Lexington, KY – Just off northeast Lexington’s Chilesburg Road, a modern architecture marvel sits in the middle of a field fringed by an encroaching subdivision of brick and vinyl houses. “It’s a house of paradoxes,” Scott Guyon says of the Miller House – – many of which were intended by architect Jose Oubrerie (though the contrast between the 17-year-old home and the impending new development was not likely one of them). Examples of paradoxes within the design include the celebration of exposed structure, the contrast of materials (concrete, glass, steel and wood), as well as the seemingly contradictory solid and void spaces.
Bob Miller commissioned Oubrerie, who was dean of the University of Kentucky College of Design and Architecture at the time, to design a home for he, his wife, Penny, and their two children in the late ’80s.
“He wanted a place to finish his life,” Oubrerie said recently. “I don’t think he realized how short his life would be.”
The property was sold to developers after Miller’s death from cancer in 2006; Guyon founded a non-profit shortly after to ensure that the house remained intact and cared after. The home was completed in 1992, but remained largely under the local radar until the last few years – understandably, the family didn’t want the townies rubbernecking at their private residence. The house has long been touted globally as an important landmark of modern architecture; Oubrerie has called it “a dedication to all what makes architecture today.”
Among other things, Oubrerie described the structure as an explosion of the cube.
“In traditional architecture there is usually symmetry,” said Guyon, who taught at UK’s College of Design while Oubrerie was dean. “This means that elements are arranged in a manner that is identically balanced. For instance, if there is a window to the left of the front door, there will be one to the right that will be identically placed.” Many elements within the Miller House reject traditional symmetry, embracing instead a “moving geometry” as evidenced by non-symmetrical openings and placements throughout the house, as well as the overhanging layers within the design.
Opponents of the movement have been known to criticize modern architecture as cold, mathematic and militaristic, but the openness of the Miller House’s floor plan, with floods of natural light and white oak hardwood floors and paneling, keep the home comfortable and warm. Guyon explained that part of the modern vision is of a world in motion, as evidenced by new methods of transportation including automobiles, airplanes and space travel, as well as new discoveries in science such as quantum physics. Oubrerie, who has expressed his distaste for subdivisions, suggested that the concept of “three houses within a house” was inspired in part by the autonomy, yet intimacy, of city design (see the caption on page 19 for a further explanation of the concept).
While Oubrerie is commonly highlighted for being the former assistant to famous French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, the Miller House stands as a relic of his own extreme innovation and independence as a designer. Recently instated as a “historic house museum,” the Miller House is available for tour by appointment and to rent out for events.
The Foundation for Advanced Architecture
Scott Guyon’s interest in the Miller House is multi-pronged. As a designer, he is well versed in the architectural significance of the structure; Guyon also taught at UK’s College of Design while architect Jose Oubrerie, who designed the home, was dean. When the property was sold in 2006 to developers who, unaware of the architectural significance of the home, intended to develop the 20 acres into a subdivision, Guyon interjected, redesigning the property to retain the house and the 2.2 acres immediately surrounding it. The house, unattended for many months, repeatedly suffered damages from vandalism, including graffiti and over 40 broken windows that resulted in extensive water damage.
In 2007, Guyon founded the Foundation for Advanced Architecture, a non-profit with an overall mission to act as a “supporter of visionary projects in architecture and design worldwide.” The first project the foundation undertook was to secure a loan to purchase and restore the Miller House. According to Guyon, due to the nature of the non-profit venture, the group was able to fix over $2.5 million in damage for about half of that.
The foundation’s vision for the Miller House is to keep it a public building and maintain its “passionate ties” to the College of Design. The house currently acts a “historic house museum” and educational facility, available for tour by appointment and to rent out for events – AIA held their holiday party there in December. Other potential events include cultural and educational events, board meetings, field trips, retreats and receptions – almost any type of event that would by complemented by the unique, artistically-inspired setting of the property.