“The Penny Winton hired Frank Gehry in 1984,

 “The house of the 80’s.” is just one of the ways Philip Johnson described this particular masterwork which came to be in 1987. (Wright20 2017) Wayzata, Minnesota welcomed home a new form of architecture that was created by one of Americas most famous architects, Frank Gehry. The Winton Guest House is known for its unique structure and unusual composition, in fact, it has been recognized as one of Frank Gehry’s most art inspired buildings of the 20th century.


Fig 01.  The Winton Guest House                                               Fig 02.  Winton Guest House Plan

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Mike and Penny Winton hired Frank Gehry in 1984, after arriving to a decision that they required more space besides what they already had in their original home designed by Philip Johnson (Goldberger Paul 2017) this choice was mainly based upon the fact the Winton’s children and Grandchildren would visit often but unfortunately would not be able to stay the nights due to lack of space.  Just as a puzzle, the Winton Guest House consists of dissimilar structural pieces adjacently joined to form one large building. Each piece of the building has been designed as an individual basic shape, they are all also sheeted with different cladding materials for their own specific functions. The result is a series of diminutive spaces clustered under various sculptural forms. (Hammel, Melvin 2010)

The internal composition of the Winton Guest House holds eight rooms, these are fitted within six structural forms which make up the building. The house consists of; Two bedrooms ; One, a curved bedroom covered in Dolomite Limestone from Southern Minnesota ; a second bedroom with a slanted roof finished off in black painted metal, as is the Main Living Room. ; A Fireplace, shaped like a cube and constructed from brick ; a long rectangular garage sectioned partly into a Kitchenette protected with aluminium strips and a smaller rectangular loft in galvanized steel that is supported by a column clad in the same material.(Wright20 2017) Segments of the structure are plotted around the main piece located in the centre of the design, forming an extravagant floor plan as all sectors are of distinct shapes and sizes.  A basement floor plan is also intact below three of the involvements; The living room, Second bedroom and The Garage.  The central point established as the living area holds above a 35-foot-tall pyramid-tower as a roof, with it, a small-scale skylight at the very peak revealing the sky as well as allowing light to enter from above and hit the core of the whole structure, this also allows the guests who enter the building to step into a dramatic light filled atmosphere. (Hammel, Melvin 2010)


The Construction of the house was merely based on how the building came together as a sculpture, as this was the way Frank Gehry had originally designed it. Philip Johnson had once claimed, “The hardest thing to design are one room buildings” (Video 11:55 2011)  perhaps this was what inspired Gehry and his proposal for the Winton’s, as well as his final decisions on the assembling method of the separate structures.

Although each building was made as a structure that can stand on its own, this does not go to say the internal layout of the house entails numerous doors for entry into each section, in effect there are hardly any doors inside the structure that create a division between two sectors. (see Figure 05) the Main Living room and the brick building are conjoined via a door-less entry way, the linking of the two rooms is made by two walls encompassing a cased opening. Incorporating this trabeated-style in replacement for using doors inside the Guest House creates more of an open space allowing air to be circulated around freely creating a healthy environment.


Another imperative feature of the house, purposely made to manipulate the visitant’s movements is the staircase. Designed in a way that mimics the circulating flow of the Guest House layout the stairs start from below the ground line in the basement, steps are levelled to upwards through an opening on to the ground floor landing of the Garage, another flight of stairs continue up until they reach a landing of the Loft at top. This is the only vertical arrangement inside the house that creates a gesture of movement, allowing clients to experience change in ground level and capture diverse views seen from each height.

Arrangements of the doors and windows were thought-out separately for each section, therefore none of the views from windows were intentionally planned on what they would be exposing. Though this can be argued with, as the orientation of the building seems to be purposely positioned in a way in which all glass and doors of the building face away from the Philip Johnson structure (Holstein, Amanda. 2004) which is situated on a lower slant level of ground behind the Guest House.

The main source of lighting that is immersed within the Guest House comes from the Sun. Gehry had fixed framed windows of all shapes and sizes merged into the distinct parts of the house. Natural light fills the internal spaces, particularly in the central foyer of the building as the Tower contains three of these openings creating a wonderful atmosphere within each part of building. Light settles into every room, unintentionally creating shadows and illuminating parts of the inner structure.

Just as every house has its own reasoning for choice of arrangement on site, people have probably questioned why the different components of the House were united together and instead not situated separately? The reasoning behind this was understandable, as Gehry designed the structure in a way that would protect the guests living inside from Minnesota’s harsh winters. (Goldberger, Paul. 2017)

 It can be easily said the Winton’s had agreed upon their measurements beforehand and decided on how much of their land they wanted occupied with this new structure, as the Couple had specifically asked of a spatial area with the maximum of 2,300 square footage, in this case we can see why Frank Gehry may have linked these segments together to create a space that would keep the Winton Family comfortable, as well as sticking to his clients brief.

It was also very clear the Winton’s did not want this new erection to give the impression they had two separate buildings on the same portion of land as their Johnson house. Therefore, Gehry’s suggestion was to generate a sculpture-form design that would avert this, His main aim was to be able to get the observer of the site to understand, the two buildings share a bond together. We can certainly see a way in which Frank Gehry may have achieved this, by incorporating the same brick used on the Philip Johnson house to into one of the smaller sections of the Winton Guest House. ( Holstein, Amanda. 2004)

The element of style captured in the design for the Winton Guest House is said to be strongly influenced by artworks of the 20th Century. Specifically, the still life paintings of Artist, Georgio Morandi. Gehry was specially intrigued with Morandi’s still life paintings of bottles and jars placed together with a range in height, However Gehry viewed these art works in a different manner, as the Painter saw a collection of Bottles, the Architect saw a village of buildings.  Frank Gehry’s approach on the Winton’s project was different to his previous buildings as this was the beginning of Gehry’s own Architectural style launching. This “Village” concept was created by Frank Gehry unknowingly, and used on the Guest House Design, this is also evident to all the segments being emerged as their own building as this was, according to Frank Gehry, his little “village of buildings, composed as a metaphor to cities” (French, Christine Madrid 2014) within a whole structure.

Even though the Winton Guest House was originally designed as a Home, the building appears, not only in Gehry’s vision but the Winton’s too, as a sculpture inspired by art. This could also stand to reason, if strangers to this building were to pass and not know it was intentionally designed as a liveable space it could easily be mistaken for a type of monument on a piece of land, by reason, from certain angles the building appears as a sculpture.


Although the Winton’s enjoyed their stay in both houses, in 2002 they decided to put the Philip Johnson House and the Winton Guest House up for auction. Kirt Woodhouse was the first buyer of the two properties, he too was going to re-sell them. The Johnson house was easily sold, however, Later in 2008 the Winton Guest House was donated to the University of St. Thomas Gainey Centre in Owatonna by Kirt Woodhouse himself, he thought a house with its own history and culture could never be demolished, instead, all it needed was more recognition. However, this talk of moving the Winton Guest House to another setting did not sit well with some people. Some argued the context of the structure is integral to its architecture, in Dwell Magazine, Suzanne Ritus an industrial designer had also been vocal about the move; “the dialogue between both buildings would be lost forever should the houses be separately sold.” ( Holstein, Amanda. 2004) ,


Nevertheless, the move still happened. Stubbs building & House movers were hired to take apart the house and reconstruct it on the Universities Property. The Guest House was taken apart and moved onto site in sections, 10 pieces were dismantled from the whole structure the heaviest piece weighing 80 ton, the stone bedroom. The heavyweight pieces were hoisted onto steel carrying beams to make carrying and moving the structures easier, a new foundation for the house had also been made after the pieces were put on stilts. (Video 11:55 2011)

Once the Guest House was rebuilt, it began to look right at home within Owatonna’s naturistic settings. Other famous buildings also lay upon the grounds of the Gainey Centre; A French Norman style home by an Architect of St Paul, Edwin Lundy. Also nearby The National Farmers Bank designed by Louis Sullivan. (Needham, Paul. 2011) The Winton Guest House created a great tourist-like attraction to Owatonna, now there were three distinct styles of architecture on Owatonna’s lands.


Nevertheless, this wasn’t just a one-time relocation for the Guest House, in 2014 The University decided to sell their lands, by 2015 the house was yet again up for Auction. It is Unknown if there have been any purchasers since. This wasn’t the last of Gehry in Minnesota, a few years later in 1993, the Architect, located another building of his in Minneapolis, on the University of Minnesota’s Campus. The Weisman Art Museum. Gehry’s touch on this project was massively different to the Winton’s house as he had over the years become familiar with a new movement titled ‘Deconstructivism’ this style manipulates ordinary forms by adding undulating curves and flowing lines in designs. It is Frank Gehry’s own home in Santa Monica, California was selected as an example of Deconstructivism by the Museum of Modern Art (Video 11:55 2011).

This was the style Gehry had used on the Weisman Art Museum. Although both buildings have completely different styles, it is said the design of the Museum can be traced back to the Guest House as for both designs Gehry had the same influence; skylines in mind, using different pieces to address the scale of the city (Poursani, Ela. 2017)This is seen in the many works of Gehry’s profession especially the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which was a major milestone in Gehry’s career, as well as The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Dancing House in Prague.


All three structures shared the same method of development. All were systematically approved by a software called ‘Digital Project’ which electronically approved building designs and helped with efficiency of cost and materials.  Gehry’s Deconstructive designs, not only have in accordance with the technological process but materials too, stainless steel, titanium sheets and glass are the same reoccurring materials on these buildings.


Looking at some of Frank Gehry’s most recent buildings it appears the architect is no longer interested in Deconstructivism, a current structure of Frank Gehry’s the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, Sydney was initially designed to look like a “crumpled up paper bag” it’s creative twist is somewhat relatable to the Guest House as there is no specific style, just artistic and inventive.


It has been recognised, that Frank Gehry has not yet created any another building like the Winton Guest House, where he used art as the inspiration. Yet, Gehry’s imaginative style may still have influenced some more current buildings since the Winton Guest House completion. For example; The Casa das Histórias Paula Rego museum in Cascais, designed by Eduardo Moura.  A clear similarity is shown regarding; the pyramidal structures which are most noticeable in both the Museum and the Guest House. Another striking resemblance is also the layout of the Museum as it’s somewhat identical with the Winton’s house as the it has subdivided section’s in which too are all of different sizes and shapes.

Ideally Moura, would have agreed a structure like this should be intended for a more public setting only and not as a home-based space as Frank Gehry designed the Guest house to be. In addition to that, another comparison could be based on the context of the structures, as both constructions seem to have been in very naturistic environments this could suggest that both Architects had the same aim, to be able to create a bold statement which could stand out from within it’s surroundings, also by playing with natural shapes and colours to achieve this. The only difference, between the two are of how the architects had described their buildings. Gehry had his influences from the era’s art however Moura had declared he aimed for a more contemporary design.










the underlying question ; should the Winton Guest House be destroyed instead?

If  house is not to be sold again what happens to it now.

image1 https://www.wright20.com/auctions/2015/05/design-masterworks/frank-gehrys-winton-guest-house

image 2 http://kevrandoz.com/house-plans-with-guest-house/frank-gehry-shuffle-university-of-st-thomas-to-move-winton-guest/

image 3  https://www.dwell.com/collection/would-you-buy-this-idiosyncratic-frank-gehry-guest-house-8610cc7c


image 4 OWN MODEL MODERN HOUSE AR1399894 etc UKC Edited picture Tursan Afet

image 5 : https://archinect.com/news/gallery/123205872/13/pondering-the-cultural-value-of-frank-gehry-s-winton-guest-house

image 6: https://blogs.mprnews.org/statewide/2010/07/st_thomas_pieces_together_a_frank_gehry_masterpiece/

image 7https://archgreentecture.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/weisman-art-museum/

image 8,9,10 https://www.archdaily.com/103106/casa-das-historias-paula-rego-eduardo-souto-de-moura



(Wright20 2017)”Frank Gehry’s Winton Guest House” 2017. Wright20. Accessed December 09. https://www.wright20.com/auctions/2015/05/design-masterworks/frank-gehrys-winton-guest-house.


(Goldberger Paul 2017) Goldberger, Paul. 2017. Building art: the life and work of Frank Gehry. New York: Vintage Books, 240. 241.




Hammel, Bette Jones, and Karen Melvin. 2010. Legendary homes of Lake Minnetonka. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press. 165. 167.

Holstein, Amanda. 2004. “Gehry Guest House Drama.” Dwell, 86. 88.


 “Moving The Winton Guest House” Video, 11:55, October 4th, 2011 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXHq6oYdHl8.


French, Christine Madrid. 2014. “The Winton Guest House |Relocation Prospectus University of St. Thomas.” http://www.madridfrench.com/uploads/2/7/3/0/2730559/wintonrelocationprospectus.dec2014.pdf 

Needham, Paul. 2011. “Winton Guest House : A Frank Gehry Design Transplanted .” Huffington post, October 5, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/winton-guest-house-frank-gehry_n_994775.

Poursani, Ela. 2017. “Frank Gehry & Deconstructivist Architecture.” Study.com. Accessed December 15. https://study.com/academy/lesson/frank-gehry-deconstructivist-architecture.html

Chang, Lian. 2015. “The Software Behind Frank Gehry’s Geometrically Complex Architecture.” Priceonomics, May 12, 2015. https://priceonomics.com/the-software-behind-frank-gehrys-geometrically/.