The Pittsburgh home by renowned architects remains virtually unchanged inside and out since its completion in 1940


Foremost among Pittsburgh’s architectural treasures is the Alan IW Frank House, designed by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. It is located 8 km from the city center in the leafy district of Shadyside. Gropius, who was the founder of the Bauhaus design movement and chairman of the architecture department at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and Breuer, who designed the original Whitney Museum in New York and the Unesco headquarters in Paris, had four-year partnership from 1938 to 1941, during which they built this house with nine bedrooms and 13 bathrooms. Property records show the house has approximately 6,000 square feet of interior space, but Alan Frank, the nearly 80-year-old owner, says the total area designed and built, including exterior spaces, is about 19,000.

The Frank House sits on a green hill, with rooms oriented to receive the morning sun.


Richard Barnes / Alan IW Frank

The house was commissioned in 1938 by Cecelia and Robert Frank, Mr. Frank’s parents. He said they worked closely with the architects, working with them on many design details; from the selection of fabrics in the house to their request for a main staircase that is more open than what the architects had originally designed. Mr. Frank said he and his parents moved into the house in 1940. He is currently engaged in a thorough restoration of the house.

Mr. Frank’s family played a central role in the development of Pittsburgh’s steel industry. Mr. Frank’s grandfather, IW Frank, worked for Andrew Carnegie and then founded a company to build machinery for the growing steel industry, according to his 1930 New York Times obituary. Frank, Robert, was a co-founder of Copperweld Steel in 1915, according to company records at the University of Pittsburgh. The company specializes in products combining copper and steel.

Cecelia Frank was a major patron of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and many other arts organizations and frequently hosted artistic guests.


Alan iw frank

Mr. Frank, an inventor and entrepreneur, says his father met Gropius when the architect came to Pittsburgh to give a talk. A commission followed soon after in 1938.

The house features a mix of natural and industrial materials, from copper clad steel bars in a chrome finish to English sycamore panels to a travertine fireplace. No detail was too small: Light switches and even a grille recessed into a retaining wall of a terrace were designed by the architects, according to architectural historian Kenneth Frampton. Gropius and Breuer looped the main staircase directly along the house’s curved two-story bay window, creating a kinetic sculptural connection between two levels of the house and the exterior. The steps seem to float on the outer side of the stairs.

All of the furniture was designed by Breuer specifically for the home, Mr. Frampton said. The pieces are different from Breuer’s earlier steel furniture and are mostly constructed from rarer woods, he said. He emphasized “a certain theatricality” found in the dining room chairs, which are constructed with layers of mahogany laminated with pear wood.

Breuer often associated wood with modern elements. The dining table has a pear wood surface, but appears to float on Lucite legs, invented by DuPont in 1937. Most of the door handles are also in Lucite. Lynda Wagoner, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater Manager for over two decades and Mr. Frank’s friend, said: “It doesn’t look like other Breuer furniture. It’s sweeter than some of what we associate with Breuer. There is even a card table designed by Breuer.

Anni Albers, a Bauhaus textile artist, designed a copper wire fabric wallcovering in the master bedroom, according to a 2018 collection of essays on her work.

Mr Frank said his father used steel and copper from his own factory to build the house and designed the house’s passive solar heating system. He designed other features such as a control that automatically shuts off the flow of hot water to radiators in a room where the chimney is open, Frank said.

The main social spaces of the house on the first floor fit together perfectly.


Ezra Stoller / Esto / Alan IW Frank

“The wonderful thing about the house is that everything is there, everything is intact,” Ms. Wagoner said. “Alan hasn’t changed a thing and it’s so rare in America.”

Mr. Frank’s recent assignment has been to restore the house, which he says is mostly in excellent condition but needs some touching up after eight decades. Restoration tasks have not always been easy. The main constraint has been to find artisans capable of this artisanal work, said Frank, who added that he had brought in local contractors and turned to other national companies for more personalized tasks. . Some of the work was done by contractors who had previously worked in Fallingwater for Ms Wagoner.

A young Alan Frank, his sister and Walter Gropius observe the progress made on the steel frame of the house.


Robert frank

The house’s frame, made of heavy welded steel I-beams, and its 8-inch-deep poured concrete floors remain in pristine condition, Frank said, but work was required on the exterior of the house. House. . Exposure to Pittsburgh’s first pollution stained the house’s Kasota stone, requiring complete scrubbing, hand grinding and sanding as well as repointing the mortar, a process which Frank says took several years but made the exterior look young and pinkish. tanned glow. A few stones had cracked, which he said required their removal and replacement.

The flat roof has been waterproofed and updated using contemporary technology, Frank said. Ms. Wagoner advised Mr. Frank on this part of the project. “You have a flat roof in a northern climate and you will end up having problems,” she said. “It’s not the Mediterranean.” The original waterproofing worked well but has been reinforced. Waterproofing consists of a series of tight layers with copper and multiple waterproofing elements, which Ms. Wagoner likened to a sandwich, which will not get wet.

There are two roofs topped with teak decks, the lifespan of which was long but not infinite, Mr Frank said. The decks are replaced by teak from Southeast Asia.


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The huge steel door to the indoor pool has been removed, its rails cleaned and the door replaced. The stones in the exterior rubble stone walls of the Breuer Fields are in good condition, but some mortar has gradually washed away, Frank said, so new mortar has been added. Most of the original furniture needs cleaning, but some woods need detailing and some upholstery needs redoing, Ms. Wagoner said. Shantung silk curtains need to be replaced, Mr Frank said. There are other subtle restoration details.

“When I looked at the carpet,” Ms. Wagoner said, “Alan said ‘it’s not really the right color. It’s changed. We looked inside a closet and it absolutely had raison.

The elevator and a refreshment bar line the entrance to the guest room on either side.


Richard Barnes / Alan IW Frank

Bauhaus textile artist Anni Albers designed the copper wire fabric for the master bedroom.


Richard Barnes / Alan IW Frank

“I have to think of the Frank House in the context of Fallingwater,” Ms. Wagoner said. “These are both wonderful and very different expressions of modernism. These are probably the two best modern homes in America.

Mr. Frank’s goal in the major renovation is to make sure the house is still standing “100 years from now and 1,000 years from now,” he said. “The house is a living example of Pittsburgh’s industrial innovation at its best and is a warm and wonderful place to live and entertain the community.”

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