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The Iconic Beach House (Updated)

The Iconic Beach House - Andrew Geller

Updated 12/27/11: The New York Times reports that Andrew Geller, the architect of many of the seaside structures we spotlighted in our original article, passed away at the age of 87 on Christmas day. Geller's work is distinguished by a very American sense of optimism and a whimsical conception of space, especially when it comes to his iconic beach house designs.

Beach House by Andrew Geller

After reading of his death, we were inspired to go hunt for more images of Geller's work online. Unlike many traditional architecture photos, which can be very staid and composed, vintage images of Geller's work are full of life and color and people. They are snapshots of an era in American history when the middle class flourished and the beach house was a representation of a generation's hopes and dreams.

Iconic Beach House by Andrew Geller

It's a good thing such images exist since, as the New York Times obituary poignantly notes, the houses themselves have fallen victim to time and over-zealous development. From the obit: "In recent years Mr. Geller’s playful houses were the subjects of books and articles, but most of those houses now exist mainly in memories and black-and-white photographs. Mr. Gordon recalled driving around the Hamptons with Mr. Geller in 1999, trying to find some of the scores of houses he had built there. Altogether, they located fewer than a dozen. Mr. Geller said he felt like he had lost his children."

We invite you to re-read our original article and ponder the legacy of Andrew Geller.

Hunt House by Andrew Gellar The beach house occupies a special place in our hearts. It represents warmth, fun, relaxation, and total freedom from the daily stress of urban living, even if it's just for the weekend. From the sunny sands of California and the rocky eastern seaboard /div> to the balmy beaches of tropical islands and the azure Mediterranean coastline, anywhere you find a gorgeous stretch of beach and someone who appreciates it, you'll find a beach house.

Beach Houses: Commanders KeepCommander's Keep Newfoundland, Canada   From a historical perspective, the beach house plays an important role in the American consciousness. The prospect of owning a second home specifically for the purpose of leisure became a reality for the newly prosperous middle classes of the United States in the post-World War II boom years. They suddenly had the means to hire architects to quickly design and construct small, economic summer getaway homes that could be easily closed up when not in use. The seaside vacation home swiftly became assimilated into the American dream as a must-have item, at least for a while. Images of the beach house still abound throughout our culture, inevitably tied up with thoughts of summer, family, picnics, good times, and, most significantly, sunshine.   Above all, the beach house is a construction dedicated to the worship of the sun. This is not strictly an American conception. Beach houses around the world come in all shapes and sizes, but they all share one overarching design principle: let the sunshine in. Here are a few different beach houses to give you an idea of what I mean. Frank House by Andrew Geller Frank House designed by Andrew Geller Fire Island Pines, Fire Island, NY, 1958   Geller was inspired by the Franks' pictures of the Mayan Ruins at Uxmal, Mexico to design this glazed pyramid, set among the rolling sand dunes of Ocean Bay Park. The result is a house with panoramic views of the Atlantic ocean and the Great South Bay. Beach Houses: Villa MiramarVilla Miramar Theoule-sur-Mer, Cote d'Azur, France Beach Houses: Marion Davies EstateMarion Davies Estate designed by Julia Morgan Santa Monica, California, 1926   Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst commissioned Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan to design this 34-bedroom Georgian beach estate for his mistress, actress Marion Davies. Once reserved for luminaries such as Greta Garbo and Clark Gable, the estate is now open to the public as the Annenberg Community Beach House. Beach Houses: Todos SantosCasa Moderna Todos Santos, Mexico   As you can see, the form taken by the beach house changes radically based on the desires of the owners, as well as the coastline itself. Just as the beaches of the world differ in climate and topography, beach house architecture must adapt to the needs of the environment – or possibly get blown away by a thunderous storm in certain regions. However, no matter where in the world it may be located, the beach house begins and ends with the desire to create a seaside residence within steps of a stunning strand; the perfect place to soak up the sunshine in the summer and to dream about in the midst of a bitter winter. So dedicated to the worship of the sun is the beach house that Arts & Architecture Magazine astutely noted in 1955: "Most vacation houses are designed to work, roughly, like a camera: a box, glazed on one side, with the glass wall pointed at the view." Beach Houses: YL ResidenceYL Residence Koh Samui, Thailand   In short, the proper beach house is made up of sweeping sea views, fresh breezes, and good times, all illuminated up in the warmth of the sun. Though actually owning a second beach home isn't in the cards for most, finding the perfect beach house rental is as easy as clicking here. MT.

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  • Mariana

    May 25, 2011

    Pamela – I totally agree. I don’t understand how some people can justify tearing down perfectly functional, beautifully designed homes just because they’re smaller than the modern conception of a family home. Shame on Steve Jobs! “Better” is just a code word for “bigger” in this case. Sad to think about all the architecturally significant homes that were torn down in favor of the already outdated and much derided McMansion aesthetic.

  • Pamela

    May 24, 2011

    Such a shame. Too bad it was not made a historical landmark – or something to save it. Very similar to the Julia Morgan house which Steve Jobs is letting rot (opening the windows/doors and letting it sit) so he can tear it down and build something ‘better’.

    Maybe in the future we can create a village of all of the significant architecture homes…like the land of lost toys!

  • Mariana

    May 20, 2011

    Hi Justin – You’re so right! I’ve edited the article to reflect your corrections. Truly a tragedy about the Hunt House, but sadly not unexpected. Gorgeous structures gets torn down all the time because they doesn’t reflect the “bigger is better” ethos of a lot of modern house design. Geller has a lot of good stuff to say about this in the book Beach Houses by Alastair Gordon. A must read for any Geller fan.

  • Justin Anthony

    May 20, 2011

    Some corrections:

    The top photo is the Hunt House in Ocean Bay Park built in 1958. It was torn down a few years ago so the new owners could build a piece of junk. The Frank House is still standing, but it’s located in Fire Island Pines. I know, because I worked on its restoration. My best best friend’s father built a bunch of Geller’s beach houses, these included.

Any comments?