Harris Armstrong – Architect
Harris Armstrong was born in Edwardsville, Illinois in April 1899, the eldest son of a tobacco salesman. The family moved often including periods in Florida, Ohio, New York, Illinois, and Missouri. He exhibited artistic and creative tendencies, but performed poorly in school due to dyslexia. He attended high school in Webster Groves, Missouri, but never graduated. He joined the army during WWI in 1917.
In the 1920s he apprenticed with respected St. Louis architects George Brueggeman, LaBeaume & Klein and Maritz & Young. Formal studies were limited to night school courses at Washington University and a year at Ohio State as a “special student” where he received a Beaux Arts award for a classical bank lobby.
During the Depression, Armstrong worked for Raymond Hood, architect of Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. His employment lasted less than a year.
Armstrong’s work made significant advances in 1935 with his Cori Residence and Shanley Building, both of which exhibit the geometrical abstraction and white coloration of the International Style. The Shanley Building was published by Architectural Review and Architectural Record and was awarded a silver medal at the International Exposition of the Technical Arts in France in 1937.
In the following decade, his palette of building materials expanded to include natural building materials such as brick, stone, and wood. His formal interests developed rapidly in several directions; some of his works paid homage to the explorations of Frank Lloyd Wright; his personal design methodology pushed some of his more inventive projects beyond his contemporaries. His Grant Medical Clinic and Armstrong Residence of 1938 reveal his interests in natural materials and formal experimentation. The Evarts Graham House (1941) demonstrates his ability to unify a modern approach to form with a traditional feeling for construction and materials.
Armstrong was the acknowledged leader of modern architecture in St. Louis prior to WWII. In 1945, Harris designed and built “The Rockpile”: a rustic summer cabin in the rural Missouri. The Rockpile featured a cantilevered south-facing upper story, facing a stone cliff and a creek, with large operable shutters that opened to provide shade from the summer sun.
In 1946, he designed a high-rise office building for theAmerican Stove Company as their national headquarters resulting in the Magic Chef Building. The design incorporated innovative natural lighting techniques, broke with the monolithic aesthetic of earlier modernist office buildings, and included a ceiling sculpture by Isamu Noguchi as an integral part of the lobby design.
In 1948, Armstrong’s submission for the Jefferson National Memorial Expansion Competition, which resulted in the construction of Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch, was awarded fourth place, the only St. Louis finalist.
The Cancer Research Building at Washington University was the culmination of his specialization in medical buildings, which began with the Shanley Building and continued throughout his career. Many of his clients for offices and residences were among prominent members of the Saint Louis medical community and at the School of Medicine in particular.
In the 1950’s Harris designed larger scale projects nationally and internationally. Federal projects included the US Consulate in Basra, Iraq and GSA Building in Kansas City, Missouri. He collaborated with Minoru Yamasaki and Hellmuth, Obata, & Kassabaum on the Plaza Square Apartment Complex in downtown St. Louis. He designed research residences for US Gypsum, PPG Industries, and University of Michigan in the mid-50s.
Armstrong was named a fellow of the AIA in 1955 after earning several Gold and Silver Medal Honor Awards from the American Institute of Architects. He also began a major project for the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation at this time. The Engineering Campus encompassed a large-scale master plan, multiple buildings, and landscaping. One of its many innovations was the use of the spray ponds as cooling towers for the air handling units. Ethical Society in Ladue
Armstrong’s writings composed over the course of his lifetime represent his clarity of thought and straight forward, no-nonsense ability to communicate ideas. He published many essays in local newspapers and magazines concerning architecture, landscape, and urban design, as well as politics, science, and automotive design. His last published essay, “Detailing the Final Finish of Architectural Design,” stressed the importance that detailing held for him both functionally and formally throughout his long and successful career.
He was named an honorary member of the National Academy of Design in 1972 and died December, 1973.
3 Sappington Spur in Kirkwood, A home I listed and sold in 2013.
Noguchi Ceiling From 1940s Is Uncovered at U-Haul in St. Louis
According to circuit court documents from the ’90s, it seems that the original windows are still under the tan metal paneling that now covers the building. I think it is such a shame to hide such a beauty under sad metal panels. Not only this, but the internal architecture from Noguchi is also hidden… until now.
From the New York Times,
“An undulating lobby ceiling that Isamu Noguchi sculpted in the 1940s has emerged at a U-Haul branch in St. Louis, two decades after it was hidden by partitions and dropped ceiling panels. Noguchi designed the feature, known as a lunar landscape, for the building’s original owner, the American Stove Company. Its amoeba-shape channels, originally meant to conceal light bulbs, were recently unveiled.”
“Stephen Langford, the president of the U-Haul Company of St. Louis, said he ended up slathered in dust as he helped uncover the artwork. “It’s something that needed to be shown,” he said, adding that the Noguchi surface needed only minor repairs.
Last fall its fate became something of a local cause célèbre. A plaster model of its contours, which had belonged to the building’s innovative modernist architect, Harris Armstrong, went on display in the St. Louis Art Museum’s exhibition “St. Louis Modern.” News coverage including a radio program alerted the public that the actual artwork survived unseen at the U-Haul facility, and calls for its preservation arose on social media.
David Conradsen, the museum’s decorative arts and design curator, who worked with the show’s co-curator, Genevieve Cortinovis, said experts over the years had contemplated removing the sculpture to transfer it to the museum, but had concluded that “it would be basically destroyed in removal.”
Dakin Hart, the senior curator of the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, Queens, described the ceiling as a “hugely important” and early example of the artist creating an “all-encompassing artistic environment.” Mr. Hart added, “I can’t wait to see it.”
Mr. Langford said that people are now “more than welcome to walk in” to view the work overhead.”
I also found this article on The Architects Newspaper about the building that details everything further.
18 Jamestown Acres
Harris Armstrong’s 1942 house for Evarts Graham. This is probably his most important residential design of these breakthrough years of his career & it is in a beautiful location, on a high bluff overlooking the Missouri River towards Alton… Dr. Evarts Graham was one of the giants of medical research in St. Louis, the man who discovered the link between smoking & lung cancer. He also aided in the first successful removal of a lung for the treatment of bronchogenic carcinoma in 1933.
As you may know, Harris Armstrong designed many homes in St. Louis and around the country. We recently posted about how from afar, the house is minimal to the extreme… But as one approaches, its richness gradually reveals itself. The choreographed circulation sequence offers layers of anticipation, wonder and surprise as one enters and passes through its variety of spaces.
This 2-story home is a spacious 3,576 sq. ft. with 5 bedrooms & 7 baths. Located on a gated 4.6 acres with an iron fence around the perimeter. Lovely gardens & a fabulous salt-water swimming pool with concrete decking. Tons of windows in every room to view the breathtaking views of scenic acreage & the winding river! Enclosed Porch, Garden Room & Arbor. Eat-in Kitchen with Sub-Zero refrigerator, bar & butler’s pantry. Master Bedroom Suite with new hardwood floors. Each Bedroom has a full bath! Surround sound in the Living Room. Hobby Room: 500 sqft. 2-car garage that could be converted back to a 4-car garage.
This property was listed previously by another agent, but my expertise in important St. Louis architecture helped me get it sold!
In an interesting update by nextSTL, we have learned that the Harris Armstrong building that we just talked about here it going to be demolished and a 4-unit townhome will be built in it’s place.
I generally am happy to see new developments, especially considering that it will put $3.6M into the area, but I always hate to see significant buildings destroyed. As you may read in the article below, the building has suffered from water damage and was unlikely to make a recovery without a full rehab.
Anyway, please take a look at the nextSTL article below to see more about the plans for the site.
A request to re-zone this site was stopped short of being sent to the Clayton Board of Aldermen. The city’s planning staff recommended the Plan Commission approve the re-zoning, which would have cleared the way for the city’s aldermen to approve the development. The Plan Commission decided against sending it to the BoA.
70 Kings Drive
Perched on the top of a ridge that overlooks Pelican Island with the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers beyond is this stunning Mid-century contemporary home designed by Rudolph A. Matern. The Living Room and Dining Room open to each other & feature a gas fireplace and an expanse of windows that looks north to the beautiful view with Alton in the distance. The property is 3.59 acres & the home is 2,815 sq. ft. with 3 bedrooms & 2.5 baths. Bright, open kitchen with granite counters, wood cabinets & skylights. Great entertainment room with beamed ceiling, bar and gas fireplace. Large den/office with built-ins & vaulted ceiling. Master bedroom with adjacent walk-in closet. Lovely gardens throughout the grounds. Decks, pergolas & outdoor patios make this an oasis & fun for entertaining. Oversized 2-car garage is attached to the home. Also on the property is an outbuilding that can hold 3 cars. 30 minutes from Clayton & Downtown.
Take a look at more pictures by clicking here.
Listed at $349,000 by Ted Wight, Dielmann Sotheby’s International Realty, 314-607-5555, [email protected]
From the original brochure… I have attached the original’s in PDF form below…
Land is a good investment. Castlereigh Estates comprises some 800 acres which will be made available for you to build your town house with country atmosphere.
Now it can be sold. The location you have been admiring. If you like a beautiful park-like yard and lots and lots of space. May I ask you to see this property and buy today for tomorrow’s happiness.
It will pay to come out and see these beautiful homesites whether you buy or not. Another chance like this may not come along for years.
If you are tired of City confinement be sure to see this beautiful estate. The rustic beauty invites you to a life of uncluttered simplicity. It is like a diamond in the rough.
Beautiful Castlereigh Estates located between Old Jamestown Road and the rustic rocky cliffs along the Mississippi just above the City of Alton. In the summer of 1803 our third President, Thomas Jefferson, sent out an expedition consisting of 45 men headed by Lewis and Clark and known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition to discover the location where the Missouri River emptied into the Father of Waters. They followed the Ohio River until they reached the Mississippi. Then they worked their way North until they reached the mouth of the Missouri River. Their goal reached, they spent the Winter on the Illinois shore. Just opposite the mouth of the Missouri, a point which may be seen from the bluffs of our Castlereigh Estates, on May 14, 1804 this little group of men broke camp and proceeded up the Missouri to discover the headwaters of this great river.
This mid-century modern home designed by Harris Armstrong for Dr. and Mrs. Evarts Graham in 1941. This is a strong example of Armstrong’s maturing style combining stone, brick, wood and glass creates a modern vernacular in consonance with the natural Missouri landscape.
It is so interesting how different the home looks because of the photos being in black and white compared to the photos we had taken of it recently. A post was written about the home last year on Architectural Ruminations that goes into great detail about the history of the home and it’s design. I have included an excerpt below, you can read the entire post here.
“Armstrong’s 1941 design for the Graham Residence is architecturally striking in its variety of formal references, contrasting materials and attention to craftsmanship. The home’s overall simplicity in form and massing, especially when viewed from a distance, contrasts with a masterful attention to detail, manipulation of shade & shadow and use of natural materials. Textures, colors and forms interweave creating a natural palette with the intricacies of an ancient masonry structure almost on the verge of being overtaken by vegetation. The house is an Armstrong masterpiece epitomizing his ideas on creating a modern vernacular appropriate to Missouri’s climate and culture.”
“From afar, the house is minimal to the extreme, but as one approaches, its richness gradually reveals itself. The choreographed circulation sequence offers layers of anticipation, wonder and surprise as one enters and passes through its variety of spaces.
The main body of the house is regular and rectangular with shallowly pitched overhanging roofs. The lines emphasize the horizontal reflecting and reinforcing the dominance of the surrounding prairie. The structure extends to the east and west with its main elevations facing toward the south (addressing the road) and the north (overlooking the Missouri River). The composition is strongly horizontal and solidly anchored in the landscape. The site offers the benefits of bluffs high above the river which overlook the low-lying areas of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri in the distance.”
“The primary exception to the home’s rectilinear form is the large angled stone wall leading to the main entrance and screening the garage and service yard. This heavily rusticated limestone wall screens the “service” areas of the house from view as one experiences the house from the standpoint of its long driveway. This solid mass is relieved only by the introduction of climbing plants and vegetation. A narrow vertical slot offers access to the linear service yard situated between the hidden five car garage and the massive limestone masonry wall. While the wall offers monumental facade, it is no veneer of stone set out just to impress the public; it is a full thickness stone masonry exposed on both faces.” Click here to read the rest.
This property is currently under contract.