Architect’s Perspective: Robert Paul Schweikher: Bring a Freshness
In the mid-1980s, while viewing permanent architectural collection models at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, I was surprised to encounter a contemporary custom home in Scottsdale: the 1948 Louis C. Upton Residence. The design seemed reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic approach to architecture, but was the work of Robert “Paul” Schweikher (of Schweikher and Elting), an architect I didn’t know at the time.
The Upton Residence was located at 353 East Camelback Road in downtown Scottsdale. This exceptional desert home was built on a 21-acre orange orchard by Scottsdale-based contractor George Ellis for $125,000. Ellis’s daughter, Janie, described visiting it during construction. They would drive below the Arizona Canal onto a curving roadway until, in an orchard clearing, the home unveiled itself.
Upton residence western exterior. (photo courtesy of William P. Bruder, Julius Shulman)
The Upton residence was a low-lying composition of concrete and stone walls later to be labeled “desert masonry" and complemented by an exposed redwood structure at canopies and a dramatic roof-top porch. Ellis had already constructed such walls as flood control devices in the Cattle Track neighborhood c.1936-37. These walls predate the use of them in c.1938-39 at Taliesin West and later used again by Ellis at the 1942 Rose Pauson residence designed by Wright.
The floor plan reflects a series of outdoor patios that are a seamless spatial extension of the interior spaces, with more solid walls to the western exposure and more “public” side. Stone is utilized in the interior floors and patios to maintain a natural, textured material throughout the house. Schweikher believed that the fireplace is the heart of the home. "I've always been a countryman at heart. I like a naked fire." The composition is capped with a roof-top, screened-deck defined by redwood bents and large planters of flowers and herbs. The raised deck allowed sunset over the orchard. The design concept tests all of our sensibilities, including seeing, smelling, and hearing with patterns, textures, shadows, water, fire, flowers, and orange tree blossoms.
Upton residence roof deck (photo courtesy of William P. Bruder, Julius Shulman)
Schweikher acknowledges that the home was influenced by Wright’s organic approach to architecture and his use of natural materials. Louis Upton invited Wright and others to dinner, gave him a home tour, and asked him what he thought. Wright stated in his usual fashion, “Mr. Upton, you are lucky to have such a fine house by such a poor architect.”
This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, July/Aug 2020 issue, Vol. 9, No.4.