My short but adventurous blogging tour through my favorite works of American architecture has included Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Greene and Greene’s Gamble House, two residences that couldn’t look more different if they tried. Today we add a third, but to call this one a “house” would be like saying Niagara Falls is a tall drink of water. Palace? Château? Both fit the bill, er… Bilt. Welcome to North Carolina’s Biltmore Mansion.
If you enjoy the occasional retreat into the mountains, maybe you’ve thought about owning a second place someday. A modest cabin on a lake or a condo on the ski slopes. You’d get away for the weekend to enjoy the fresh air and recharge. You might call it your “little mountain escape”, which is exactly how George Washington Vanderbilt II described his summer home in Asheville, North Carolina. All 180,000 square feet of it.
I’ll say this for G.W. Vanderbilt II: he knew how to spend money. Beginning in 1889 and for the next six years, Vanderbilt created the Biltmore estate on hundreds of thousands of forested acres in North Carolina. His undertaking was so massive it required the purchase of 700 separate parcels of property. The mansion itself, the design of architect Richard Morris Hunt, required a temporary three-mile railroad connection (to deliver materials), a woodworking factory, and a kiln capable of creating 32,000 bricks/day. At the height of its construction the Biltmore estate employed over 1,000 workers.
The mansion itself is fairly indescribable, at least with the handful of paragraphs I allot myself today. Vanderbilt opted for 250 rooms spread across four stories, with 65 fireplaces and three kitchens. This was his second home? What the heck did his first place look like, Versailles?
Since we just watched the Super Bowl, here’s a fitting way to picture the size of Biltmore: each of its four floors is the size of a football field. You can sleep in any one of 35 bedrooms. You can dine in 3,000 square feet of banquet hall alongside sixty other guests. You can choose from 10,000 books in the two-story library. You’ll climb a hundred steps on Biltmore’s massive spiral staircase to get to your fourth-floor bedroom (I suggest turning in early). Finally, the adjacent carriage house is 20,000 square feet – another third of a football field – because you get to choose from Vanderbilt’s twenty horse-drawn vehicles.
The Biltmore mansion also has a basement (of course it does), the largest in America. Vanderbilt liked his fun, so this floor houses a 70,000-gallon swimming pool, a bowling alley, and a gymnasium. Throw in electric lights, forced-air heating, walk-in refrigerators, and elevators, and you have a thoroughly state-of-the art structure (at least for the late 1800’s).
News to me, one of architecture’s styles is known as “Châteauesque”. It describes a handful of the mansions designed in the Gilded Age of the late 1800’s (some covered in a recent tour of Newport, R.I. by blogger Lyssy in the City). The Biltmore certainly qualifies as a château. It’s the largest privately-owned house in the United States. If you’re looking to get your 10,000 steps, check out the tour information here.
Now for the latest on LEGO Fallingwater…
LEGO Fallingwater – Update #6 (Read how this project got started in Perfect Harmony)
Today we spent entirely “off-model”, creating the random looking structure you see in front. 50 pages (or 55%, or 148 minutes) into the build, this is what we have:
I had to reference the photo of the completed model to understand what I’m building here. It’s the house itself, of course, but only the base, largely hidden from view when the model is complete. It appears I’ll be building up this part of the house in similar fashion for the next couple of weeks.
Since today’s update was a little boring, how about an interesting coincidence instead? I just noticed “Fallingwater” contains the letters, F, L, and W… in that order. Talk about an architect’s “signature”, eh? Wouldn’t surprise me if Frank Lloyd Wright came up with the name himself.
Tune in next Thursday as construction continues! Now for another nod to Frank Lloyd Wright…
Frederick C. Robie House
No history of residential American architecture would be complete without including the Robie House, which you’ll find on the south side of Chicago. This very long, very narrow house is often described as “two large rectangles that seem to slide past one another”.
The Robie House is Wright’s best example of his Prairie Style, which “responds to the expansive American plains by emphasizing the horizontal over the vertical”. The cantilevered roof, window bands, and liberal use of brick are also characteristic of the style. The house is laid out with an open, naturally-lit floor plan, a novel design concept for the early 1900s.
Given its troubled history (including its sale a mere fourteen months after it was built), it’s a wonder the Robie still stands today. The house is now incorporated into the University of Chicago campus and open most days for tours.
Some content sourced from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.