Unbuilt Masterpieces – Wright’s Ralph Jester House

rear elevation copy
In a followup to my new series on unbuilt masterpieces, this week I bring you Frank Lloyd Wright’s unbuilt home designed for the Hollywood costume designer Ralph Jester. Wright drew up the plans for Jester in 1938 with the aim of building the house in the foothills of Santa Clara, California. Like much of Wright’s work, the build price for the house ended up being considerably more then the client could afford, so the house was never realized, which is a shame as it was so unique. This was Wright’s first foray using the circle, and this circle house is exceptional. The house consists of several circular pods, each with its own function (sleeping, eating, lounging, bathing, etc). The pods were connected by a covered patio creating an indoor/outdoor garden, yet its occupants would still have to go outside to go from one pod to the next. The house’s main feature is its large swimming pool forming the largest circle in the design. Wright’s design for an infinity edge swimming pool was decades ahead of anything the pool industry was creating at the time. Even today this house exudes modernism even if it wasn’t exactly practical.

Wright would go onto design other famous circle themed buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum and the Morris Gift Shop but this was by far his purest circle design.

Guggenheim Museum, NYC
Guggenheim Museum, NYC

Morris Gift Shop Floor Plans
Morris Gift Shop Floor Plans

Wright did try to sell other potential clients on his circle house which were similar to the Jester design such as his design for Huntington which was even more ambitious and included a domed roof and a waterfall, but ultimately no one was willing to commit to the expense required to build such a radical design.

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Unbuilt Masterpieces – The Robert Mills’ Dome House

Ground Floor & Elevation of Mills Dome House (Images courtesy of UVA website)
Ground Floor & Elevation of Mills Dome House
(Images courtesy of UVA archives)

Hello readers,
I am introducing a new category of post into my blog, created for exciting designs that were never built or realized. I am christening this category with a home designed by Thomas Jefferson and drafted by his draftsman/apprentice Robert Mills in 1803. Mills would later become one of the US’s first practicing architects training under the Irish architect James Hoban and later Charles Bulfinch. It is not clear just how much input Mills had on this design if any but the end result was truly impressive. The plan is a rendition on Palladio’s Villa Rotunda (see my recent post on Palladio’s villa) with some alterations. Two porticoes were removed and the number of columns was reduced to 4 from Palladio’s 6. The size of the Ionic columns were also scaled down to 1.5 diameters or 18″ from Palladio’s 24″ diameter columns. In addition two octagonal bays were added supporting decks above them. The total size of the building is slightly larger than Villa Rotunda, yet it has a smaller rotunda. These changes make the house more functional compared to Palladio’s highly stylized plan. What surprised me the most was the shear number of fireplaces in this house. There were a total of 24 fireplaces in the house; considering this plan was drawn prior to central heating I guess that is to be expected, but one can only imagine the amount of soot generated by all of those fireplaces and all of the work to clean them and keep them stoked. The house appeared to have 10 bedrooms with no apparent bathrooms and neither kitchen nor laundry facilities appearing on the plans, so it is likely that those were relegated to the basement or dependency wings not shown.

One can clearly see Jefferson’s influence in the design, Mills incorporates the same bed alcoves found in Monticello into all of his bedrooms and the entrance hall has the same door/window layout as Monticello’s entrance hall.

Plans & Elevation for Jefferson's Monticello
Plans & Elevation for Jefferson’s Monticello1
Mills also creates 2 Jeffersonian parlors representing the dining room and study in his design.

The thickness of the masonry walls used in the home’s construction was noteworthy and worth commenting on. The exterior walls are almost 2 feet thick as are some interior walls containing multiple fireplaces. The thick interior walls seemed irregular until I came across this design for Stratford Hall (built in 1725) which illustrates how multiple chimney stacks rest on the structural walls below them. This chimney arrangement is probably what Mills is representing on his plans yet

3D view of Stratford Hall
Axonometric drawing of Stratford Hall2

strangely with all of these fireplaces, the Mills’ elevation shows no protruding chimneys. Mills also uses splayed windows to bring in more light to offset the heaviness that those extra thick walls would create for its occupants.

Floor Plans

Ground Floor & Elevation of Mills Dome House (Images courtesy of UVA website)
Ground Floor & Elevation of Mills Dome House
(Images courtesy of UVA archives)3

Second Floor Plan
Second Floor Plan4

I created the Mills’ dome house in the computer and generated several renderings depicting the feel of the interior and exterior spaces. I kept to the original design, eliminating one or two fireplaces I found superfluous and added 2 dependency wings (one for a greenhouse and another for stables) in true Palladian style connected by loggias. I also created a landscaping plan and added a tea house on the property as well. The rooms in the home were decorated in the Federal style consistent with the 1803 time frame for this design.

North Elevation
North Elevation

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1. Thomas Jefferson Foundation. 18 March 2016. Thomas Jefferson Foundation website. Accessed March 18, 2016 “http://www.monticello.org/sites/default/files/uploaded-content-images/HABS-House-and-dependencies-plan.jpg?/>
2. Moore, Charles and Gerald Allen, Donlyn Lyndon. The Place of Houses. Berkley: University of California Press, 1974. 86.
3. “Thomas Jefferson Notes files” 18 March 2016. Accessed March 18, 2016 “http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/wilson/TJA/tja.notes.html/”>
4. “Robert Mills’ Plan For a Rotunda House” 18 March 2016. Accessed March 18, 2016 “http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/wilson/cgi-bin/draw_filter.pl?id=N412/”>