Ishi died 100 years ago, March 25, 1916–anthropology’s man of two worlds, the last stone age man, the last wild man, museum specimen, and closest friend. Raised on the Ishi story, we commemorate this sad centennial with reflections on his friendships cut-short, his camping experience, his influence on modern archery, and beyond to his architectural influence and its own untimely end.
Along with San Francisco’s Bank of America Building and Ghiradelli Square, the Clark Beach House in elevation above and immortalized on PG&E’s heliodon machine left, counts among the most published and recognized of the work from the office of the architect William Wilson Wurster, one time west coast darling, and educational innovator as Dean at MIT and UC Berkeley’s re-envisioned Environmental Design Department. Known for his serious understatement and disdain for luxury and over-designing, his work remains largely disregarded today seemingly as a result. With the One Percent currently under attack, the possibility for a resurgence of modesty in home design seems better than any time since the Reign of Terror.
Pictured above Charles and Ray Eames gaze at Shaker founder Mother Ann Lee(1736-1784), believed to be the Second Appearance of Christ in female form. Below Hannah Cohoon’s gift drawing “Tree of Light, or Blazing Tree” received in a vision in 1845.
Strong forms and materials challenge comfort and simplicity. Stunningly simple, heavily understated, this granite bench chills in the inhospitable snow of Yosemite Valley.
The bench is a monument to the geology of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and the gravitational forces that have scraped, scoured and shoved them for 40 million years in Yosemite Valley, in Hetch Hetchy, and as shown here, in the Emigrant Wilderness. Harsh, numbing, forbidding, exhilarating, the bench exhibits an elemental design logic, older than history, appropriate to a Sierra winter or home furnishings for Fred Flintstone.
Strong forms and strong materials have their powerful attractions despite their indifference to human comfort. While comfort and simplicity remain our guiding goals, architectural design is not always about comfort, nor is simplicity always so simple. An elegant goal, achieving simplicity from the myriad of materials and conditions required for modern construction is frequently a challenging and in this case weighty proposition requiring serious tools and strenuous effort.