Promoting the preservation of Mid Century Modern residential architecture in St. Louis through education, appreciation and awareness.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Design is the Pay-Off

House + Home magazine got it right back in February of 1953, when stating "Builder Burton Duenke learns by happy experience that people want better houses. Even in conservative St. Louis, buyers scramble for fresh design he and his architect developed."

With this post we want to share some of the thoughts, explorations, and fabrication details that went into building the individual homes of our neighborhood. The following are excerpts from the February 1953 House + Home article detailing Ridgewood and it's construction.

"After footings are poured, a factory built center section is erected on a center grade beam. Skeleton is then plumbed and braced. Beams are marked at the factory to indicate where rafters are to be placed. End rafters are butted, others overlap. Factory made spacers between rafters have holes pre-drilled in them to ventilate space between roof and ceiling. Screen is stapled over the holes. Tar-and-gravel roof is built-up, followed by panels. Construction of panels is shown below."
"Time and labor on the job are cut by building panels in jigs. Each jig is on an 8" sq. table at convenient work height. Panels are built up in layers: studs, sheathing, V-Joint redwood siding applied without turning panels over."

Given the current interest in green building, LEED, and pre-fabricated housing, it is refreshing to read that a home builder 50 years ago was fully vested in developing economies in the construction process.

House + Home continues with:
"Duenke uses post-and-beam plus prefab panels."
Duenke's building methods are probably unique in his area. He carries post-and-beam construction one logical step further than is customary by using prefabricated panels between post 6'-4" o.c. He pours his slab floor after his side walls are up and his roof is on.

His unconventional techniques came only after he had tried other methods. He has grown (from six houses in '46 to over 200 in '52) because he tries any new techniques in the field. He tried roof trusses, gave up on them because he believed they took too much material, were too cumbersome to handle. He built 24' side walls in one piece, gave them up because he had to stop his union carpenters on their job and get them to haul the long panels off the truck and into place. He refected 4' prefab panels because they required too much labor on the job to put together. The 6'-4" panel he finally selected as the most economical was based on the allowable roof span required by the F.H.A. Thus 6'-4" became his module."

"Redwood panels, above, are fitted to post-and-beam skeleton by two men using simple lever tools. A tolerance of 1-1/2" is allowed in panel frames so they can be adjusted and plumbed between posts. Extra-long lap or groove at ends hides panel joints."

"Panels shipped with glazed windows:
The vertical redwood panels are made in a plant he bought 2 years ago. The mill is several miles from his present site but will be closer to his next development. Duenke says, 'we can put sheathing and exterior siding on in the same time it takes to apply sheathing alone in the field.' Aluminum windows are calked and glazed in the panels; but big window walls are site glazed. A portion of every glass area has screened, sliding sash for ventilation. Door frames are weatherstripped and hardware installed in door frames; doors are fitted to the panels."

"Exterior can be varied
The prefab panel allows tremendous flexibility of exterior: the homebuyer can have solid panels, window walls or high strip windows almost any place he wants them. This flexibility allows the home owner to take advantage of sun, view and breeze. Over a dozen shifts can be made in the basic three-bedroom-and-carport pattern on which Duenke concentrated in his Ridgewood development (233 of 258 houses) : the carport can be put in any one of four places; the fireplace can also be placed in several locations."

"Non-loadbearing partitions are precut and assembled before delivery to the job. Since they can be stored under roof until ready for use, there is no time lost waiting for arrival of materials, no cutting of small pieces. Insulation is applied with staple gun before dry walling."

We will continue to discuss and promote the virtues explored and carried out by builder Burton Duenke and architect Ralph Fournier with their Ridgewood neighborhood more than 50 years ago in future posts. Meanwhile, we are interested in your opinions on the current trend of a "greener", more economical, sustainable lifestyle and how this relates to the post-war built environment of the 1950's.