Irving John Gill - San Diego Architect
In search of simplicity - a uniquely personal and socially responsible style
Irving John Gill 1870 - 1936
This tour is not only about architecture. In addition to the "Irving Gill Buildings" you will visit and experience firsthand, you will also be immersed into his personal philosophy of life - an experimental laboratory of sorts, where he could forge a uniquely holistic existence, where both the inside and outside fuse into one life, one love and one way of being.
Essentially, Irving Gill was on a quest for simplicity, efficiency and authenticity. Everything he did moved toward that singular vision. Growing up on a farm in New York, he set out at a young age to find work in Chicago as a designer/architect/craftsman. Fortunately, he landed a job in the renowned studio of famed architect Louis Sullivan, where he was a peer of another young apprentice named Frank Lloyd Wright.
After several years of incredible training and experiences in Chicago, he had to relocate due to health reasons to a more conducive climate in Southern California. San Diego became his new home as he began building friendships and connections that would sustain him professionally. He was struck by the simple, open landscapes, the expansive skies, and the minimalistic architecture of the Spanish Missions,
This tour is focused on Irving Gill's mature work which embodied his passion for simplicity. However, I have also included an early project to give perspective to his journey and development. Like all artists working in the real world, there are many compromises in satisfying clients, as well as popular styles that influence form. But the remarkable thing about Gill is that he remained committed to his vision, and ultimately aligned with like-minded clients who shared his desire for simplicity. Thanks to Ellen Browning Scripps, Bishop Joseph Horsfall Johnson and Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science Founder), he was able to pursue his dream, leaving an extraordinary legacy for all of us to ponder.
To many, Irving Gill was the Father of Modern Architecture, as he predates the Modern movement of the early 20th century, with a penchant for simplicity, straight lines and lack of ornamentation. However, in my view, he was doing something much more important, by refusing to be mainstream. He developed his own personal style that grew out of his unique experiences. In fact, it was his insistence on staying true to his guiding principles that ultimately ended his career. Others were willing to follow the whimsy of clients and stylistic fads at the expense of personal expression. Gill, on the other hand, had an integrity and vision that would not be compromised!
As you look at his buildings, it is important to keep in mind that beauty to him was quite simple. The language of his architecture revolved around basic elements: the round arch, symbolizing the majestic arc of the sky overhead; straight lines; exterior pergolas and corridors; no decorative ornamentation (he felt that the only appropriate decoration was that provided by nature adorning the facades over time); efficient construction techniques; and healthy, sanitary environments. You will see these elements repeated time and again throughout all of his mature work.
Irving Gill was extremely prolific throughout his relatively short career. Many of his designs have since been demolished, creating a great loss for those of us interested in what he had to say. In his own words: " What idle or significant sentence will we write with brick and stone, wood, steel, and concrete upon the sensitive page of the earth?" We are all definitely richer because of the beautiful and poetic architectural writing with which he graced the Southern California landscape.