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Structure: Mel O’Brien Residence
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Architect: Mel O’Brien
Date: 1972
[Editor’s note: the house we’re featuring today is for sale. If you’d like to skip the story and click over to the house’s listing, here’s the link to the listing:]
Story: Although our story will end up in Memphis, Tennessee, it begins in Houston, Texas.

This really has nothing to do with the story other than that this Rice University lab is pretty modern

In 1956, at Rice University, an undergrad student named Mel O’Brien was studying to be an architect. At a time when most college seniors are being studious (or feigning it, anyway) Mel was winning a competition (best in his class) for a house design he’d created.

The proud owners of the ‘Texan Americana’, standing outside their house

Called the ’Texan Americana,’ the house was built and showcased in Houston’s 1956 Parade of Homes.

Mel on to receive his MFA from Princeton in 1959, and started his own firm in Memphis in 1963.

Portrait of John “Mel” O’Brien Jr

Mel was one of a handful of architects who helped bring modernism to Memphis. His designs for the Christian Brothers University are quite contemporary, and fit in nicely with the other campus buildings designed by noted Memphis modernist architect AL Aydelott.

Eventually, it came time for Mel to design his own residence. In 1972, he selected a lot in a traditional-looking subdivision and designed himself a gargantuan 4,300 square foot house. The geometric house is made of vertical wood siding (painted grey), and borrows a lot of its design inspiration from houses designed by Charles Gwathmey and Robert Siegel (pictured below).

Although designed in the early 1970s, the house feels in touch with a style of design often terms “late modernism,” a style which Alexandra Lange calls, “a style without theory, practiced by architects who were trying to build their way out of the diminishing returns of Miesian copies.” Late modernism does away with the small and the glass-filled, and instead begins a transitional phase of architecture that eventually would come to be called “postmodernism.”

But enough theory, let’s have a look at some photos of the interior!

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