Millard House (La Miniatura)
The Millard House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 12, 1976 for its significance in architecture, engineering and landscape architecture. The house is also located within the Prospect Historic District which was created in 1983. This historic district spans 689 acres and has approximately 116 buildings.
In 1906 Frank Lloyd Wright designed a home for Alice Millard, a rare-book dealer, and her husband in Highland Park, Illinois. After her husband’s death Alice moved to Los Angeles County where she commissioned Wright to design another house.
The house is composed of rough textured earth toned concrete blocks which allow the house to blend in with the landscape. In addition, the fabricated concrete blocks use sand from the property further integrating the structure with the surrounding natural environment. Even though Wright waived his fee for the house the final cost was 70% ($7,000) over the strict $10,000 budget. At three stories the structure is 2,400 square feet in total. The first floor has the kitchen, dining room and maid’s room. The dining room opens to a terrace with a reflecting pool connecting the house with the outdoors. The main entrance is located on the second floor along with a guest room and a large two-story living room. Within the living room is the concrete block fireplace, the main focal point of the house. A balcony from the third story overlooks the living room below. On the third floor Wright placed Millard’s bedroom with an outdoor terrace. While the load bearing walls are constructed of concrete blocks the interior walls are wooden studs with plaster. The floors are either concrete or wood and the ceilings are plaster or exposed redwood. In 1926, Lloyd Wright, Wright’s son, designed a separate studio and guest house.
Completed in 1923, addition completed in 1926
The Millard House sits along a steep ravine located on a tree covered lot.
Wright's textured concrete block was a new experimental material in modular housing. The concrete blocks were poured onsite using wooden molds and constructed with a tongue and groove system and conventional mortar. Unlike the Millard House, Wright’s later three textile block houses within the Los Angeles area used rebar reinforced blocks. The additional rebar provides a catalyst for the cracking and breaking of the original concrete. For example, if moisture seeps into the concrete block and comes in contact with the rebar the metal can rust. This rust can cause chunks of concrete to pop off from the original block.
At the Millard House the walls are two concrete blocks thick with an air gap to provide insulation. These concrete blocks are richly textured and patterned with a modernized pre-Columbian motif of a central cross and a square in each corner. Some of the blocks are solid while others are perforated to allow filtered light through the cross. In his autobiography Wright wrote that he chose concrete blocks since they were “the cheapest (and ugliest) thing in the building world,” and he wanted to see what he could accomplish (Wright 234).
With the Millard House Wright attempted to reinvent himself by breaking with the horizontally oriented structures of the Prairie Style. In addition, Wright attempted to develop a new low cost flexible building system. When designing his concrete block technique Wright used a standardized block as the basic design unit. The blocks created a grid like geometric pattern and the small scale of the unit allowed for an adaptable organic design that could closely follow the landscape. While the building system was flexible it proved to be more expensive than planned, and the house was 70% over budget.
The Millard House was inspired by pre-Columbian motifs popular in 1920s architectural culture, which evoked a sense of the exoticism. Evidence of Mesoamerican designs are seen in the heavy massing of the house, its flat roofs, geometric arrangement of spaces and the concrete block pattern.
The Millard House was the first of four textile block houses designed by Wright. The other three houses, all of which are located in the Los Angeles area, are the Samuel Freeman House (completed 1923), the Storer House (completed in 1923) and the Ennis House (completed in 1924). In addition, Wright's design for the Millard House utilized pre-Columbian/Mayan Revival motifs that were popular during the 1920s and 1930s within the United States.
Wright created the new textile block construction system stating: “We would take that despised outcast of the building industry- the concrete block...find hitherto unsuspected soul in it- make it live as a thing of beauty- textured like the trees” (Pfeiffer 45)
The Millard House is one of a few Mayan Revival Style structures built by Wright utilizing his inventive textile block construction. As Wright's first textile block house, the Millard House set a precedent for the design of the subsequent textile block houses and stands out as a lasting example of Wright's innovations in building technology. Wright fused aestheticism and practicality, while creating a house that is open to and connected with nature. While the initial response to the Millard House was negative, it is now known around the world as one of the most significant structures in the Los Angeles area.
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