Beal House

University Place, Architect: George Beale, 1951
Southern facade (Photo: Doug Stremel)
Location: University Place, 1624 Indiana St.
Year Built: 1951
Architect: George M. Beal (architectural blueprints)
Builder: Robert M. Still (construction photos)
Original owners: George and Helen Beal
Current owner: John Charlton
Current ranking: 1 (See details)
(Gigapan image)
 

Easily passed by without notice, this small wooden house is a study in form follows function modern architecture. Designed by Prof. George Beal, chair of KU’s architecture department for many years, the 1,216 sq. ft. dwelling was inspired by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian concepts and shares many of its same features—L-shaped plan, “sandwich” wall support system, carport, radiant floor heating—down to the Cherokee red finish on the concrete slab floor. But this is no photocopied design. Beal studied with Wright in the 1930s, absorbed many of his ideas about organic architecture, and maintained a friendship with him that lasted for decades.

One of the many striking aspects of the Beal house is its orientation. Like many of Wright’s Usonian houses, it turns a mostly blank wall to the street, but instead of completely turning its back it presents a side profile of its sharply raked roof and projecting eaves. Beal invented an instrument known as the heliodon and used it to position the house for maximum active/passive solar heating. While the overhangs shade the house in summer, southern facing glass collects the sun’s rays in winter—which the central free-standing chimney mass absorbs—and releases its energy into the house at night. In a 1979 interview with the KU Alumni magazine, Beal recalled many winter days when “the boiler was never switched on — the sun was heating the house.”

Beal’s focus on the sun has psychological and aesthetic effects, too. The house’s articulated natural light, filtered through century old pines, is uplifting and shapes an interior that is a paragon of expressive materials and well-integrated structural systems. Gorgeous pine and walnut walls, exposed roof beams, and multifaceted brick masonry form living spaces that radiate natural beauty and power. Well-designed built-ins save space and reduce clutter, helping the house feel larger than it is and enhancing its usability and livability. A high level of craftsmanship combined with the patina of age lends a nostalgic feel, as if stepping back in time.

Beal met Wright at Taliesin in the summer of 1934 when Wright was designing the Jacobs House, widely considered his first Usonian structure. The Beals bought the Indiana Street property in 1944. Plans were finished in 1950 and construction completed in spring of 1951. 1624 Indiana served as the couple’s retirement home until 1968. Today this well-kept architectural specimen remains preserved in amber by its current owner, John Charlton. The Beal House rated highest on our survey of modern homes and is now on local, state and national historic registers as a significant example of modern architecture, designed by a KU architect with a direct link to Frank Lloyd Wright.

Living room at night. (Photo: John Charlton)
Living room at night. (Photo: John Charlton)
West elevation. (Photo: Doug Stremel)
West elevation. (Photo: Doug Stremel)

5 Comments

  1. Posted November 7, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    LOVE IT! Thanks for posting this in such depth. Will be digging into the architectural drawings with much anticipated delight!

    • Lawrence Modern
      Posted November 9, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      Peter, thanks for the comment. Hope you enjoy the drawings of this neat house.

  2. Lisa Dahl
    Posted October 18, 2015 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Amazing home. I am very thankful for the write up and pictures.

  3. Russ Hutchins
    Posted August 9, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful article, well written. Great photos. Address would be helpful. 1624 Indiana


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