The winners of our 2008 residential architect Design Awards are all quite spectacular–a really impressive collection of work by some very talented architects across the country. Although I leave the decision making on awards to our independent jury of architects, I have to admit I always have a few personal favorites among their choices. One project in particular our judges singled out continues to resonate for me. I was struck by its strength, beauty, and, above all, its heart from the moment I saw the entry binder open on our conference table. I wondered if it would survive the brutal cuts through the remaining two and a half days of judging. It did. Ultimately, the judges deemed it worthy of a Grand award in the Renovation category. The project to which I refer is a resuscitation and expansion of a 1950s house by Felder Weeks on a lake near Knoxville, Tenn. Brian Pittman, Assoc. AIA, of McCarty Holsaple McCarty, handled the job on his own time, with the sage and sensitive advice of his boss, Bruce McCarty, FAIA.
What makes this project so special?
After delving into it, I've developed a theory. First off, it started with an excellent A-frame design by Felder Weeks. Second, the commissioning clients were people who dearly loved the original house-Weeks' son and daughter-in-law, Paul and Jeannine Weeks. Third, the couple came to someone who knew and appreciated the elder Weeks' work-his former colleague, Bruce McCarty. And last, McCarty, now in his 80s, placed the project in the hands of a young designer, Brian Pittman, who is passionate about reviving older buildings and reconciling that passion with a love of modern design.
Once I connected all of those dots, I thought I had gotten to the bottom of this house-the kernel of why it came together so beautifully and made such an impression on me.
Then one day recently, while continuing my ongoing project of sorting through my parents' house and its contents, I encountered a painting my father had done of a house. It looks rather like Philip Johnson's Glass House. I suspected this was a study my father had done for a house I knew he and my mother had wanted to build on a lake in Tennessee. It was the modern house of their dreams–conjured in the early 1950s shortly after they married in Knoxville, Tenn., and forever unbuilt. I told my father I'd found his painting, and he mentioned he'd shown it to an architect in Knoxville and talked about another idea he had for an A-frame house. He says the architect laughed and told him his partner was building a similar house across the lake. The laughing architect, he says, was Bruce McCarty. And the architect building the lake house was Felder Weeks.
Small world. I guess this restored A-frame house, which glows in night photos like a modernist teepee, is the family vacation house I never had. My loss. But it's in good hands–from its beginning on through its transition into the new millennium as a year-round house for its most appreciative occupants.
I've compiled a few links to the work of Bruce McCarty, who's a local hero in Knoxville. And one about young Brian Pittman, the guardian angel who pulled the whole thing off. I wish I could find more about Felder Weeks, of Painter, Weeks, McCarty, Architects, but he remains for now the unsung hero in this story. Like so many talented architects before the age of the Internet, he represents those endangered legacies we all do well to research, revive, and honor.
About Bruce McCarty:
About Brian Pittman:
Comments? E-mail: S. Claire Conroy at firstname.lastname@example.org.