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Historically Modern

A studio/office/residence on Peabody.



Modern architecture, the capital "M" kind, is now historic. "Modern" buildings can be considered for the National Register of Historic Places because they are more than 50 years old. Modernism, also known as the International Style, touted the development of universally valid forms with no connection to the decadent styles and outmoded materials of the past. The movement flourished from the early 20th century until about 1960. Though hailed by avant-garde architects and intellectuals as the panacea for society's ills, Modern architecture was never a big hit with the general public, its intended beneficiary. Despite its resounding unpopularity, Modernism remained the darling of architects for many years.

In 1952, Memphis architects Lucian M. Dent and Alfred L. Aydelott built an office for their firm; a Memphis Press-Scimitar article described it as "a one-story office building of extremely modern design." Aydelott used his considerable influence at city hall to get a variance to build the office in a residential area. The site on Peabody was just down the street from Mayor E.H. Crump's Colonial Revival house.

Dent and Aydelott seemed to be a partnership of diametrically opposed architectural philosophies. Dent, involved in restoring Colonial Williamsburg, usually worked in a Classical and Colonial vocabulary. Aydelott was an early and devoted proponent of Modernism. The design they produced for their office melds the stylistic influences of both partners.

The site is bounded by garden walls which accentuate the corner location while screening the building from view. Both the office and the garden walls are brick. A serpentine wall along Florence Street was undoubtedly influenced by Thomas Jefferson's design for the garden walls at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. But the undulating wall also strongly resembles swoopy '40s and '50s designs, such as kidney-shaped swimming pools, boomerang-patterned Formica, the golden arches of McDonald's, and New York's Guggenheim Museum. The almost-circular end of the wall forms a garden court at the entrance. The front door is sheltered by a deep roof overhang and partially enclosed by a high brick wall perpendicular to Peabody Avenue.

The interior spaces achieve the Modern ideal of integration with the outdoors: Full-height glass walls provide protection from the weather but no visual separation from the surrounding gardens. Dark terrazzo floors with their patterns of tiny stones emphasize the connection of interior and exterior spaces and materials.

Although built as an office and studio, this dynamic composition offers exceptional flexibility in its potential uses. The original office reception area functions well as a residential entry hall. The conference room, with two glass walls and one wall of long, narrow Roman bricks of a type favored by Frank Lloyd Wright, makes a splendid living room or home office. The large kitchen is minimally equipped but has plenty of room for more appliances, storage, and work areas. It "borrows" a garden view through a breakfast room/pantry room across the corridor that was the architects' blueprint room. Three rooms that were partners' offices would work equally well as bedrooms with full-width, ribbon windows.

The drafting room, a 30-by-50-foot space with wall-to-wall, 15-foot-tall, north-facing windows and a clerestory on the south side, could be an artist's studio, a home theater, an exercise room, or open-plan office for six to eight people. It has fabulous light, a pleasant view of a quiet residential street, and a door that opens into the garden.

Dent and Aydelott's office, although half a century old, offers a dramatic setting for a home, an office, a studio, or a combination of those functions, affirming the Modernists' belief in the enduring value of flexible, "universal" design.

2080 Peabody Avenue

3,400 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths

$2,500/month, For lease by owner, 276-9070

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