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Blog art croppedBy Jim McCloskey

You should take a look at the article linked below: It’s about a Florida home called Woodsong that architect Alfred Browning Parker built for himself in 1968. I know that if the article had not mentioned the year and named the architect, I would’ve thought this place was of more recent vintage.

Parker, who passed away in 2011

at the ripe old age of 94, was among the many disciples of Frank Lloyd Wright and a firm believer in the use of organic forms in architecture. But it’s clear his style was also a direct response to living and working in Miami and having the opportunity to exercise the potential it offered for year-round indoor/outdoor living. The result with Woodsong is a home that includes a 90-foot-long pool as well as a koi lagoon, waterfalls, tons of glass, easy flow from the interior to the exterior, rich woods and lush tropical plantings.

When I first saw the photographs, I was caught up short by the round, spillover waterfeature because it looked like a contemporary spa: I figured it had to be a later addition. But in studying the images, I persuaded myself otherwise because of how thoroughly integrated the feature is within the home’s structure. My best guess now is that, rather than being a spa, it’s a fountain basin with an innovative spillover feature, which would make it more suitable and likely in a 1968 project.

Either way – fountain or pioneering spa – it’s a cool touch with its mirroring cutout to the sky above. And there are other details here worthy of mention, from the long overhang that traces the path of the narrow pool to the way Parker worked around the existing trees and fully embraced keeping them as a precondition for his own work on site. Gorgeous, and inspiring.

To see the article and its nice collection of images, click here.

***

Pondering Woodsong while on a long walk the other day, my thoughts flowed back to the late 1980s and early ’90s, when vanishing-edge pools swept into our collective consciousness. Most people who started working with them thought they’d originated in France as a very recent design development.

Then I ambled along to the late 1990s and a time when all sorts of interesting work was being done by fountain companies who were finding innovative, dramatic ways to make water leap, spurt and dance with light and in time to music. Many people thought this was all pretty much brand-new technology, largely unprecedented.

And then I stepped toward the mid-2000s, a time when the watershaping world was agog at the advent of variable-frequency drive pumps. Again, many assumed this was all-new technology – maybe even something tailor-made to meet the perceived needs of watershape designers and builders and their energy-aware clients.

As I stepped along the trail, I pulled up other examples of perceived breakthroughs of either a design or technological sort, but the three mentioned above will do here: As you may have guessed by the way I slanted things in describing them, the conventional wisdom we drummed up about their “novelty” in all three cases was off the mark.

I was there with Skip Phillips, Brian Van Bower and David Tisherman, for instance, when we visited a home built in Los Angeles in 1958 by John Lautner that had a slick vanishing-edge detail a good 25 or 30 years before they started showing up in France and, even later, in the United States. Leaping jets of all descriptions are found in Renaissance gardens of 16th-century Italy – and in Moorish Spain hundreds of years before that. Lighting and music became part of fountain packages more than a century ago, and it didn’t take much research to learn that General Electric took out its patent on a variable-frequency drive motor in 1910.

It all goes to show that when it comes to ideas, there’s not much that’s ever really “new” under the sun – but that’s not my main point here. Instead, what seeing Parker’s Woodsong reminded me of is that timing is everything and “discovery” is often accidental.

I don’t know where John Lautner found the inspiration for the edge treatment at Silvertop; I don’t know what led Renaissance or Moorish architects to think of water in vertical terms; and I don’t know who finally figured out that variable-frequency drives would be a good fit for pools and spas. But I’m grateful that vanishing edges, choreographed fountains and variable-speed pumps have spread far and wide – and, as important, are indelibly here to stay.

What’s next? Well, I’m pulling for someone to spot cool details in Woodsong that deserve broader exposure and application. Might we find the next vanishing edge in his achievement and the way it mixes Mid-Century Modern lines with contemporary outdoor-room sensibilities? Gorgeous, and inspiring.

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