An installation and interactive media work in study and memoria of the Joan and John Fava house as designed in 1956 by Architect Carter Sparks in Sacramento County, California. Shown as part of my 2016 MFA thesis exhibition in the Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery.

[ John and Joan Fava House, Carter Sparks, Architect. Fair Oaks, California (1956 – 2016) 3D scan data from 2013 and 2016, virtual reconstruction. Redwood, steel, projection, touchpad. Site Ephemera. Dimensions and runtime variable 2016 ]

installation view

 

A love letter; an inferno

Sometime in the summer of 1956, the John and Joan Fava House was designed by architect Carter Sparks and built in a hidden spot in the bluffs near the American River of Sacramento, California.

On the misty morning of January 14th, 2016, the house burned.

 On January 28, 2016 I attempted to capture the burned ruins and make a 3d model using the photogrammetry process. I was interested in the parallel visual vocabulary that was happening between original scans done with a Kinect in 2013 and these newer charred ruins.

Almost exactly three years ago, on March 3, 2013 I received an email from a gentleman who lives adjacent to this house. Clyde Cassady has been there since it was constructed that scorching summer of ’56, watching it’s magnificence rise out of the dry grass, brambles and scruffy oaks that nearly enveloped Winding Way. He had picked this spot because it was cheap, and very, very far away from urban Sacramento, and so had Joan and John Fava. The Favas were artists, musicians and cowboys, who had commissioned an enigmatic and ambitious architect, Carter Sparks, to design their home “for living in the secluded open”.

 

I curate and research for the Carter Sparks Archive at www.cartersparks.org, where my interest in Sparks’ work stems from living in and working on two of his contemporary designed houses in Sacramento. My wife and I found these houses somewhat maltreated and immediately set to work restoring them to their original intent. The archive work begin in earnest researching what the original finishes and details of these houses may have been.

By 2013, the Archive had discovered and documented about 50 of Sparks’ custom work for individual clients (Sparks also designed contemporary tract homes for the Streng Brothers who built nearly 4000 of them in the Sacramento area). Of these custom works, a general trajectory of design considerations began to emerge if one looked through the timeline. Upon seeing the snapshots Mr. Cassady had emailed me, it was clear that this was a special house, as few of Sparks’ many designs even approached this level of expression.

It was also clear that this house was now a ruin, sitting on land owned by the bank, and coveted by another adjacent land owner who wanted to replace the exquisite ruin with a swimming pool. It had been effectively been abandoned by the Favas as they were deemed unfit to inhabit their rapidly disintegrating home, and in their absence, it further sagged under ignorance.

I visited the house for the first time in mid-March of 2013 equipped with a Kinect for scanning, camera, and a healthy appetite for sifting through the decaying articles of living the Favas were forced to leave. Tethered at the end of 300 feet of extension cords strung out to Mr. Cassady’s property, I scanned in small chunks of the home until night fell. The resultant point clouds were incomplete and vignetted 3-dimensional wisps. They resembled threads crawling and massing down a multi-sided loom into pieces of recognizable fabric.

A virtual 3-d model was created based on the measurements and relative dimensions gathered from the scans, where it leaked into one my Dead Peal Diver vignettes as a sanctuary in the depths of the AI sea.

The bank promptly sold the Fava house to the adjacent landowner despite pleas from the architecture community to have time to raise funds, purchase and restore it. The house sat, further weathering and decaying, entertaining occasional covert forays into it’s increasingly hazardous innards where I further observed how it behaved both as architecture and as a home. I sent letters to the new owner, imploring him to sell, but they went unanswered. In 2014, a handful of friends gathered at the house where we bid thank you and goodbye.

The Fava house sat, a home to mice, birds and the occasional ghost horse for two more years before burning in the early morning of January 14, 2016.

I tenuously jumped the temporary chain link fence and documented the charred ruins via photography. I was struck by how similar these remains looked to the initial set of Kinect scans I had done a few years back; it was as if these blackened skeletons were portended by action of the original scanning.

I have of this house, along with photographs, products of imperfect data collection through low resolution Kinect structured light scanning, or photogrammetry — itself full of interpolated or missing data. For me, the voids are roughly patched with the experience of being there, of being in love (with a ruin), and the threads of history woven in and throughout this Place.