Thursday, 20 November 2008

Emil Gutman House, Gulfport, Mississippi - Bruce Goff, 1958 [update 2]

11312_image_7.150 I freely concede that it's not a great looking house; overly symmetrical; squatting above the ground like some sort of hovering insect; but this really is a beautifully crafted plan -- and it'd just be enormous fun to live there, don't you think? 
Goff's multi-cellular open plan is a tightly-focussed gem.
Just try and project yourself in there, and imagine what it would be like.
This is a severely underrated piece of architecture.

UPDATE 1:  I've scanned in two A4 pages of blueprints so you can see the original floor plan and much more.  If you click on the small pics below, you should see something much bigger.

GOFF-Gutman001 GOFF-Gutman002

UPDATE 2:  Now apparently destroyed by fire, but commenting at the Preservation in Mississippi blog Jim Galloway tells us where in Gulfport, Mississippi, the Gutman House used to be located:
"The Bruce Goff House, aka the Gutman House, in Gulfport, also locally known as the Star of David House, was located on the north side of Bayou Circle in Gulfport, which runs along the south shore of Gulfport Lake, all in the Bayou View subdivision. It was originally constructed by a Dr. Gutman, and was sometimes called the “Flying Saucer House”. It was quite a sight when it was built."


  1. Not intentionally being the devil's advocate here, but it looks like a formal experiment rather than a working, considered plan. You point out that it's overly symmetrical - it feels like someone making a program fit a particular shape they like.

    I guess what is most jarring are the triangular corners wasting space in every outer room - bloody difficult to furnish or use in any meaningful way. Be nice to see a section (I googled without luck) to see if these are actually lightwells or something else, but they look for all intents and purposes like a gross indulgence on the part of the architect.

    It's also very difficult to imagine a meaningful separation between public and private space within the house - perhaps this was the intention but the complicated plan form with bedrooms peppered throughout is troublesome to my eye. The way I always look at it (and this is of course simply a personal preference) is that houses work best when there is a progression from public to private, when you enter the 'public realm,' progress through to formal living or open plan areas, then shared-type amenities, then private areas. This works both from a programmatic space-planning perspective, and a pragmatic perspective (I can imagine that sound isolation for the bedroom-pods would be a right bastard).

    It also feels like the necessity of accomodating different functions and circulation in such an odd planform hasn't really been well-resolved. If you were the inhabitant of the southeastern bedroom I imagine you'd quickly tire of traipsing through the living area and communal bathroom to get to your walk-in wardrobe.

    Just my 2c anyway.


    (PS PC: Have you read 'The Poetics Of Space' by Gaston Bachelard? You may well enjoy it from an architectural perspective, it deals extensively, if somewhat prosaically, with many of the planning/spatial issues above.)

  2. Hi Den,

    Always nice to talk, especially when I can point out you're wrong.

    Goff is surprisingly subtle with his spaces. It looks a bit like a formal experiment, and if a student did it it would exhibit all flaws you cite, but Goff is better than that. Way better.

    First of all, the hexagon/triangle grid is remarkably relaxed, and a much more comfortable way to move through a house than turning at right angles all the time. The plan's not forced at all, as a student might have done, but careful zoned and beautifully comfortable and brilliantly lit throughout.

    And second, rather than being forced on the programme as a student would, in this case the form itself came out of the programme, and from the experience with dozens of similar programmatic layouts that Goff built for clients around America's mid-west.

    The triangular corners do different things in different spaces. The actual apex forms part of the house's 'truss' framework. In the bedrooms and den, the remainder of the 'triangle' contains a closet of a parellelogram shape, which works very well. In the kitchen the benches wrap around similarly (and a HWC fits into the apex cavity). In the bathrooms, a tub is fitted into the front half of the triangle against the structural cavity.

    So not wasted space, but structure.

    On to the bedrooms, which far from being "peppered" throughout are in fact carefully zoned, and enormously flexible.

    First, this was a house for a couple without children, Dr & Mrs Gutman, meaning acoustic privacy is less important than it would be with children. Both Dr and Mrs have their own realms -- their own bedrooms (if they want them), opening off their own living areas, and guest-study areas as well. Yet every part of these rooms can be either closed off from the rest of the space or opened out to join in with the Pella wood accordian doors that Goff loved to use. The accordion doors do to this house what sliding doors do to a Japanese house, and appear everywhere you see a dashed line on the plan.

    The public-private continuum extends from the entry (most public) through the family room (public-private) to the sunken conversation area (the inner sanctum, with skylight above) around which the private living rooms (more private) and master bedrooms (very private) can be reached. Beautifully done, and not at all complicated -- just ingenious. And no bloody hallways wasting all that space!

    Each of the three living/family areas, by the way, opens out to an outside deck (or screen porch, which was popular if not essential in hot insect-ridden Mississippi) giving an ingenous order to the public/private continuum. As far as I can understand, the plan above differs from the original design (I think it was changed by the owners) in that the dressing rooms are shown where Goff put screen porches.

    And once you understand that the living rooms are semi-private spaces, able to be closed off (and the dressing rooms were added by the clients) your objection to traipsing through to get to the bathroom should subside.

    In short, I think this is a beautifully put together plan that's wonderfully resolved, yet utterly unlike your mainstream plan you see in every damn architecture magazine that's published.

    So there's my ten cents. :-)

    By the way, I can scan and send you a section and blueprints if you like.

    PS: Yes, I have old Gaston's book. It's very enjoyable, as you say.

  3. You've repeated the same blueprint.

  4. Goodness knows what happened there. Should be fixed now.

  5. Hehe, you're always so quick to render a discussion down to the fundamentals of 'right' and 'wrong'. Unfortunately, I don't buy your eloquently worded mitigation for this building - it puts me in mind of my tutoring days a couple of years ago, when a particularly silver-tongued student attempted to pass off what was clearly a substandard piece of work with a long oratory on what the scheme was, what great architecture was, how the project embodied those principles, and exactly what it was that we couldn't see in the plans.

    But you don't need a lecture - good architecture doesn't need someone to speak for it. The plans should speak for themselves. I heartily agree with your first original sentence - the building is a dog - and information on the client goes some way to excuse the odd planning solution, but in my humble and subjective opinion, this is not good architecture.

    Comparing the plans that you so helpfully appended, it is obvious why the dressing rooms were added. The house is for a couple with no kids, assuming they are not estranged and prefer living in separate wings, their 'master bedroom' is a dinky 10m2. How you even get IN to the closets with a standard double bed in there is a mystery to me, but you can't tell me with a straight face that that is a generous bedroom - to me it is barely adequate, and I would be very reticent to design a bedroom of that size even for a studio apartment. It would be impossible to furnish!

    One thing that worked a little better in his original plan (assuming I have the chronology right and the blueprint was pre-client intervention) was a den where the clients later specified 'bedroom'. Having his special folding doors open here would help the constricted circulation, meaning there would be an alternative means of access to the two southern living spaces than perilously skirting the 1100mm wide space between the 'sunken pit' and the walls of the adjoining rooms.

    I really, really don't buy that the triangular corners were a considered solution. You talk about them performing 'different functions' - clearly they add much needed (although still very mean IMO) storage in the bedrooms, and provide a tiny recess for a 400mm HWC (sufficient to supply all the bathrooms shown here? Very doubtful) but to me they are barely functional, wilful additions of the architect.

    It is CLEAR that this house has been generated 'backwards' from an ideal geometric form - you can't tell me that the architect planned all the spaces, areas, circulation, took into account the genius locus and the feel of the landscape and all the important aspects to Wrightian 'organic architecture' and magically came up with a perfectly symmetrical form. It just doesn't wash.

    I accept this as an interesting oddity generated from some very specific requests by unusual clients, but as an example of good architectural principles in practice. Not on your nelly.

    I see your ten cents, and raise ten.


  6. Hello all,
    It has been a while since I did much reading on the house until my son asked about it today.
    My dad, Sherry Scully bought the house from Dr. and Mrs. Gutman in the mid to late sixties and he and my mother lived there for a few years prior to having my sister and myself. I, unfortunately, cannot claim that as a past residence. I say that because I am a metal artist working predominantly in architecture and this place has always fascinated me. I even had my morning coffee in my 'Starhouse' mug this morning!

    My dad bought the house as a bachelor and from what I hear, it worked quite well as a bachelor pad and funky party house in that era. I believe that Jimmy Buffet was a weekend guest there while they were at USM. I also know that as soon as my sister was born, they moved out of there. Although an interesting design, I also agree that it would not be family functional.

    I do have some old photos of the house inside including one at Christmas time with the huge aluminum spiral 'tree' that plugged into the center of the pit.
    email if you want to see them.

    I guess it all comes down to form vs. function and my guess is that Dr. and Mrs. Gutman were more interested in the form than the function! To each his own!

    shea scully

    1. I would love to see pics! I live 4 houses down in the "Library" house. I work for a custom home builder and printed out the blueprints for him to see an "interesting" house that I lived by..... in the last few days since that there have been many discussions on this house..... Ironically I was talking about this house because we have someone building down on the other end of the street and later that day my sister posted this picture....weird

  7. Just went back and read ALL of your very biased comments. I LIVED THERE for t1/2 years. It was easy and lovely. It was NOT a "dog" & the bedrooms were MORE than adiquate as were the bath rooms. Don't condemn what you know nothing about!U never saw it or lived in it. My husband and I did. Mrs Sherry Scully

    1. I grew up in Bayou View and whenever we had company from out of town we took them to see the STAR house, it was cool. It also looked cool from the Bayou at night. I miss it! Rick Myrick

  8. Memories, memories, memories! I have not thought of this part of my life in years until my brother-in-law sent me this website. I lived through the planning and building of this extraordinary home. It would be nice if people would do more research before they post comments on the internet but then I suppose that is why they say you should not believe everything that you read. The Dixie magazine from The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, December 25, 1960, printed an article by Ethel Floyd entitled "Triangle Among the Pines". There are many pictures from the inside of the home with 2 specifically showing myself in my bedroom and my brother in his. Therefore, one could easily see Dr. and Mrs. Gutman did indeed have children.

    The home was built in the shape of a triangle so that every room had a view of the bayou—not just some random geometric form picked out of the air. It was carefully planned and took years in the making. It was built 15 feet off the ground to avoid flooding from the bayou. The home contained no right angles, had no hallways, only had 3 walls and was built to utilize every square inch of the 3000 square foot interior. Every nook and cranny had a purpose and believe me there was no wasted space in this home. The triangular motif was carried throughout the home and there were plenty of public, private, and family areas. The home was built to take advantage of the beautiful views of the bayou (gorgeous sunsets and fish jumping constantly) and to encompass the tall pine trees on the lot as well. It was a fantastic place to live!

    Bruce Goff was a great architect and he did not believe in the typical “a box with holes in it” structure. He built ultra-modern using many different materials that were not of the norm and which often took time to locate and have shipped to the coast. Bruce came to stay with my family often to get to know the family. He believed in building a structure for the individuals that were to occupy them. Therefore, he built this home to accommodate my family and our lifestyle. It was never a party home when I lived there but a very functional family home. Yes, it did provide for elegant, professional entertaining. And yes, my parents could entertain while my brother and I slept in our wing of the home.

    My family had to move and my parents sold the home to Hugh Sherer Scully. The closing statement for the sale taking place on December 1, 1967. I have no idea what happened to the home after that except hearsay and the fact that my parents were very patient with Mr. Scully for years.

    I do have information on the home as it stood when I lived there. I have pictures which I tried to attach but with no success.

    1. Suzy,
      Hi This is Skip from U Miami. If you ever receive thi, please drop me a line. Would love to hear from you.

    2. Just saw this tonight. Keybar is in the process of making a journal on the house which will be out soon.
      Not sure who you are?

    3. Susy, the FOK journal on your house is great. I myself am finishing up a 350-pg ebook on Bruce Goff's Design Vocabulary. Your prior house is my favorite, and I was very impressed with your interior photo collection. Unfortunately, I do not have any record of the interior, and would love to hear from you. I am a student of BG from 1955, and a retired architect and author. Ernest Burden

    4. Suzy, I remember your house fondly. We used to play together. I think I was a couple of years older than you. Your house was a wonderful design and very conducive to a family except the narrow stairs up thru the kitchen. I always wondered how they got the baby grand up there! and the tiny bathroom taken from a train in your father's study. It was a very unique house. I drove thru that area last week and could not find it. Now I know why. We lived there in a time when young girls could ride their bikes for hours and feel safe and happy. A different but wonderful era. Patricia Rosalind (Lauchley) Brown

    5. Just checking this site today--it has been awhile since I have been on here. Yes, the FOK journal is out on my house and it is fantastic. Great job guys!

    6. Patricia, just seeing your comment today and to be honest I do not have any idea who you are. Maybe you can enlighten me?

  9. Just posted my response onto the preservation in Mississippi blog.

    I lived through the planning, building, and early years of this home.

  10. I lived on Bayou Circle, north side, in early '70's, second to last house on east end @ Gulfport Lake, next to Kiser Runnells (the savings and loan guy from Hattiesburg) house. Sure all gone now from Katrina. Hurbert was my lawyer and I was in the house on business then, also later when Dr. Hankin owned it.
    This is old post that I just found, so doubt anyone will notice my response. P.S. couple years younger, but went to school with Sherry (I think in those years he lived in Gulfport on Olive Ave or one street on either side

    1. Are you speaking of Sherry Scully? His family's real estate company had the old "Star House" listed for sale for a while, and he lived in it at that time. Probably around 1965.

  11. I saw this house in Gulport at the end of a long bike ride as a kid, about 11 years old. I thought it was amazing.

    1. It was amazing! Just recently people have been doing research on the house and documenting it for history. It is a real shame that it no longer exists.

  12. Suzy,
    I remember your toy poodle and your whole family— Steevie was my hero. Write me — Virginia Mann

    1. I think I remember you. Did you live on Bayou Circle? I will email you.

  13. Hi y'all, My grandparents lived on Bayou Circle, and I made a 3D animation of this house. Here ya go...

  14. I am not sure who you are but your 3D animation on the outside of the house resembles the home I grew up in although the mailbox, driveway and windows are totally wrong. I do not know where you got your information but the inside is not correct at all. There are so many things totally wrong--all the colors you used are incorrect. There were no walls and therefore no pictures hung. I assume you had good intentions but your depictions are totally wrong in so many ways. Just wanted everyone to know. This is definitely NOT how the house stood when it existed. This must be a figment of your imagination.

    I absolutely cringed when I saw your youtube.

    Suzy Gutman Tucker
    daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Gutman


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