The Boy, the Dog, and the Architect

In 1956, a 12-year-old boy wrote a letter to a world-renowned architect asking for a special type of building he hadn’t yet designed in his professional career—a doghouse. Inspired by this story, The House Designers are searching for a rescue dog that we can have the pleasure of designing and building a custom doghouse for and at the same time, raise money for local animal shelters.

Frank Lloyd Wright was a man known for his notoriously crotchety attitude almost as much as his architectural prowess. Closing in on ninety years of age, his had been a life marred by countless disagreements, altercations, and divorces, both personal and professional. But his propensity toward his art started young, when he would often play with blocks that would inspire his vision for geometric clarity, and that early love had carried him through decades of service as America’s greatest architect.

FLW Jims first letter
Jim Berger was 12 years old when he wrote to Frank Lloyd Wright requesting plans for a house for his dog, Eddie. He planned to pay with money from his paper route and have his father help him build the house so Eddie would have shelter in the winter.

He was a very old, very busy man. He was so focused on his usually lofty projects that, when he received a letter in June 1956 from 12-year-old Jim Berger politely requesting blueprints for a doghouse, his only reply was to instruct him to ask again in November.

FLW FLW reply
Wright replied to Jim only a week later to say that he was too busy to draw up plans at that time, but that he should try again in November.

Jim Berger was the son of a previous client, living in a home that Wright had designed to be built by his father himself. It came as no surprise that young Jim intended to build his own dog’s house. Eddie was a black Labrador retriever, two and a half feet tall by three feet long, four years old, and very clearly dear to Jim’s heart. With the most sincere of intentions, Jim offered to pay for the plans with money earned from his paper route, to give Eddie shelter during the winters. His only requests were that the doghouse match the family home and that it be easy to build.

FLW Jims second letter
On the first day of November, Jim wrote to Wright again, reminding him of his wish for blueprints for a doghouse.

On November 1st, Jim wrote Wright again, asking once more to have a house designed for Eddie. Incredibly, one of the most famous architects in the world did not just brush him aside or ignore his precocious request. The customized doghouse blueprints were promptly dispensed, in time for the winter Jim wanted to protect Eddie from, free of charge and with directions to use scraps left over from when his father built his house.

FLW plan of Eddie's House
Wright had prepared plans for Eddie’s house, to be built up against the Berger home.

Eddie’s house was triangular in shape, pre-Usonian in design, with a low-pitched roof that overhung around the structure. When the Berger family finally built it, they did not follow Wright’s blueprints precisely—and few would wonder why. More than fifty years later, Jim Berger, who had made woodworking his profession, rebuilt the doghouse to Wright’s exact specifications and found it to be a monumental task requiring special tools and know-how that a boy in the 1950’s simply could not possess. Despite its impracticality, Eddie’s house has become a famous creation of Wright’s, his smallest structure designed for his youngest, perhaps most persistent client.

FLW Eddie's House 60's
The original version of Eddie’s house, built in the 1960’s, did not follow Wright’s exact plans, but it became famous in its own right as the smallest structure that the architect ever designed at four square feet.

Nobody can know for sure why Frank Lloyd Wright indulged Jim’s request. Wright was not a paternal man by any stretch of the imagination. He had seven children of his own—eight with the adoption of his third wife’s daughter—but family life had always taken a backseat to his other aspirations. Perhaps a bit out of character, inspired by the love of a boy for his dog and the opportunity to delve into a brand new genre, Wright drew up plans that would earn him neither commission nor notoriety. It was for Eddie and Jim, plain as that, and he put the same passion into it as he had for his other designs.

We at The House Designers take inspiration from great architects like Frank Lloyd Wright. We also happen to be dog lovers, so this story is especially near and dear to our hearts. In the spirit of Wright’s contribution to fulfill the wish of a young boy, we thought it would be a great idea to have one of our passionate architects design and build a house for a very special rescue dog. And keeping with Wright’s example, we will even design it to match your house!

Have you just welcomed a rescue into your home? We’d like to hear about it! To enter, make a cash donation ($50 minimum) to your local shelter and send us a picture of your furry friend with a short essay telling us all about the new addition to your family by March 25th, 2016. We’ll draw up the plans and build the perfect doghouse—at no cost!—for one lucky winner to be announced on April 2nd, 2016.

To enter, please send your essay, along with a picture of your new friend, to Good luck!

All images courtesy of Eddie’s House, by Letters of Note.