Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Ensculptic House



It was sometime in February, 1970. Our art teacher had arranged for us to take a field trip to "The Ensculptic House", one of those concepts that seemed like a good idea at the time. The idea was that you got some poles and Dacron fiber (like sail-cloth), set it up like big tent, then spray it with foam. You then cut out windows and doorways, and finally sprayed it again with concrete. Violá! Instant house.

It did possess an organic vibe, sort of like being in a fungus. There were twisting passages in it which led to odd little rooms, much like cells in a dungeon. People actually lived there; one of the rooms belonged to a teenage girl. She must have been mortified having strangers regularly parading through it. There was a little animated lamp by the bed stand which kept flashing the words "I Love You" over a sparkling, color-changing backdrop.

I went with my girlfriend and, consciously or not, the tour became our own little charade- we were the house-hunting couple- "Oh this would be nice for a reading room, I like the view from the other bedroom better, You could have your piano over there..."

The house is still there, recent pictures of the exterior find it looking kind of shabby now. Maybe someday, someday when I grow tired of living in a house, I'll buy the Ensculptic House, and raise mushrooms.


Update: The house is for sale, I've done another post about it.

By Professor Batty



25 Comments:

Anonymous Nicole said...

Where the heck is this house?!


Blogger Professor Batty said...

Somewhere SW of the Metro, Don (he's been there, too) thinks it might be in Orono...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the teenage girl you referred to in your article. You have a few of your facts incorrect. The structure has no sprayed concrete for example...and no Dacron was used or poles stuck in the ground. The house is a 4200 square foot suspension structure engineered by professionals. A column (off-center and hollow for the fireplace flu was the start. Then nylon cables were stretched out to earth anchors and burlap was sewn between each section of rope, forming the roof. This was then sprayed with polyurethane foam. The sides and walls were also foam with a plaster lathe and steel mesh layer to spray the foam against. The only concrete anywhere in the house is the floor. I and most of the poeple who toured the house found it to be remarkably light,airy and spacious. As a matter of fact the Life Magazine article in which it appeared used almost exactly that phrase...not like a cell in a cave. The house has a 30 foot wall of floor to ceiling sliding glass doors and windows in the living room - the kitchen and bedroon have floor to ceiling window/doors and the house has many skylights and other windows!

I have always marvelled that people thought that it was underground...not even close to the truth....we only have a partial basement even....and it too has floor to ceiling windows in the walkout area.

The house was sold but I had to foreclose on it and now have it back. Yes, it was neglected while out of my hands. It is for sale along with 10 acres of land in Minnetrista.

I was not mortified but rather came out of my shell and learned to be more outgoing during these tours. This house means a great deal to me on many levels and always will as a unique and bold experiment...which given that it still stands...did not fail!

Jayme


Anonymous Anonymous said...

by the way...like your rendition of the house!
Jayme


Blogger Professor Batty said...

Jayme- Thanks for filling in and correcting my story, drawn entirely from my 35 year old memories of one winter's night. I knew cloth was involved, but I didn't recall it being burlap. I remember the house being quite open, there was a tiny room at the end of a hallway. I was there in 1970, I believe it was still being finished?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a relative of the "teen age girl" and knew the house well .... I can't let the comment about the "lamp" that flashed "I love you" go uncommented upon. There was never, never, never anything like that in that house. You must have seen it in a "head shop" ... ?? I'm wondering if the "cell" you thought you saw was the "snail shell" shower? It's too bad that the large number of people who wanted a house like this one couldn't get financing to build. Banks are very consertive!


Blogger Professor Batty said...

I'll let Jamye speak for herself about the lamp. I believe it is pictured in the Life article as well.

The cell was probably the shower, it wasn't finished when I was there.

I seem to sense some hostility coming through in these comments about this post. I never referred to it as a cave. The post was written about what was a very pleasant experience for me. If it would please you I'll remove the post.


Blogger littlejazzjr said...

Jayme here again...no need to remove the story. I think the "hostility" you perceive is that of a dream unfulfilled. My father very much believed in this house and style of building. It is made of insulation which I believe to this day would have made it a sensible alternative in these days of rising fuel costs and energy saving. The house is still - after 40 years - very energy efficient. Unfortunately those who wanted to build one could not get mortgages through ANY bank, and the dream died for our family, and more specifically my father. No need to remove the story....it is nice to know that people still remember the experience of the house....it was and is unique...and through it and the memories that you and others have...my father and his dream live on.

Can you tell me what the media is on the picture you did of the house? I like it!

Thanks,
Jayme


Blogger Professor Batty said...

Jayme ~ I never know what reaction my posts will get, I always try to allow all views on any subject. One of my co-workers also visited the house and vividly remembers the experience. A truly unique house (and a fun place to visit) in this cookie-cutter world. You should always be proud of your father and his dream.

The drawing was done in Photoshop, with Photoshop textures, it's barely a drwing at all. Almost all of the illustrations on this blog are done by me, mostly as experiments.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm the daughter of the architect of Ensculptic. I feel I need to give him some recognition for the imagination and tenacity he had to create such a unique and beautiful living space. So, please note Winslow Wedin designed this home in 1966 and built it in 1969 using a group of 7 university students.


Blogger Professor Batty said...

Thanks for the info! I'd love to see the magazine article (Life?) that featured it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will forward this weblink to my father, Winslow Wedin, to see if he can get you a copy of the article. Yes, it was Life Magazine.


Blogger Professor Batty said...

Thanks a lot for your interest and effort. If I can get a date, I know where I can probably get a copy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Found this blog by researching another Wedin.

Any chance Winslow Wedin is related to Elof Wedin?


Blogger Professor Batty said...

I don't know, Winslow is an architect of note, and is still alive, try to contact him directly, I think he lives in Florida...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi!, Yes I , Winslow Wedin, am the Architect for this Ensculptic Home. Yes I am still alive. Yes, I am living in Boca Raton, Florida. Yes My father is the Artist Elof Wedin. The Ensculptic (ENvironmental SCULPure in plasTIC) Story is a long one and I am writing it up. There were 10 E’s from 1964 to 1972. E-I was a model constructed by Richard Scott, sculpture, Boot Gordon, educator and myself in 1964 and published in the Minneapolis Paper. E-II was a sculpture of fiberglass which won an award in a local gallery. This house for Jim and Letabeth is E-III. Jayme and 7 of my students from Auburn University were the construction crew. I became the GC, Jim arranged all subcontractors and work with us all. Letabeth handled the PR. The Life Magazine article was March 1970. In the summer of 1970 I traveled to numerous Universities on a lecture tour showing a slide-tape and discussion on this work. Jayme, nice to hear from you after all of these years. Winslow


Blogger Professor Batty said...

Mr. Wedin: It is truly an honor, thank you for stopping by. As is evidenced by this post the Ensculptic House still provokes vivid memories.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sure hope that someone will buy the house and fix it back up. I wish I lived in Minnesota, I would buy it in a New York minute, one way or another! It's a shame that the people who had it for awhile didn't appreciate what they had. I happened on here looking for more information about the Ensculptic project and looking for photos and information about the other installations in the project. I have questions like "Did any of the other structures survive?", and "Is it possible to finish a foam structure by just painting it, or do you have to put fiberglass or concrete over it?" I see a note that there is no concrete on it, but wonder what, if anything was done over the foam to make it hold up all these years?
I would love to build something like that one day, and have plans in my head for a small folly in the yard, if I can manage to pull it off before my husband has me committed in mid spray :)
I find this sort of construction fascinating, but have a hard time finding information on it apart from monolithic domes, but I wish to do something more freeform, and would love to know more about the construction of structures like Ensculptic. If anyone has links where I could find more info and photos on the other installations, please post them with my thanks to you.....
You would think after all this time, that enough of these shelters would have been built and lived in to provide enough research to the banks to show it as a valid building technique so they could write mortgages on them. Maybe some studies need to be made and published on how these homes have held up over the years. Any time I run into an article concerning a monolithic foam structure being torn down (such as Xanadu), the structure is still holding up, and they can't take it down with a wrecking ball, and wind up having to go in there and saw it to pieces by hand. That sounds pretty solid for 30 or 40 years standing. Moon


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! Winslow here. the total story is on a blog on "Domes" - which it is not.Working as an artist, I have many hundred studies of structures like the Ensculpic series. many architects and engineers are involved with thin shell and membrain structures. I would like to know if any of my students - the construction crew have done similar. How can I find them"
Winslow Elliott Wedin Architect


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today (2-22-12) my son (39 yr's old) called me to tell me all about this great house, that he just got a job to carpet, and that I needed to look it up on the web; as he was telling me about the house, it all sounded familiar. My father painted the inside of this house just after it was built, he took me one day to see it; I loved the house. I am glad that someone bought it,and is fixing it up. All this news I told my son made him even more happy to work on this house.
Sorry your fathers dream did not make it; it is still alive.

L.S.


Blogger Leifer said...

Hi,
My parents bought the house a few years ago and have been making repairs. There are some features I have found wanting in my visits - sloped curving hallways from the bathroom, for instance, invite a post-shower slip-n-slide adventure that you might not really want. The sweeping ceiling can be grandiose but it can be a challenge, too - I have scraped my scalp up pretty badly in a couple of places.

Certain environmental hazards were unanticipated. For example, the cured PU foam really invites woodpeckers. Dad used to like woodpeckers.

A few trouble spots have been eliminated. One skylight in particular proved most easily dealt with by removing it and sealing the hole. But the house's character is essentially unaltered, you would have to raze the entire structure to change its impact.


Blogger Professor Batty said...

Leifer ~ I'm so glad someone has taken up the challenge. Any house has its problems, I'm in awe of your parents.


Blogger Professor Batty said...

We've lost the architect, Winslow Wedin:

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sunsentinel/obituary.aspx?n=winslow-elliott-wedin&pid=163079033


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is adhok from mumbai india. I came here accidently trying to locate winslow elliot wedin and learnt he is no more. Does any one know how to contact caroline his wife.

As a young graduate architect i had oppertunity to stay with them in tempa in 1972.

Oh god, how time passes and how new technologies can help us connect

Asaashok@hotmail.com


Blogger Professor Batty said...



adhok ~ You might try leaving a comment on Leifer’s blog:

http://uponfinding.blogspot.com/

His parents now own the house.

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