Thursday, December 29, 2011

Andrew Michael Geller 1924-2011 Architect of Happiness

I was shocked this week to receive a Google Alert for Michael Geller architect announcing my death!

In fact, this time it wasn't me, but an American architect named Andrew Michael Geller did pass away at the age of 87. Although I once wrote to him, sadly he didn't write back. However, retired Vancouver architect Herb Auerbach once worked with him and thoughtfully passed on a link to an extensive New York Times obituary.

I wrote to him because we had a few things in common, other than our name. Both of our forefathers came from Odessa (indeed, most Gellers who I have met have roots in Odessa). But more significantly, we both had a longstanding fascination with affordable prefabricated housing.

In my case, on-the-ground projects are limited to two CMHC seniors' housing developments made with factory produced modules. However, readers of this blog are familiar with my ongoing desire to create factory produced laneway cottages and housing for the homeless, based somewhat on my 1971 Architectural Thesis.

Andrew Geller, on the other hand, had many of his projects, especially prefabricated cottages built, including a model that was set up on the 9th Floor of Macy's in New York. From the excerpts below, readers may also detect a couple of other similarities in our personalities and attitudes towards the establishment!

Andrew Geller, an architect who embodied postwar ingenuity and optimism in a series of inexpensive beach houses in whimsical shapes and who helped bring modernism to the masses with prefabricated cottages sold at Macy’s, died on Sunday in Syracuse. He was 87 and lived in Spencer, N.Y.

Mr. Geller designed the “typical American house” shown at the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959. The model shown in Moscow led to a line of vacation houses, sold in the 1960s under the name Leisurama. One of the houses, complete with picture window and carport, was displayed on the ninth floor of Macy’s in Herald Square; people came in to buy house-wares and walked out owning houses. (A basic model required a down payment of $490, followed by monthly payments of $73.) Some 200 Leisurama houses were built.

“Geller posed something of a threat to the status quo. He was incredibly prolific, experimental, friendly, never took himself too seriously, could be irreverent, and even had dared to live a normal family life in suburban Long Island. He was successful in his own right, well outside the inner sanctum of the design world. He wasn’t practiced in the priestly double-speak of the architectural establishment. He didn’t care. He had the nerve to be playful, make jokes, have fun, be funny, breezy, light, even joyful. He’d made up his own rules and didn’t care much what the mainstream thought of him. “

“Geller could be an irritant, a speck of sand in the establishment’s eye. They were hoping he would just fly away, disappear somehow, but he didn’t. His freshness and originality kept popping up again and again, being “rediscovered,” until he was able to claim his own level of notoriety and acclaim.”

Rest in peace Andrew Michael Geller, Architect of Happiness. I'm so sorry we never met.

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