Beyond Buildings


Roy McMakin's Shingle Style Variant

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It took a trip to Seattle to remind me how much I love the Shingle style. In a residential neighborhood a few miles from downtown, Roy McMakin, an artist and furniture designer, has designed a house for Bill and Ruth True that brings the style's ramble of rooms curving around at angles forward into the 21st century.

I was indoctrinated into the Shingle style at an early age by the great Vincent Scully, my teacher at Yale University, who had written the book on this late 19th century residential style and then had encouraged students and colleagues to adapt those forms to modern life. He found echoes of the early work of McKim, Mead, and White, H.H. Richardson, and Peabody & Stearns in the sloped roofs, fractured octagons, and assemblies of rooms curving around their sites in the houses of Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull, and Whitaker (MLTW), the “Grays,” and Robert Venturi, among others. 

These forms—both the original and The Shingle Style Today, Or, The Historian’s Revenge, as Scully called it in a 1974 book—were and are seductive. They produce houses that follow the contours of the land, covering the site with roofs stretching out over rooms that unfold towards views, around fireplaces and into moments for specific uses and privacy that remain unified into a familial whole.

Photos by Aaron Betsky

So it is with the True House. Perched on a slope overlooking Lake Washington, the house follows the hill’s curve, opening up to the views while tightening to the residential scale of the houses around it on the entrance, upslope side. McMakin covered the exterior with dark-stained wood shingles, and gave the house a pitched roof anchored to the site with an exposed brick fireplace. Inside, the main living areas stretch out along the length of the main floor, developing from a two-story living area to a dining area, an eat-in kitchen, and a covered porch that continues these communal spaces to the outside. Above and below, bedrooms, studies, and ancillary spaces ramble along as needed.


McMakin abstracted and simplified the Shingle style’s basic shapes, turning the exterior into a pile of geometric blocks covered by a taut skin, while the interior is all white walls and rough wood floors, interrupted by the fireplaces, wooden stairs, and wood-framed windows. These elements become the focal points around which the rooms amble along, their crafted surfaces drawing the eye and the hand to contact with the house’s constructed core.


At times, these interventions are mannered, as when a steel post supports a stair jutting out at an angle, or when McMakin puts windows exactly at the point where the walls turn, so that they release the space exactly where the building bends around its site. They are where McMakin and his team of trained architects make their point.  These moments become art, or, more precisely, architecture: what lets you see and understand the building. They form a bridge between the True’s collection of contemporary art and the structure that houses it.


They also summarize McMakin’s art, which has long consisted of taking the simplest constructions, from dressers to beds to chairs, reducing them to their purest forms, and then stretching, bending, or otherwise emphasizing those essential forms so that they become at one and the same time something to use and something to look at, something of utility and of art. They seem very at home here in the Pacific Northwest, where so much art exists as craft, and where architecture must work hard to compete with its spectacular setting. If the Shingle style established a native American way of making architecture across the ocean from Europe, then this latest variant looks towards a new kind of American architecture, one that is comfortable, familiar, and thoroughly new.


Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 2:05 PM Tuesday, May 04, 2010's not a modernist box. It's not even two modernist boxes stacked upon each other! How can this be considered 'architecture'? On the other hand, I think most people would like to actually live here. What a dilemma.

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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.