Sep 3, 2013
07:45 AMArts & Entertainment
Peter Eisenman's House VI in Cornwall, a Modern Architecture Icon, on the Market
Down the road from Mohawk Mountain Ski Area is a small house with a sizeable pedigree.
House VI, reputedly the second house designed by acclaimed architect Peter Eisenman, is visible from Great Hollow Road, though travelers along the wooded rural way might miss catching sight of it.
A quick glance falls on an old schoolhouse that stands at the foot of the dirt driveway. A longer look reveals a contemporary structure that has been variously termed as “modernist” and “deconstructivist” in style; the architect is said to have regarded it as “postfunctionalist,” not an example of form following function.
The house, which is also known as the Frank Residence, was built in the early 1970s, while the schoolhouse dates back to 1865, the Civil War era.
The property owners, Suzanne and Richard Frank, commissioned construction of the residence and also the renovation and expansion of the schoolhouse.
The couple, who lived and continue to maintain a residence in New York City, wanted a getaway place of their own in the country.
“Dick had gone to summer camp in Kent and Winsted as a boy and liked this area, which is why we were looking around for a place here,” said Mrs. Frank.
A real estate agent took the Franks to three locations and they decided the schoolhouse property was just the place for them, but it was too small and needed to be renovated to suit their needs. The property had been owned by Armstead Fitzhugh, a landscape architect who had an installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the late 1920s.
There was also “the wreck of an old building,” which had served as the schoolmaster’s house, Mrs. Frank said, noting that “half of House VI came to be constructed on its foundation.
Mrs. Frank, who was employed by Mr. Eisenman at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in Manhattan at the time, said they showed him the property and asked him what it would cost to tackle the school house.
Mr. Eisenman was one of what was termed “the New York Five”—including Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, John Heiduk, and Richard Meier; architects of reputation that took hold in the late 1960s.
Mrs. Frank said that Mr. Eisenman was familiar with the area, as he had an old farmhouse in Falls Village.
“He said it would cost $30,000 but for that money we could have a new house on the property instead,” she recounted.
Mrs. Frank said she jumped at the opportunity to have a house designed by him, as she really liked the residence known as House I, which he built for a client in New Jersey.
Both houses are part of a series of designs the architect designated by number.
The Franks’ 1,500-square-foot, one-bedroom residence took longer to build than they expected and cost twice as much as the original estimate, according to Mr. Frank.
“We were very much part of the process,” his wife said, pointing out that they were on the property a considerable part of the construction period (1972 to 1975) and lived in the schoolhouse, which now serves as a guest house and a study and studio space for Mrs. Frank, an author and architectural historian.
Mr. Frank, who is now retired, was an established photographer with a studio in Manhattan who was well-known for his food photography. His work is included in the book “Explorers of Light,” which features the work of 55 top photographers “that define image-making for the nineties,” according to its literature.
Needless to say, Mr. Frank photographed the construction of their getaway home every step of the way.
“It was an exciting and challenging time,” Mrs. Frank said, recalling the construction of their home, which took three years to build.
It was a verdant period of architectural thought in more ways than one.
“The Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies was a think tank,” said Mr. Frank.
“It was the place for architectural thinking in this country in the 1970s and ’80s,” said Mrs. Frank, who said she was employed there as a researcher and librarian for 12 years.
Their house in is the end product of a conceptual process in progress, as Mr. Eisenman was known to be a theorist.
In an interview with Austin Williams that appears online on the NBS Learning Channel, Mr. Eisenman, who is described as “one of the founding theorists of postmodern architecture,” said, “To theorize about your work means your work contains an idea. … The only architects worth their salt have in fact theorized in some way or another about their work.”