This was the final abstract for the final dissertation that was accepted by the University of Florida, School of Architecture. The full title is: “The Machine and the Craftsman in Modern American Architecture: Tournalayer Housing in the 1940s.”
Robert Gilmore “R. G.” LeTourneau was an industrialist who designed and constructed heavy earth-moving machines in the early 20th-century. Lesser known was the prefabricated building system that formed a concrete house per day with the patented Tournalayer. The Tournalaid house plans became more refined as each new house was analyzed, refined and re-tuned. LeTourneau’s prefabricated construction technology shifted the factory to the community site where multiple steel forms within the Tournalayer were used to quickly form affordable and durable housing. The focus of the craftsman shifted from directly constructing the home with simple hand-tools to making the complex machine that made the home. The craftsman’s tools evolved as new technologies such as the torch and welding machine were introduced.
This dissertation reveals how the Tournalayer influenced the middle 20th-century to form homes and communities that made strides toward a utopian vision. LeTourneau molded Christianity, technology, and production into a business that unified craftsmen to create machines that formed housing across America and internationally. LeTourneau developed his ever-evolving machines while evangelizing his strong Christian beliefs to develop a dialog between the machine and the craftsman in American modern architecture. Photographs, stories, and interviews were analyzed and interpreted through writing to reveal how the hand, mind, and heart combined with industrial processes to create meaningful environments.
LeTourneau introduced the hope for technology by providing a unique American perspective of pragmatism that created communities of craftsmen. He was pivotal in the earthmoving business as he used his knowledge to create machine-crafted homes that changed our perception about how we dwell with machines. The case study of the Tournalayer reveals the desire to mass-produce homes with strength and value while allowing for enjoyable lives. The desire to mechanize is not necessarily contradictory to the desire of living life with purpose, and architects have the ability to provide a sensitive connection between production and the consumer. The quest for prefabricated housing remains a quest for many architects, yet the goals of housing, as harbingered by LeTourneau’s pioneering endeavors, shifted from simple pragmatic production to creating houses that were sustainable and cultivated a collective memory.