DESCRIPTION AND SPECS OF THE ALCOA CARE-FREE HOME
The principal construction material of this 1957 prefabricated residential structure is aluminum. It was designed by noted American architect, Charles Morton Goodman (1906-1992), who was engaged by the Aluminum Company of America (now Alcoa, Inc.) to design a prototype for a new kind of domestic architecture that relied on aluminum and prefabricated elements for a majority of its features. Twenty-four Alcoa Care-free Homes were built across America in sixteen states. This is the only one constructed in New York State.
Rochester’s Alcoa Care-free Home is located on a double lot in the town of Brighton, a contiguous suburb off the southeast quadrant of Rochester, New York. The lot is almost one acre in size. The house faces south and is set back considerably from the streets on each side. There is a carport, now enclosed, attached to the east end of the house and a patio of large, cast-concrete squares covered by a roof of wood lattice-work on the west end of the one-story house. A concrete walkway along the house façade is enclosed behind a low brick wall.
The house is located in a neighborhood of residential dwellings, most of them constructed after the Second World War, and situated on large lots with mature trees, gardens, and lawns.
The Alcoa Care-Free Home in Rochester, one of only 24 Alcoa houses nationally and the only one located in New York State, is a one-story, Ranch-style house with 1,900 square feet of living space, plus a carport that houses two automobiles. Contrary to many ranch houses, which are built on concrete slabs, this one has a full basement beneath the living quarters and which accommodates heating and air conditioning equipment and a hot-water tank. The house is heated and cooled by forced air. The main floor is supported by 2” by 6”-inch wood joists resting on steel beams that are supported by steel columns and the foundation walls. The basement walls are concrete block and the floor is poured concrete. A termite shield on top of the foundation protects the house and provides reference points to the builder in erecting framework of the house.
The west terrace measures 25 by 36 feet. The surface is comprised of large, cast-concrete squares with a built-in brick grill in the center. An open square space permits a flowering Florida dogwood to grow and fill a substantial area under the latticed roof, which forms a low-pitched pergola of wood latticework supported by square wood columns and beams. The pergola is positioned just below the house roof, but maintains the same pitch.
The house has a long rectangular footprint that, from end to end including the carport, is 91 feet long and 36 feet wide. Including the west terrace, the overall length becomes 116 feet. Construction is basically post-and-beam with a shallow-pitched, side-gabled roof. The exterior walls are constructed of prefabricated panels of textured aluminum, interspersed with floor-to-ceiling windows.
The east-and-west end walls of the house are constructed completely of panels of plate glass framed by aluminum and supported by wood columns that are clad with aluminum. These two exterior glass walls have multiple sliding glass doors with a triangular transom above made up of six, large, fixed panes of glass extending the full width of each elevation.
The 12 by 8-foot exterior aluminum panels on the front and rear elevations show vertical scoring and are rendered in a royal purple. The intermediate floor-to-ceiling single-pane windows on the long façades are faced with aluminum grille-work that forms a decorative tracery over the glass. The grilles are fabricated of blue, aluminum rods and are clipped for removal when washing the windows.
The front door, located near the center of the long south-facing façade, is gold-anodized aluminum, giving the structure a prominent, inviting entrance in a bright, lemon-yellow color. To the right of the entrance is a six-foot-high, reddish-yellow, limed-brick wall that hides views into the bedrooms and maintains privacy in the open courtyard between the house and the carport. The wall has two rows of ten fenestrations in a double-cross design to relieve the solid appearance of the wall, as well as to permit air circulation. An identical privacy brick wall occupies the same space on the opposite side of the house.
The original carport (24.5’ x 25’) was not entirely open; it included brick supporting walls on three sides, but had no garage doors until they were added (in the 1980’s) after new owners purchased the house. A slender steel column between the two open bays originally supported the roof, but that has now been replaced by a brick column and surround that frame the garage doors.
The low-pitched roof––which, with overhangs, is almost 100 feet long––extends the length of the house, courtyard, and carport, ending in shallow gables filled with glass at carport, courtyard, and west end of the house. The raised-batten roof is covered in textured aluminum that is coated with sky-blue Lucite acrylic film. The vertically seamed aluminum sheeting is applied to a plywood roof deck, beneath which aluminum-supported insulation separates the deck from the interior wood ceiling. A novel aluminum fascia strip rims the eaves, incorporating slots that diffuse rainwater and eliminate water from splattering on the ground. Two interior wood beams 6 inches by 12 inches, located six+ feet on either side of the gable peak, stretch across the total length of the house, court, and carport. These beams are partially clad in aluminum and supported on the interior by wood columns similarly decoratively faced with aluminum.
A square, hooded, aluminum chimney is positioned at the roof peak over the utilities section of the house. It incorporates flues to vent the furnace, hot-water heater, laundry dryer, and bathrooms.
The interior of the house remains as designed by architect Charles Goodman. It incorporates an open plan with the entrance hall, living room, dining room, and family room all flowing from one area to the next in a U-shape around the walled-in kitchen. Behind these rooms are a hall, stairs to the basement, a laundry room, two bathrooms, and three bedrooms. The major rooms have a cathedral ceiling created by the low-pitched gable roof.
In the entry area (5’ x 10’), directly ahead of the entrance door, is a coat closet hidden by textured-aluminum folding doors. The entry leads to a hallway with walnut paneling followed by textured aluminum sheeting in a lavender anodized finish that is divided by vertical wood battens.
In the living room (13’ x 25.5’), support columns of ebony-finished pine are also trimmed in aluminum. The wall panels, between the vertical windows with aluminum tracery, are horizontal panels of cypress. These 12 by 8-foot wall panels are prefabricated units consisting of a textured purple aluminum exterior, fiberglass insulation supported by aluminum framing, and interior horizontal bands of cypress. Vinyl tiles cover the floor area with a slightly recessed area in the living room for carpeting that fills the recess. Above are the two full-length beams of ebonized pine trimmed in aluminum and a cathedral ceiling of clear cypress. The 7.5-foot-high partition wall that separates the living room from the kitchen is covered in vinyl wallcovering that is painted off-white.
The dining room (10.5’ x 12’) is situated between the living and family rooms. It faces a broad expanse of plate glass with sliding doors, framed in aluminum, opening onto the adjacent terrace. Along this end wall of glass, there are three sets of double sliding doors to the terrace. The dining room is just a couple steps from the central galley kitchen behind panels of walnut framed by aluminum. Aluminum lighting fixtures are recessed in the ceiling throughout the living areas.
The kitchen (9’ x 17’) overlooks both the dining area and the family room. In 1957, it contained a range, oven, dishwasher, waste disposal unit, and a wall-hung refrigerator, all manufactured by GE. It contains the same appliances today, although they are updated models by different makers, and the refrigerator now sits on the floor. Storage cabinets have doors of blue aluminum above the countertops and black below. The countertops were originally vinyl plastic, but are now Corian to keep them in a manufactured material rather than a natural one, such as granite. Rectangular lime-green porcelain tiles decorate the walls.
The family room (13’ x 25.5’) is linked to the kitchen by a pass-through counter, above and below which are aluminum cabinets incorporating bright touches of color with laminated surfaces of green, turquoise, and off-white. Here, as in the living room, there is a shallow recess in the floor for an area carpet of 21.5 by 11 feet that, when installed, becomes flush with the tiled floor.
A rear entrance off the family room is gold-anodized aluminum to match the front entrance. Gold-anodized aluminum folding doors close off a storage closet that matches the entry coat closet. A built-in telephone table is located just outside the bedroom wing.
At the rear of the family room is a small laundry closet behind textured-aluminum folding doors. It contained a stacked washer and dryer with room left over for an ironing board, clothes hamper, and laundry supplies.
A short hall leads to the bedroom wing with three bedrooms (bedrooms 1 and 3: 12’ x 13’; master bedroom: 12’ x 16’), storage closets, and two bathrooms. The bathrooms have fluorescent lighting behind polyethylene diffusers to provide illumination from the entire ceiling. Wall panels are moisture-proof laminated plastic framed in aluminum with porcelain bathroom tiles below. The glass tub enclosures are also framed in aluminum. The original toilets were attached to the wall and have been replaced with similar units.
All three bedrooms open onto a private courtyard through sliding glass doors in the broad glass wall that faces east for lots of morning sunshine. As in the living and family area, the master bedroom floor has a 14.5 by 10.5-foot recessed area and the two other bedrooms have an 11 by 11-foot recessed area for carpeting. Bedroom storage walls are accessed by textured and color-toned aluminum folding doors.
The garden court, which runs the entire width (36’) of the house, connects the house to the carport and is reached from the three bedrooms. There is also a door to the carport. Square concrete pavers create a terrace, and open areas are planted with a Rose of Sharon tree, as well as shrubs, and flowering perennials. The plantings receive light from an open rectangular area cut in the gabled roof.
At the rear of the carport is a room that is 12 feet by 24.5 feet. With high windows, the room is designed as a workshop or for storage
A number of features make the Alcoa Home “care-free.” According to Alcoa’s promotional brochure, here are some of these carefully designed attributes:
“Exterior wall panels and roof of aluminum are coated with colorful, Lucite acrylic film. . . . No painting is required to maintain the distinguished good looks.”
There are “wall surfaces of easy-to-clean vinyl plastic”. “Carpeting is recessed into the floor for easier cleaning, and rugged vinyl tile hall and trim surfaces bear the brunt of heavy traffic without showing wear.” “Laminated plastic (cabinets) lend gay informality along with the practicality of easy cleaning.” “Laminated plastic countertops are just the right height to minimize bending.”
In the bathrooms, “polyethylene diffusers make the entire ceiling a source of light to bathe the room. Wall panels of moisture-proof laminated plastic and glass tub enclosure are both framed in aluminum for enduring good looks. Clean-up chores involve no more than the whisk of a damp cloth.”
“Aluminum heating diffusers are carefully placed in the vinyl tile floor section so that cleaning is easy, and heat need never interfere with draperies or furniture.” “Ceilings of cypress throughout the home, with its rich grain, never need care of any sort.”
“The Alcoa Care-free Home costs less to heat and is cooler in summer because it is well insulated with highly efficient, economical aluminum-surface insulation. An aluminum termite shield in the foundation protects the house from damage and gives the builder valuable reference points for the supporting framework of the house. Aluminum nails and fasteners are used throughout the home, because they never rust or stain.”
“(An) aluminum fascia strip rims the eaves. . . . Its novel design incorporates special rain diffusing slots that break up water flow from the heaviest downpour to eliminate erosion of flowers and splatter on exterior walls.”
“Raised receptacles, housed in lustrous aluminum, provide ready access to electricity. . . . Floor coverings are trip-proof: a 5/8” recess accommodates pad and carpet at a level flush with the edging of vinyl tile. Cleaning is easier and faster.”
“Brushed aluminum forms the wall plates for remote control switches that flick on or off silently at a touch of a finger. . . . It takes just four of these units to control illumination of the entire Care-free Home.” “Cool or warm air is diffused through slender, unobtrusive aluminum outlet strips––only 1 5/8” wide.”
The interior of the house is remarkably preserved as built. Original materials are intact; doors and hardware are unchanged; arrangement of rooms, walls, and partitions are as built in 1957. Minor modifications have been made in the kitchen and bathrooms, but these are sympathetic to the architect’s original concepts.
Although a terrace on the west side of the house appeared on original design drawings by architect Charles M. Goodman, it was most likely intended to be open to the sky. As built by this builder, however, the terrace had a low-pitched roof of solid material. It was positioned slightly below the roof of the house but maintained the same pitch. Later, this roof and its supporting narrow columns were replaced by a roof of trelliswork over the terrace area, which is what remains there today.
As noted above, the carport was completely enclosed by installing double overhead garage doors for the two parking bays on the façade.