Vertical Housing
Work # 4 San Francisco 1956
click on left icon to go to Building the Tower
click on right icon to go to the Floor Plan

This work was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Saint Marks project [link: moma drawing] and the built expression of it - the Price Tower [link: price tower]. Follow the links, above, “#4” for context and “1956” for a basic description of the project. While inspired by Mr. Wright there are several elements of this application of his towers that were new at the time. Unfortunately, many of these remain new 44 years later. I did not know it at the time I drew this building that these unique aspects would turn out to reflect deep concerns of mine that still dominate my approach to architecture to this day. In general, the integration of the economics, use and social-ecological impacts of the work along with the lifestyle and esthetic results has remained my focus. Specifically, with this project the creation of simple, compact, flexible floor plans without the need for extensive tearing out and replacing of “permanent” construction (by subsequent owners or renters) were primary design goals along with the “city in a park” concept.


This work was my first serious effort on a complex problem that I took completely through the full preliminary planning process [link: the solution box]. Over the years, the drawings and models succumbed to loss and the ravages of time so what is illustrated here is a diagram version redrawn in December 2001. This drawing, with some changes I made based on a dialog I had at Taliesin in 1958 [link: return to taliesin], is faithful to what was presented on TV and displayed in a SanFrancisco store front in 1956 [link: the promise, tauli maul, tv and the real estate lady]. Basically, the buildings, as presented here, are moderately taller, from the first version, allowing for some two story units (thus, larger “houses”) and the sun screening louvers, of the original concept, have been replaced with a system that is built into the exterior glass wall fenestration. Also, the very top units employ a greater setback giving the building, as a whole, a more graceful finish. These changes make the building completely practical today. This is made more so by modern building techniques, materials and energy systems not available in the 1950s.


The innovation of this work, designed before the condominium was a prevalent real estate product - and still rare today - is that the entire build-able footprint can be used in any way by the owner of the “floor.” In other words, the building is used the same as a lot is in an on-ground subdivision. My base model, was the modest sized houses being built by Eichler [link: joe eichler]. I admired these greatly but not their use of land in all circumstances. This peanut-butter-spread approach to land use did not make sense to me - it still does not. The reality, however, was (and is) that few want to live in an “apartment building” with all the restrictions, monotony and sameness of expression that this implies and so often is the reality. I do not blame them. The vast majority of apartment housing is not fit for human habitation. I wondered if the basic SHELL of the building could create a sufficient integrating framework (today, called Armature [link: armature]) so that a wide variety of layouts, specific detailing and aesthetic expressions could be successfully supported without the overall result being a mess. Diversity within unity. This idea of building - as structural shell and utility infrastructure - was further developed by me in my mega structure [link: mega cities ] concepts and projects like Domicile [link: domicile concept] [link: domicile design development]. In these cases, it means that all interior components have to be a system (like we do today with our AI WorkFurniture) [link: 20 years of tsm architecture] allowing the interiors to evolve and change with the user/owners needs (another Wright idea) [link: hanna house ]. The scale at which these ideas are suggested by this 1956 work remains not-done. The systems to allow it are not yet built. However, it is all feasible today and there are many projects in process, at AI that demonstrate the production level necessary to achieve economy-of-scale.

Don’t put parks in the city and suburban environments, put the city in a park that includes recreation facilities, food production and near wilderness. The density can be the same if infrastructure is kept underground and the right mix of transportation modalities are employed. It is possible to have city density and a liberated landscape.

Keeping the typical “coverage” of a 1950s subdivision in mind (they are denser now), a look at the Plot Plan shows how the landscape can remain almost entirely open while providing perimeter “wilderness” and interior recreation facilities to each cluster of buildings. It can be seen that a wide range of density can be accomplished by employing different building heights (thus number of units) and varying the distance between the Towers. In this case, 130 “houses” in 12 acres of land - approximately 445 people at a density of 38 people per acre. This number can be doubled without risk of over crowding. At the foot of each Tower certain commons facilities and shops can be provided as required. A project this size has the necessary critical mass for on-site generation of clean energy by employing good conservation and new technologies. Different densities, age mixes, social economic backgrounds can be supported along with different social and recreational facilities so that a wide range of lifestyles and their costs can be served. Small adjustments in the design mix will lead to great differences in community character. With community involvement in governance, the project can evolve over time and reach the best combination of personal, social, economic circumstances heuristically - not by top down over design.


It is too often assumed that there has to be negative tradeoffs between density, open space, convenience to landscape, privacy and economy. If approached as a system, and if the design variables that effect each value are kept in mind, then the right mixes are a matter of collaborative design and individual choice, not intrinsic competition between the values themselves. Think of access. A large apartment building imposes a single fixed social context for those going in and out. In one of these Towers, a little over a 100 people are sharing two elevators which go directly to the single-ownership floors. No common halls; walk 22 feet (maximum) from your living room, drop a number of stories and in a few steps you are in a park - or your car - or a friend’s house. The “sense” of inclusion and exclusion - openness and social density can be adjusted, with this schema, by selection of the “real estate” (which floor in which building) and by design (in terms of the specific layout and orientation to elevators and stairways). On a community scale, the same goes for how the “commons” areas are treated as they can be organized based on the same pattern language we use for our office suites and navCenters® today.

The heart of post WWII “Case Study” modern architecture [link] was the plan. This layout shows one possible layout [link] from the system of walls, utility units and storage components in the kit of parts. While modular a variety of inserts and materials can be used just as AI does today with WorkFurniture.

By employing well designed, multipurpose spaces with built-in and flexible furniture and wall systems, modest footprints can support an easy to maintain, economical yet varied and real-time adjustable, luxurious habitat. The total foot print as shown is 3,218 square feet per floor including the core and the two story balcony area. The build-able area is about 2,100 square feet. In this layout - one of many possible - three bedrooms, two baths and a large living area are provided, as well as, the outdoor Balcony (804 square feet) and several garden niches. The plan is compact and simple like the Usonians [link: post usonian project], post WWII Case Study Houses and Eichler Homes [link: google images eichler homes] that inspired this kind of living style. In this case, they are stacked on top of one another and developed within a circular “lot.” This version is somewhat larger in diameter than the original as the core and elevators are expanded to meet ADA requirements. This adds to the overall square footage - again, coming closer to modern expectations while keeping the intent of a compact design. This expansion also reflects the refinements that I thought through while at Taliesin two years after conceiving the project. With minor modifications, it will work today although it remains a radical departure from present views regarding what is a “home.” Given the real estate boom-bust cycles of recent years perhaps the concept of affordable good living will change.

Built today, a second fire escape will be required. This can be a semi-detached circular stairway placed at the junction point between the Living Room area and the Private rooms (on the line where alternating floor “flip”). This will allow a second way out, reduce the travel distance to a fire rated exit without interfering with a variety of floor plan options.

The interior experience is made from a number of prefabricated wall, Kitchen and Bathroom units that can be placed in a number of preset locations on the slab where electrical and plumbing is already stubbed out. The placement of these units, solid partitions and some folding door-partitions (solid of glazed) is all that is required to execute a wide variety floor plan layouts. These prefab components have to be moved in and out through the exterior glass wall (the building acts as it’s own crane) as do larger pieces of furniture. HVAC and plumbing and electrical is feed from the central core via the bottom support struts of the cantilevered slabs which create an accessible area. The exterior glass (and solar-screen/insulating stuttered) walls are designed to fit anywhere on the concrete slabs allowing a variety of layouts. The slabs themselves have floor heating. In 1956, the technology to make this kind of flexible interior/exterior did not exist - the entire system would have been developed almost from scratch. Since then, a variety of components have been built and used in limited ways. The entire idea - as a system - however, has not been done. A recent design that follows the same strategy in office buildings is the Chris Allen project - see: Work # 98 [link]. Having to do demolition in order to make simple changes in a building arrangement is economically wasteful and ecologically unsustainable - it it also disruptive to schedules and living amenity. Large projects have the inherent “buying power” necessary to build the required flexible systems. Modern materials and fabrication methods make it possible. In the production of work environments, tsmARCHITECTURE [link: tsm architecture] and AI [link: ai workfurnitire] do this every day.


This project was not conceived to be “luxury” housing. It was an attempt to build a “middle class” (whatever this means anymore) solution. I doubt at the time the design was first proposed this would have been entirely possible. However, the buildings were designed to be as economical as possible. One reason that the original design called for shorter building was the height limits then regarded as efficient for concrete. This restriction can be pushed somewhat today by employing greater strength concrete. Indeed, I built [link: 1963 building ] a project in New York, just 7 years later - no accident, by the way - that used fast setting high strength concrete adequate for this task. 30 to 35 stories are possible today which would significantly increase density without loss of landscape space or living amenity. Of coarse this design strategy is far from “high” density. Other form factors are necessary to achieve this. A livable city has many ranges of density and this design is on the lower end of the scale. My intention then - and I the same can be done today - was to slip form the central core and sheer wall in a continuous on-site pour (one floor a day).

June 7, 2009 note:

the “kit of parts” diagram (below) actually shows the core and sheer walls also be prefabricated - again, due to the advancement in technology). The cantilevered slabs would be prefabricated in sections and lifted into place and bolted with steel fittings. The bottom support arms of the cantilevered slabs to be made from fabricated steel and covered with a removable material to allow access to utilities. It is also possible to prefabricate the core unit and make the “arms” out of concrete (as is shown in the Model below). Because of the small size and geometric simplicity of these Towers, the cost of erection can be progressively reduced as the project progresses.

The same with the exterior wall and interior system components. In 1956, this would have been an expensive building for a variety of reasons. However, even then as now, the LIFE-CYCLE costs of the project are considerably lower than conventional designs. Now, with today’s infrastructure and general building costs, this project may be competitive on the front end as well as the back end of the use cycle. This will require - in any scenario - people accepting a smaller space which is built more like a ship than the oversized bloated floor plans so common today.

The Tower will be prefabricated and self erected from a kit of parts. After the building is out of the ground and up to the second floor, work will proceed at a floor a day. Click on the drawing to go to Building the Tower.
The entire attitude of this project is modesty. A deliberate attempt to build what is essential - and nothing more - while making a work of art that can be expressive to each individual and family unit’s true living (and work) requirements. This was the goal and it remains the goal. Building in ways that minimize negative impacts on the landscape while providing sufficient social density is critical if we are not to cover our planet [link: master plan] with concrete and asphalt over the next 25 years. The definition of Affordable housing has to be expanded. When using the term “affordable” I never have been only addressing lower income communities. Little that we build today is truly affordable not to the owners (who survive by employing financing tricks [link: history of house size in US]) nor affordable to the economy as a whole or to the planet as a living system. This project shows one way many of these econimic-ecological issues can be addressed. There has to be many such strategies as no single solution can cover all circumstances - and, it will be dull result if attempted. Even the traditional subdivision has a place and can be done much better than it is. See Work # 27 [link: cluster housing ]. Inner-mingled wilderness, urban, suburban and remote low density building is essential. Plant and animal migratory paths have to be maintained. So do human horizontal corridors of transportation and infrastructure (See Work # 107) [link: red threads]. None of these design strategies have to be in conflict with one another - we need a mixed-use [link: mixed-use regional planning] approach on the grand scale as well as the local. This is another reason why global, regional and local Master Plans are required with the caveat that they be a process [link: master plan] not a fixed zoning, dictated “solution”approach.
July 2005 Notes:
It is not my job nor do I have any desire to tell people how to live. It is arrogant to presume to do so. It is also a useless exercise. There are a many valid reasons why it may make sense for a family to live in a 10,000 square foot house (or larger) and only they can evaluate if this design strategy serves their purpose. There are, however, consequences of every act and these consequences have both personal and social implications. Being aware of both individual and social impacts of an action is simply the price we pay for all the many benefits of an advanced civilization. The definition of diligence is not one’s conformity to a fixed standard - even a “good” one. Diligence is better understood in terms of the comprehensiveness of the one’s view, the inclusiveness which which all life is brought into one’s personal viewpoint, and the personal responsibility one takes for the consequences of their actions.
With his usonian house concept [link: pbs usonian ] of the late 1930s, Wright set out to create a whole new paradigm of the American dwelling. His clients we generally people of modest means yet endowed with good education, high standards and a commitment to living life as a work of art. They were usually solid, middle class professionals. At the end of WWII, many solders came back to an America very different from the one they left only a few years before. In a few short years a social transformation took place that was hardly noticed: agrarian to industrial; fixed to mobile; predominately working class to middle class; traditional family structure to a new set of individual and social expectations. Out of this rapidly evolved a new concept of “modern,” the role of technology in everyday life, and the consumer economy that we know today.
In a brief period (1946 to 1970) and mostly in a single place (the California of the Los Angles and San francisco areas) a desire for a new architecture was birthed and flourished. This took form in the building of thousands of small, modern, technology advanced homes based on a almost totally new concept of the family, its internal organization and its social interaction.
There was a belief among those who designed, built and lived in the homes that the size, layout, and both the symbol and experience of these environments mattered. These beliefs became challenged, mocked and ignored by the more jaundiced and sophisticated time which followed. This “simple” view of living became to be seen at “naive” and backward. Recent books by those who grew up in these houses tell a different story [link: post usonian reading]. Recent scientific research provides a strong argument for reviewing these “old” ways of looking at the home and the broader human habitat.
Whole nuclear families grew up in these 1,200 square feet houses. They were efficient and expressive. There was abundant, space - both family and private. There was cutting edge technology (of its day). All this was deliberately designed to support a variety of individual processes, family and community interactions. There were private and social spaces. Because of the size and layout, a level of family integrations was “forced.” The houses related to their setting, landscape and neighborhood. Compare this to today: often oversized houses which isolate family members within their layout - with wasted, oversized space and technology redundancy - standing isolated in “neighborhoods” - the only function as such is to enhance the real estate sales brochure - often enclosed by now ubiquitous gates that keep the “others” (whomever they may be) out.
Prepackaged designs, soulless “food,” hyper-media, overcrowded schedules, violated nature and, oh yes, a pandemic of ADHD to be treated with Ritalin (the spending increase of which rose 369 percent between 2000 and 2003). I am relieved to know from authorities that there is no connection between any of these trends else we would have to rethink our whole social and physical architecture. How would we afford it? Of course, the recent correlation between Ritalin and future brain tumors may cause some people to wonder about who are likely to be seen, in the future, as “naive” and backward.
I wonder if a time may come when the architecture of today will be viewed as a cancerous tumor let lose on the landscape of Gaia by a run-away commerce not held in check by an intelligent society of self-aware users. This is a consumer society and consuming we are - we are consuming life in many of its forms. We are actually consuming a planet.
I was concerned with a number of these issues when I designed the Vertical Housing project. Then, I thought these trends to be ugly. By the 80s I saw them as dangerous. Now, 50 years (as of this update) after the design of this project, I am nearly at a loss for words. There is no panacea, and this project would not have saved the world. It could have - and can be - an example of the kind of design thinking and kind of physical and social architecture that offers better alternatives that can work for some people in some contexts. We need many such solutions - all different - to have the variety necessary for the world that is emerging from the sum of the individual actions of billions of us who still remain mostly creatures of the 20th Century lacking in organic sensibility.
click on 3d Model for April 8, 2009 Update
August 16, 2010 Notes:
August 16, 2010 Notes:
There is no reason for cities not to be as green as a National Park. Almost all the land there ever was still exists - we now call it roof tops. Here is the top of Renso Piano’s new Academy of Science building in San Francisco Park not far from the spot where I conceived the vertical housing project. He said he “lifted the ground to put a building under it.”
click on picture to see my review of the work
This could be the roof top of an “underground” building. Imagine a landscape with much of the infrastructure underground (as it is now in most large cities) only with planted rolling roofs punctuated with openings and skylights into the lower areas and occasional towers like the vertical housing Project, Domiciles of various sizes, and occasional actual mega city density buildings like Xanadu and larger. Cars would be parked in garage hubs with walking and bicycle, electric cart paths on the surface and high speed subways below. Some areas would be cultivated and much of the food necessary for the population would be grown locally. Significant areas can provided for “wild” plant and animal populations to rome freely along with corridors to other similar city complexes and true wilderness areas. The majority of energy to run these cities can be renewable: wind, solar, geothermal, hydrogen, etc. In time, all energy can be renewable. Cities inherently have a smaller per capita footprint than the spread out suburbia of the last 75 years. This is not as great as advertised, however, when the impact of the city on surrounding regions is fully calculated. With proper design, the city footprint and real impacts can be radically cut. This starts with conservation, requires new design strategies as addressed here, evolves with better sustainable technologies (which are cost competitive now if all costs were accounted) and ultimately emerges a new sensibility of what a full human life, beyond being a consumption animal actually is.
This can be done now. We have the technology and on a life-cycle cost-to-own basis, this solution set will be far less expensive than a traditional city while providing far greater amenity and actual space per individual. Nothing new has to be invented other than the social paradigm, political intent, and ability to act. Accomplishing this state his is not a trivial challenge. It is necessary. Authentic Architecture addresses these issues on the Program level and designs solutions out of these program perceptions based on the evidence of 30 years of navCenters that the architecture of integrated environment, process and technology does facilitate human transformation.
Existing cities can be, over time, be retrofitted by the application of the design strategy I have described here. Sprawl can be eliminated with all the attendant financial and ecological costs and true Jane Jacob replacement cites can be created.
Mannahatta, an important book written by Eric Sanderson, recreates how the island of Manhattan functioned on the 12th of September, 1609, the day that Henry Hudson arrived.
Mannahatta was as much a worked human landscape as Manhattan is today although both express different expectations and means. Both have something to offer in the building of a sustainable 21st Century habitat. Instead of arguing which is the better, we should derive the best design principals of both paradigms and, in partnership with Gaia, get to work.
After years of painstaking work, Sanderson and his associates have been able to research the records, explore the physical evidence and build accurate computer models of this unique landscape - one of the most diverse in America - which “had more more ecological communities per acre than Yellowstone, more native plant species per acre than Yosemite, and more birds than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Mannahatta housed wolves, black bears, mountain lions, beavers, mink, and river otters; whales, porpoises, seals, and the occasional sea turtle visited its harbor. Millions of birds of more than a hundred and fifty different species flew over the island annually on transcontinental migratory pathways; millions of fish - shad, herring, trout, sturgeon, and eel - swam past the island up the Hudson River and in its streams during annual rites of Spring. Sphagnum moss from the North and magnolia from the South met in New York City, in forests with over seventy kinds of trees, and wetlands with over two hundred kinds of plants. Thirty varieties of orchids once grew on Mannahatta. Oysters, clams and mussels in the billions filtered the local water; the river and the sea exchanged their tonics in tidal runs and freshets fueled by a generous climate; and the entire scheme was powered by the moon and the sun, in ecosystems that reused and retained water, soil, and energy, in cycles established over millions of years.”
“Living in this land were the Lenape - the “Ancient Ones” - of northeast Algonquin culture, a people for whom the local lanscape had provided all that they and their ancestors required for more than four hundred generations before Hudson arrived.”
Sanderson describes how the human, animal and plant ecology was diverse and in balance and notes that New York City today still reflects in its many neighborhoods traces from the ecology which is now greatly altered over the last 400 years. He also not that the human social, economic ecology which now is the New York we know is on of the most diverse in the world.
Imagine - what if? - imagine if we had possessed the knowledge we have today, and the will which we still do not, and we had built a city within this natural landscape which would be “the jewel of our National Parks,” and maintained this balance while at the same time creating one of the most dense, modern replacement cities in the world. Impossible? I think not.
Imagine if, over the next 100 years, we married Mannahatta and Manhattan and recreated both? A worthy Project I would say - and certainly a new definition of architecture.
Return to Index
GoTo: 1956
GoTo: A Future By Design Not Default
GoTo: A Testament
GoTo: Affordable Housing - A Method
GoTo: Authentic Architecture - A Dialog
GoTo: Boulder Affordable Housing 1980
GoTo: Kansas City Master Plan Process
GoTo: Master Plan for Planet Earth
GoTo: Mega Cities
GoTo: The Monkey’s Paw
GoTo: Planetary Architecture
GoTo: Space Colonies - L5 Interview
GoTo: Xanadu Project
GoTo: Domicile One - Links
GoTo: Authentic Architecture
GoTo: THESIS - Making Authentic Architecture
GoTo: 4 Public Workd of Architecture

Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
December 23, 2001


SolutionBox voice of this document:


click on graphic for explanation of SolutionBox

posted: December 23, 2001

revised: February 12, 2012
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(note: this document is about 94% finished)

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Copyright© Matt Taylor 1956, 1958, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2011

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