in a contemporary Tech-Built (a prefab out of
Boston) house and thus very familiar with predesigned structures. Richard always
wanted to know what it would be like to get into one of his sculptures and experience
the spacial environment. Boot had the experience of taking classes to the planetarium
and noticing how quiet they became in the domed space. As a ski instructor he would
instinctively slalom down the slopes in curved lines following the natural terrain.
Together we decided to build or at least vision a sculptural home. We started with
domes as a form. Part of our vision was to build a very low cost shelter, but if it was
only cheep without design, it would have limited appeal. The dining area was to be a
Bucky dome of glass. The interior spaces were linked by curved ramps. Bedrooms
would be pods. The exterior land forms followed the shapes of the building.
We thought if we could inflate some forms mold them and cover with a Mondrian we
would have it. Fiberglass for boats was just being used and this could be our
Mondrian. We may have thought of foam urethane?. It was Richard who came up with
ENvironmental SCULlpture in plasTIC, or ENSCULPTIC. The finished 1/4” scale
model was brought to the Minneapolis paper, photographed and our interview
published. “Dream Home Said Not to be a Nightmare” was the headline. We did not
need that kind of help.
E-II, 1965 - Fiberglass sculpture at Botega Gallery - I never liked how a dome
( from my days with Bucky Fuller) entered the ground - usually at a right angle. A
smoother transition was necessary. Some of the hung forms of the german engineer,
Fri Otto were anchored to the earth in almost a continuous surface, This was much
nicer and more organic. A model of hung forms connected to a central mast was built
of a nylon fabric and to that a polyester fiberglass resin was applied. It became Very
ridged and actually would not have needed the central mast when full cured. The
model , as a sculpture, was entered into the Botega Gallery competition and received
Peter Hall joined me as chief draftsman in 1963. We had just started work on the
Su and Al Zelickson house (#6313). Peter suggested a free form which he had seen
me working on and actually produced a study for them. I said no, they were not the
right people. I did produce a series of nice organic designs, but none got built.
E- III, 1966 to 1969, The Littlejohn home. - In early 1966 I got a call at my studio
on Pineview Lane in Plymouth, Minnesota. Mrs. Littlejohn had been given my name,
as a very creative Architect, by the secretary at the Minneapolis AIA office. They would
like to come out and talk to me about a kitchen & family room addition onto their home
in (Golden Valley?). Jim and Letabeth arrived at my studio and as they looked around at the various drawings and models on display. I think they said something like “We
want one of those” pointing to a freeform project. “Fantastic!- I would love to build you
one”. Our contract was a very loose letter of Agreement I would be paid on a Marty
retainer to study the concept for them. This became Project # 6608.
As I said, I would begin the studies and they would pay me on a monthly retainer.
This was a real ”Leap of faith” on their part. The Littlejohns began looking for land. I
strongly suggested they find land in an area which did not have a strong restriction on
building. They found and bought 10 acres in Minnitrista, Minnesota, just West of Lake
The first design concept was presented in plan. II was nice, but for some reason
we all rejected it - maybe, it was not radical enough?
The second plan was contoured to the site and oriented for views and Minnesota
climate. The scale model began as a site form with terraced floors, than the mast. The
model gave me the opportunity to look within the form. At the same time drawings
were started with one learning from the other. The pan was laid out on a 4’-0” grid.
Since the fabric form was the roof and the ceiling, we could directly manipulate the
interior effect. There were no elevation drawings as such. the sections told it all.
Actually, as a piece of environmental sculpture I was working from the interior spacial
effect outward with little regard for external effect except as it would be adjusted to the
site. The model, which we had at the site is lost.
Finally we had 13 sheets of working (construction) drawings (which I have) and
about 50 pages of written specifications. During this development the equipment to
spray the fiberglass and the urethane foam (Glassco?) had been developed. Dow
Chemical had the two part foam in 55 gal drums and the guns supplied the two parts
with an airless system. Jim was working on financing and finding a contractor.
The US government had just started an experimental housing program to
guarantee loans. The Littlejohns sent me to Washington to meet with the Director. This
was in 1967, and with drawings and specifications in hand we went over every detail
of construction. The director wanted more information. I said that only by building this
prototype could we obtain “More information” . Meanwhile Jim was investigating
private sources of capital. We estimated we could build this 3.000 sf structure for
In 1967 I proposed E-IV to Walker Art Center , in Minneapolis as a summer
student sculptural project. I thought this might give me a better understanding of the
ease and strength of construction. The students working on the project would have an
opportunity to experiment with a space within a structural sculpture without the fear of
doing anything wrong
At this point I had applied for teaching positions at several Sun-Belt universities
from California to Arizona, to Texas, to Florida. The University of Oklahoma, at
Norman, responded with an offer to also help fund the E-III project as i worked on a
masters degree. The interview went well, but the funding was very low. Bill Wilson, an engineer at Norman, who on occasion work with Bruce Goff was on the teaching staff
and experimenting with light weight gas filled concrete. He would help.
Auburn University in Alabama also made an offer of open time to pursue the
experiment. with more money and a possible Masters - I accepted. During my first
year (1968) at Auburn, I discussed E-III and the concept with my students. We built lots
of models using the concept.
In early 1969, Jim had secured financing for E-III from an independent source. All
that remained was finding the builder. I offered to become the design-build General
Contractor, putting in my builder’s fee for a “piece of the action” if any Lovnes resulted
in showing the building. I approached my students with the idea of helping me build
this experimental home in Minnesota. They Loved it! We had several meetings at our
Auburn apartment outlining the summer’s activities. Court Smith, one of my potential
clients, of the Minnesota Summerhill School would house and feed the students for the
summer on the school’s Spray Island in Lake Miinnetonka (near the site). Court had a
boat for transport the troop.. Jayme Littlejohn and the 7 Students from Auburn became
the construction crew.
As spring semester at Auburn ended, we all gathered at the site in Minnesota. I
had a old truck with a camper body on the back borrowed from Carol’s uncle Robert,
which I painted up with the Ensculptic logo and parked it on site as our construction
Carol, Deborah, Maya, Boyd and Myself camped at the Architect’s Workshop -
Studio in Plymouth. The 3 kids slept inside and Carol and I outside on the screen
porch often under a rain tarp. The screen porch had a screen roof.
At the job site, student Joe and the others laid out the batter boards with nails
driven at 4’ centers. The free form building design was on a 4’ grid locating major
points in the plan. The bull dozer roughed out the major levels. I identified the center
core fireplace - mast . A footing was poured and the circular cardboard form with it’s
stainless steel fireplace flue was erected. We (the students) lifted and poured the
Student Sparky built a small wooden platform across the valley and with Jim’s
super 8 movie camera was documenting the construction in slow motion. “OK, Sparks,
run over and shoot another 10 frames.”
With the bull dozer available it was time to build the entry tunnel. A 20 car parking
lot had been graded (visitor parking) and an earth berm built on the North side of the
house (to be planted in pine trees as a wind brake). We selected the tunnel location
and carved in structural ribs, placed reinforcing rods and wire mesh and poured an
earth formed concrete shell. After a few days the dozer excavated the earth and we
had our tunnel - thanks Soleri.
Bemus Bag Co. was sewing up the canvas (burlap) Mondrian form on a gym floor
following my plan drawings.; the local power co. had a boom truck allocated; Jim had
a small Ford van to pick up the drums of foam resin; and we had a professional spray
gun operator ready.
The cables went up, attached to a ring at the top of the mast coming down to
screw ground anchors (from the power company). Having learned from the fiberglass roof of my Guest Studio, I terminated the roof edge with a round plastic PVC tube so
the fiberglass would not pull away and shrink from the edges. Inside the tubes was
another cable allowing us to adjust the arches as we tensioned the roof. We were
ready to spray. “Sparks. remember to document - another 10 frames”
The spray foam went as planned, except, I had not anticipated that as the foam
entered the burlap and expanded, it stretched the burlap rippling the surface. This
was ultimately covered by more foam. In all we probably had 3” of foam, probably
resulting in an R-30 insulation or more. Since the foam deteriorated in sunlight, we all
had to climb up on the roof and smooth out any rough spots immediately for the
fiberglass application. The clerestory was built next with Plexiglas windows edged in
foam rubber tubing , for movement, and sprayed in place.
The fiberglass roof came next using the same operator spraying the surface and
the students rolling the glass down. I think it took just one long day. Skylights had been
cut into the foam and the piece sent out to have a double Plexiglas dome formed to
match. Than foamed into place. A final gel coat to protect all from UV sunlight, (wanted
gold flec), and the floor was sealed.
Interior walls came next. Here we had two approaches. One was wire mesh on a
wood frame sprayed with foam. Initially we found much of the foam went through the
mesh, so we all had to stand in back of the wall with a sheet of poly. The second
technique was for the library which needed flat interior walls for shelving. The curved
walls were 2’ wide by 8’ high plywood secured together with nails and wire. The foam
on the back side acted as both glue and rigidity. It worked very well.
The electrical inspector questioned if the boxes foamed in place would hold. I did
a chin-up on one in the ceiling Problem solved. the ducts for the floor for HVAC were
a fiber reinforced sewn tube. With an air blower making it round, the duct was foamed
under and over as insulation and holding it round. The concrete floor could now be
I had shown in the drawings some abstract window openings in the dining room
For this location, we had some rectilinear insulated glass units made and placed them
into the walls. The openings were masked to my shapes and foamed in place.
Anticipating that the shell would move in heat, cold and wind, the sliding glass doors
and casement windows were edged in insulating foam tubing and yes, foamed in
Mrs. Littlejohn requested to have a studio added to the building. Since I did not
want to modify the finished form at this time, I suggested an underground room. The
excavation would connect the space at the lowest level. I do not remember too much
about this work. I believe Jim contracted for the slab, footings and concrete block walls.
foam was added to the walls. With three students we built a wood domed form over the
walls with a skylight and poured a concrete roof which was foamed and sodded over.
Only the skylight is exposed.
The front entry was to have a wide pivoting door . We glued two hollow core
doors together, one 2’ and one 3’. Foam was applied to both sides and a plan of the
house carved on the exterior. Foam rubber gaskets around the edges and a metal vertical. rod at the 2-3 joint
With the house exterior complete, this was probably the end of the 8 mm movie
documentation. I think I saw it once. It may be lost as has the model. I a have retained
all of my field notes and onsite details in two metal file cases. What to do with them?
We were almost finished and the summer was coming to an end.
I believe Boot and Court worked with Jim on the cabinets etc.
Back at Auburn University, Carol and I collected our slides taken from the
beginning of the process (model building thru construction) and assembled a slidetape
presentation which we presented at a lecture to the School of Architecture. I do
not recall discussing the summer with the students in terms of their feedback of
experiences. I hope it was memorable to them all.
Letabeth Littlejohn had a contact with Black Star promotional agency and
arranged for publication.
The Ensculptic story with 4 pages of pictures was published in Life Magazine 13
March 1970. The doors were open for tour groups and social events. Fund raisers for
the Minnesota symphony and the Democratic party were held at the house. I am not
sure how many people this generated. I received no royalties. However, I did receive a
number of requests for “all available information”, which I sent out at cost.
In May the end of the 1970 spring session at Auburn was complete and I had a
position at Florida State University starting in the fall.
The Winslow Wedin family left Auburn for a long summer of travel and lecture tour
crisis crossing the United States and putting on 12,000 miles on the Oldsmobile station
wagon. This story is well documented elsewhere following a daily log.
Next came E-V, 1969 (HollyHouse) for Charles and Jane Donahue. They had
several wooded acres just outside Tacoma, Washington . Chuck knew my work from
assisting on the constriction of the Wedin Guest Studio and visiting E-III.
Here, the concept was somewhat different- closer to the original goals of a low
cost home. A minimum building was proposed with a central rectilinear bathroom,
kitchen - utility core centered on the vent stack; mast . A 30’ circle of mostly glass or
Plexiglas with an equal tent form hexagon roof over. Rooms were laid out in pie
shapes with a loft over the core.
The roof was a nylon parachute held up by the central cast iron vent stack with
cables to poles and tie-downs similar to some of those at E-III. The poly urethane foam
would be sprayed inside the form with 8 pointed oval skylights (by building foam
dams) left with the nylon over. The nylon would be fiber glassed. Its name Holly House
came from the flowers in the on site woods. Drawings and a model was made,
photographed, published in the local Auburn paper and all sent off for Charles to build.
For some reason, the central mast was changed from iron to plastic pipe (was
this the plumber?). The first snow fall brought the tent to the ground before the foam and fiberglass shell was finished. It could have been repaired, but it was not.
Lectures at numerous Universities summer of 1970
In 1971 I got a call from Bernard Rice. He had bought an abandoned beginning
of a house outside Kansas City. The house was a series of freestanding stone walls -
finished but no roof. Could we design a foam and fiberglass roof over this
configuration (he sent me plans), - Of course!
This was The Plastic Rock (E-VI).
E-VII, Boot Gordon, Silverthon (just below Dillon Dam), Colorado
1972. Boot basically took the concept for E-I with the domes and ramps
with cocktail glass bedrooms and a Bucky like dining room. Boot had a ramp outside
as well. The fireplace area was a teepee for telling stories. I had very little to do with
this project except for the name.
E-VIII - Maybe this was the house of the future in Wisconsin Dells. Also, Boot and
a friend did a display home in Kissame, Florida, outside Disney World.
E-IX - this was the Triplex to be located next to boot’s E-VII and the prototype for
the motel. Have drawings, not built
E-X - 12 plex Motel at Gordon’s Town, Colorado; The triplex came
first Published by Rita Baraban (?), who I met at the Futures
conference in Washington DC in 197?____
This is basically the end of the Ensculptic stories. Carol and I developed 9 condo
townhouses in Tallahassee,Florida (where I was Teaching) beginning in 1972. The
profits were to buy the spray equipment and begin building. The Arab oil embargo and
the overall energy crises put an end to that idea. I did propose a roof of foam over a
house on stilts for a fellow faculty member - too radical for him.
Mr South of The company Monolithic Domes in Italy, Texas said he saw E-III, and
developed his concept from some of my ideas. My Friend Cal Lundquist, Architect
(Minneapolis) and I have been promoting Domes International (see web site) for
D. FUTURE DIRECTIONS
We shall see! - There will be more to come. This Architect continues to fill
notebooks with pages of future possibilities; produce sculpture of urban form; and
paint artwork based upon concepts tried and untried. Without the creative client, the
concepts are just that - unrealized dreams waiting for another Littlejohn client. I can
only build so much myself.
~ Winslow Wedin, 12 August 2010
Text in this post is © 2010/2011 Winslow Elliott Wedin, Architect
850 West Royal Palm Road
Boca Raton, Florida 33486-4669