The German-born Ulrich Franzen (1921-2012) left an architectural legacy across America. From residential homes such as the Dana House in Connecticut to the Alley Theater in Texas, Franzen’s structures embody a Mid Century Modern and Brutalist aesthetic.
Bio in Brief
Franzen emigrated to the United States with his parents in 1936. He graduated from Williams College, fought in World War II as part of the US Army, and then completed his masters in architecture from Harvard. He then worked for four years as an architect with I. M. Pei before forming his own firm in New York City.
Franzen viewed architecture as “the servant of its time.” They embody the zeitgesit, the spirit of the age. He continues, “The buildings that are designed become footprints of our own socio-cultural history, reflections of the ideas and concerns of an era, and not those of an individual.” His own work now leaves us footprints of Mid Century Modernism, and Brutalism in particular.
Franzen’s “Fortresslike” Design
His buildings vary from private residences to college campuses, but the word “fortresslike” reoccurs in descriptions of his work. Take for instance the first major project he tackled as the lead architect–the Alley Theater in Houston, Texas. Opened in 1968, the theater’s unadorned exterior punctuated by towers makes a stark visual impression. The word “bulwark” springs to mind, like a Brutalist take on the castle. The towers serve a functional purpose and hide wiring and ducts from view.
Franzen wrote of his design for the theater, “I was concerned with making a building that has character and strength, especially when I see so many buildings being packaged into meaningless but fashionable curtain walls … techniques and attitudes resulting in that homogenized look more and more common to American cities.”
The Dana House
This house sits on nine acres of property in New Canaan, Connecticut. Franzen’s design for the home’s 5685 square feet includes floor-to-ceiling windows, brick exterior, wood floors and ceiling. The property went on the market for the first time in 2013.
The Franzen House
The home Franzen designed for himself and his family in Rye, New York received an award in 1956, the year it was completed. The distinctive twin diamond cantilevered roof creates a unique structure, inside and out.
In addition to a distinctive silhouette, the diamond roof creates a covered deck on each side of the house. Inside, the home boasts four bedrooms with fir ceilings, hardwood floors, a woodburning stove and views to the forested two acres on which the home sits. As of November 1, 2020, the Rye, New York home is actually available to rent!