26 October 2011

Exploring The Gamble House

Coming late to architecture, I had never heard of the Gamble House. But recently I was in the LA area for a quick architectural tour and my daughter suggested we check out this American Craftsman Style house of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Built in 1908 for David Gamble (of Proctor & Gamble fame) the house is outstanding from many perspectives. The architects – Greene & Greene – used an array of over 20 different woods. All of the furniture and finishings, including cabinets, picture frames and even a piano, were created in their millwork shop from original designs. Additionally, all of the lamps and wall sconces were individually designed. Throughout the entire house can be found an interesting interweaving of Japanese design and aesthetics with an American sense of spaciousness and the possible.

The only way to view the interior is via an hour long guided tour. It is worth it. The docent that led us was very well-versed in not only the minutiae of the Gamble family and their house, but he also knew much about the architect brothers. He also shared interesting details about life in the early 20th century. For instance, there was a fear in the early days of electricity that direct exposure to light bulbs would be harmful. That is why all of the light bulbs are pointing upwards or otherwise shielded from direct view. Those deadly photons!

The house is essentially a working museum. The last Gamble lived there until 1966 and then the building and grounds were donated to the city of Pasadena. Through a special arrangement with USC, two senior architecture students live and study there every year. With little change, things are the way they were a 100 years ago.

From a photographic perspective, the interior is relatively low-lit, due to the pervasive light-dampening characteristics of all the dark woods. Some long exposures would be wonderful but photography is off-limits inside. When I was there it was mid-day and the light was pretty harsh. Nonetheless, I took a few color and infrared shots of the west-facing exterior. I believe the infrared converted to b/w images work the best. I took multiple exposures and blended them together which allowed for a rich depth of tones in the shadows and well-lit areas. The color images are less interesting to me, but I offer them as a juxtaposition.

If you love architecture and are in the LA area, you owe it to yourself to check out the Gamble House. If you have more time, there are several more Greene & Greene homes within walking distance, along the Arroyo Terrace. Discovering an architectural gem in the built environment can be almost as rewarding as exploring the wilderness. Almost.

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