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Frederic Lyman papers, 1923-2001

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Lyman (Frederic) Papers

Biographical/Historical Note

Frederic Pomeroy Lyman III was born June 9, 1927 in Kansas City, Missouri. His father, who died suddenly in August 1933, was an architect specializing in French Provincial style residential work, and Lyman remembered being fascinated as a child by the drawings on his father's drafting table. After the death of his father, the family moved to Vancouver, Canada and then to Seattle in 1940.

Lyman was educated at Yale University, receiving his BA in 1950 and a Masters in Architecture in 1953. At this time architectural education at Yale was undergoing transformation. The new chair, George Howe, who had designed the first International style skyscraper built in the United States, encouraged modernism but was not doctrinaire in his approach. He introduced a new curriculum with an integrated course structure. Eugene Nalle, who taught the Basic Design course assisted by Robert Russell, strongly influenced the young Lyman. The focus on tectonics and hands on design with wood and stone learned in Nalle's class would show through clearly in Lyman's later work. Similarly, the emphasis on color and color theory brought to Yale in this period by Josef Albers would find expression in Lyman's renderings. Yet even in school, Lyman was conflicted about an architectural design career. At one point in his studies, Lyman took a leave of absence and briefly studied engineering in New York, before eventually returning and finishing his architecture degree.

After Yale, Lyman returned to Seattle. He worked briefly for a construction company as a carpenter's apprentice and then in 1954 he was hired as a draftsman by the firm of Grant, Copeland and Chervenak, a general practice with a specialization in church design. During his year with the firm, Lyman worked on several projects including apartment buildings, a church, and office remodeling.

In 1955, Lyman moved to Los Angeles and obtained a position with the firm of Neutra and Alexander, then in the later years of their partnership. Working as a draftsman and construction supervisor, Lyman was involved in several of the firm's large institutional and civic projects including the Sydney Opera House Competition, the United States Embassy in Karachi, Los Angeles County Hall of Records and St John's College in Annapolis, Maryland.

By 1957, Lyman was ready to leave Neutra's firm. With three other young architects, Bernard Zimmerman, John Espinosa and David Ming-Li Lowe, Lyman rented space in what had been Rudolph Schindler's drafting room at his King's Road house. Not precisely a firm, the four architects practiced both independently and in sporadic collaboration for the next several years.

Much of Lyman's strongest work was created during this period. Noted collaborations included his work as an associate with Zimmerman on the Altshuler House, and his partnership with Lowe on the partially-realized Park Hill Estates tract. Lyman's first completed independent project, his own home in Malibu, however, was his masterpiece.

While still in Seattle, Lyman had decided to build a house using the principles that he learned from Nalle as a student at Yale. In 1957 he bought a lot in Malibu in Las Flores Canyon for the house he had been designing. Completed in 1960, the minimalist and surprisingly transparent two-story house had essentially two rooms. The ground floor was an open plan living area, with French doors creating 10 foot tall glass walls on the long sides. The second story, accessed by an exterior staircase, served as a sleeping area and studio and had no exterior walls, although a tent-like canvas structure could be used to give some element of protection from the elements and privacy. The bathroom was in a separate adjacent structure.

The Lyman Las Flores House was striking for its explicit tectonics, the way in which it used wood as a medium and its Japanese influence, all outgrowths of Nalle's Basic Design class. The house was conceived as two separate structural units. The exterior framework of massive posts and beams was one independent structure. The living quarters, the "box" as Lyman referred to it, was constructed without nails using dado and mortise and tenon joints, and was then suspended in the framework, attached to the posts by mortise and tenon joints and secured by long peg-like wedges. The heavy timber framework of the house with its modular spacing finds clear aesthetic and technical precedents in Japanese structures like those at the Ise Shrine. The house's handmade joints, more like cabinetry than construction, also echo Japanese carpentry traditions. The house's simplicity, its clarity of form and the relationship of the house to its natural setting also conform to a Japanese aesthetic. For Lyman, this fascination with Japanese architecture had several sources. Lyman had been studying Japanese architecture since Nalle and Russell had introduced him to the work at Yale. He was therefore primed for the broader mid-century trend of Japanese-influenced architecture in the United States, encouraged if not begun by the popularity of the Japanese Exhibition House displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1954 and 1955. Family history may have also played a role as his mother Amalia Partridge Lyman spent much of her childhood in Kyoto, where her father was bishop from 1900 to 1911.

Starting your career with a masterpiece is hard. Although Esther McCoy, the noted architectural critic, early on identified Lyman as one of the leading talents of his generation, little of this promise was fulfilled. By 1963, Lyman had left King's Road and opened an independent office in Sherman Oaks, operating briefly under the name Community Design Associates, and then he soon moved his architectural office out to Malibu. Lyman had a small, steady flow of clients, but very little of this design work was ever realized. Whether Lyman didn't build much because he was distracted by other interests, or he had other interests because he didn't build much is unclear, but in the 1970s design and construction were becoming secondary to Lyman. Other aspects of architecture, such as education and advocacy, and civic and environment activism now engaged Lyman.

Lyman began to consider entering architectural education as early as the 1960s, encouraged by his Yale instructor Robert Russell. By the 1970s, as other young architects were beginning to expand architectural education, as exemplified by the foundation of SCI-Arc in 1972, Lyman's interest became serious. He began searching for an appropriate location to establish a school and eventually settled on a parcel of land near Sebeka, Minnesota, where he felt the varied terrain of rolling hills, woods and lakes would be suitably inspirational. In 1978, Lyman sold the Las Flores house to pay for the property and moved to Minnesota. The Ingham Institute of Environmental Design, named for his stepfather, was meant to spread Lyman's philosophy of "building in harmony with nature." He felt that architects had a responsibility to lead people to live in coexistence with the environment. The school was not as successful as Lyman had hoped. It was an enormous undertaking to establish a school from scratch and there was little student interest. By 1980 he was back in Los Angeles for at least part of the year, and in the following years up to 1993, Lyman worked from both Los Angeles and Minnesota.

Complementing Lyman's interest in architectural education was his dedication to service and advocacy for the profession. Beginning in the early 1970s Lyman served the American Institute of Architecture (AIA) on the national, state and regional levels. He founded and served as the first editor of LA Architect. He expanded this advocacy to the community and to the environment. Lyman became involved with county planning committees, often with political and social issues, for example increasing beach access for all citizens. He was President of the Malibu Township Council and worked to create a national park in the Santa Monica mountains.

The Lyman Las Flores House burned in the Malibu fire of 1993, but it had already been altered beyond recognition by that point. By the mid 1990s Lyman left Los Angeles for New Mexico, basing himself in Taos, where he died on February 28, 2005.

Works Consulted for the Finding Aid

Buckner, Cory. The Lyman House and the Work of Frederic P. Lyman. Los Angeles: Crestwood Hills Press, 2016.

Denzer, Anthony. "No Coincidence: Whitney Smith and Japanese Influences at Midcentury." In Outside In: The Architecture of Smith and Williams, 107-127. Santa Barbara: Art, Design and Architecture Museum, University of California, 2014.

DeWit, Wim. Acquisition Approval Form for Frederic Lyman papers, accession no. 2011.M. 31 July 15, 2010

Drexler, Arthur. The Architecture of Japan. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1955.

"House Floats Inside Itself." Popular Mechanics (September 1965): 126-127.

Mc Coy, Esther, "Young Architects in the United States." Zodiac 8 (1961): 168-186.

Lyman, Frederic. Frederic Lyman papers, 1923-2001. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2011.M.31.

Rash, David A. "Grant, Copeland, Chervenak & Associates." In Shaping Seattle Architecture, edited by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, 440-441. Seattle, University of Washington Press, 2nd edition. 2014.

"Sidney Catlin Partridge, B.A. 1880." Obituary Record of Graduates of Yale University Deceased during the Year 1929-1930, Bulletin of Yale University (1 December 1930): 80-82.

Stern, Robert A. M. and Jimmy Stamp. Pedagogy and Place: 100 Years of Architecture Education at Yale. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.

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