A whimsical guest house designed by Frank Gehry, completed in 1987, will be moved from its site in Orono, Minnesota, overlooking Lake Minnetonka, to the University of St. Thomas’ Daniel C. Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna, Minnesota, the university announced on Monday. Preparations will begin within the month, although the move itself is scheduled for this summer and needs approval from Steele County officials, according to Kirt Woodhouse, a real estate developer who donated the residence to St. Thomas to insure its preservation.
Gehry’s innovative yet playful 2,300-square-foot house is composed of a series of diminutive spaces clustered together under various sculptural forms: a pryramidal roof defines an atrium, a wedge-shaped space shelters the bedroom and bath, a curving trapezoid shapes an office, a cube encloses a cozy fireplace alcove, and a rectangle encloses the kitchen and garage. The exterior materials include a simple palette of brick, Finnish plywood, black sheet metal, Minnesota dolomite limestone, and galvanized sheet metal.
Mike and Penny Winton, the original clients who commissioned Gehry’s design, sold the guest house as well as their main residence, a 1954-vintage house by the Philip Johnson, to Woodhouse in 2002. He divided the 12-acre property into three separate lots. Soon after, new owners purchased the Johnson-designed residence. But Gehry’s contribution, meant to complement that brick and glass structure, remained unsold. Woodhouse decided to preserve it as a work of art and began to hunt for an appropriate public site.
“Art of this caliber is meant to be enjoyed by the public. My hope is to inspire greater appreciation of modern art which comes in many forms, including a house,” Woodhouse says, adding that the St. Thomas purchase will ensure his wish. The university plans to offer public tours of the building and use it for meetings and social gatherings convened by the conference center.
Rolf Anderson, a past president of both the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and the Minnesota Society of Architectural Historians, notes that while it is remarkable to see two such iconic houses side by side at the former Winton property, “since the Gehry house is architecturally significant it will retain its significance even it is moved.” He adds that moving the guest house will be a major challenge because each component has distinctive massing and materials.
The Gehry house will be divided into eight sections, each one trucked separately to the new site, 75 miles away. Costs of moving and reassembling will be paid for by Woodhouse; estimates have not been released. Currently, the guest house is appraised at approximately $4.5 million.