Modernist Wonderland

What happens when architectural imagination is free to roam: a study in the architecture of SOSA (South of St. Anthony). With very few restrictions on creativity, Midtown's SOSA district has attracted some of the best architectural experimentation in the state.

story by Greg Horton | photo by Joseph Mills

That something is beautiful does not necessarily mean it's interesting. This is true in every area of creativity, including architecture. The quest for uniformity, even uniformity among beautiful things, will ultimately lead to a drab sameness. Trot out enough Mona Lisas, and the result is devaluation; this is the paradox of mass production. It ought to be beautiful. Objectively, it is beautiful, but the replication leads to a cauterizing of the aesthetic sense. 

The homes in some of our city's oldest neighborhoods are beautiful. Of course they are. But just as the Academies of France made the mistake of trying to codify beauty, some believe the effort by historic neighborhoods to preserve an aesthetic is a mistake. Just try to get a garage built or a room added to a house in an historic neighborhood and you will understand the non-religious applications of fundamentalism.

Randy Floyd and Brian Fitzsimmons, both architects, were the among the first to recognize the value of what is now known as SOSA—South of Saint Anthony’s. While the grating insistence of some to choose names from an online hipster name generator was rightly skewered on an episode of South Park (just google CtPaTown), SOSA is a better choice than the original name: the Cottage District. Smaller, clapboard houses, bungalows and multifamily dwellings were the pre-gentrification structures, and unless the definition of “cottage” has changed, the name was always a misnomer. 

Now, modernity dominates the neighborhood. One of the principal advantages to building in SOSA is that the designs are not governed by a historic oversight group. Instead, architects are free to create according to their own vision, as in the case of Floyd’s and Fitzsimmons’s own homes, or according to the vision of clients, like the Lovallo and Morgan homes. 

The boundaries of SOSA are unofficial, and here our focused is on the amazing architectural diversity of NW 7th St. Within one block east of Classen, the city suddenly becomes a mesmerizing place—after getting past the eyesore that is the Classen Glen Apartments and its whack-a-mole-like erosion wall. In SOSA’s architectural dreamscape, modernity’s boxy geometric lines, cantilevers, and oversized windows dominate. Whereas the cantilvers are an homage of sorts to Frank Lloyd Wright, the houses do not blend into the landscape; rather, they tower above it to take advantage of a natural rise that provides a stunning view of downtown.

Okasian Home | photo by Joseph Mills

Fitzsimmons House

Brian Fitzsimmons is the architect of record for more than one home in SOSA, including his own. The Galvalume steel sheets on its north side, the result of a proprietary process that adds an aluminum-zinc alloy as a rust inhibitor, incorporates numerology; it uses numbers that are important to Brian and wife, Titi, a medical doctor. A rooftop deck is designed to afford some privacy on one side, while the open east end maximizes the downtown view. The Okasian (a portmanteau of Oklahoman and Asian) interior is saturated with natural light thanks to near-panoramic windows.

Lovallo Home | photo by Joseph Mills

Lovallo Home

Fitzsimmons is also the architect for the Lovallo home, perhaps the most arresting in the neighborhood, thanks to the dramatic cantilever on the south side. Territory architectural design consultant Larry Dean Pickering called the feature “drama on the front.” Cantilevers, so prominent in Wright’s later work, require that for every foot of overhang there be two feet of anchor length. Lovallo’s home avoided this by placing a single structure atop a concrete wall. The entire piece is roughly the size of a shipping container, and is just long enough to provide a small cantilever for the dining room. The concrete walls retain the form anchor holes because they were poured in place. Pickering said, “Steel rods were driven through the holes and now function as hangars for Dr. Lovallo’s art.”

Davis-Leader Home | photo by Trace Thomas

Davis/Leader Home

Scott Davis and David Leader purchased their home from David Wells, another architect drawn to SOSA. Wells designed a “box for living,” utilizing a modern, rectangle design set on its end. “He wasn’t looking to sell, but we loved the house and eventually convinced him to sell,” Davis said. To break up the utilitarian design, Wells added a decorative concrete wall to the front of the house that would be the second in the neighborhood to incorporate weathering steel.

Morgan Home | photo by Trace Thomas

Morgan Home

Mike and Lea Morgan have one of the newest homes in the neighborhood, and they too opted for Cor-Ten weathering steel. Mike said he liked the patina, and it’s clear that the rusting process creates interesting textures. Mike chose the interior colors to offset the modern lines and design, and the overall effect is one that utilizes the open spaces and oversized windows for maximum light. One notable feature is the amount of thought that went into the landscape. "Lea took inspiration from Black Mesa," Mike said. "That's where she's from, so we created something that was similar to home."