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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Provenance
  • Restrictions on Access
  • Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
  • Preferred Citation
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Content Note
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Mark Mills Papers
    Date (inclusive): 1939-2010
    Date (bulk): (bulk 1950-1995)
    Collection number: MS 175
    Creator: Mills, Mark, (1921-2007)
    Extent: 14 boxes, 24 flat file drawers, 11.18 linear feet
    Repository: Special Collections and Archives, Robert E. Kennedy Library California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, California 93407
    Abstract: The papers of Architect Mark Mills are comprised of correspondence, legal documents, photographs, architectural drawings and plans, marketing and public relations materials for his practice, and presentation drawings. Architectural plans and drawings for single-family residences, ranging from 1950-1995 make up the bulk of the collection.


    Donated in 2010.

    Restrictions on Access

    Collection is open to qualified researchers by appointment only. For more information on access policies and to obtain a copy of the Researcher Registration form, please visit the Special Collections Access page.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    In order to reproduce, publish, broadcast, exhibit, and/or quote from this material, researchers must submit a written request and obtain formal permission from Special Collections, Cal Poly, as the owner of the physical collection.
    Photocopying of material is permitted at staff discretion and provided on a fee basis. Photocopies are not to be used for any purpose other than for private study, scholarship, or research. Special Collections staff reserves the right to limit photocopying and deny access or reproduction in cases when, in the opinion of staff, the original materials would be harmed.

    Preferred Citation

    Mark Mills Papers, Special Collections, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

    Biographical Note

    Mark Mills by Janey Bennett, January 12, 2012
    Mark Mills (1921-2007) was an architect working in the second half of the 20 thcentury, mostly in Carmel, California. He apprenticed to Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West from 1944 to 1948. He had completed a degree in engineering at the University of Colorado and was working as a draftsman in an architectural office in Phoenix before he was approached by Wright, who said "You'll draw for me. You understand I can't pay you." And Mills answered, "And I can't pay you, either." And so it was agreed.
    Mills and classmate Paolo Soleri left Taliesin together, under a sort of cloud having to do with Wright's fear they would steal a client from him. (They didn't.) Together they built an early experimental house in the desert, using a glass dome and a heat-absorbing mass, early attempts to manipulate solar heat. Mills then moved to California and began designing and building residential projects.
    His work combines solutions to puzzles of gravity and connectors, of form and site, of volumes and light. And most of all, he makes brilliant use of wood, glass, and stone. Light penetrates his buildings in unexpected places. Wood glows alongside rough stone embedded in concrete. The edges are clean and sharp, but the substances are earthy and nourishing.
    His houses are often elaborate puzzles. He thought each of them through completely before he began to draw. He never drew rough sketches. He drew one set of drawings, and that only after he had solved all the connections and weight-bearing problems and materials choices. One set. No erasures...and then he built them.
    His engineering background made his solutions more powerful than the sky-hook solutions of artist-architects who don't know how to accomplish what they draw...although he was certainly an artist at the same time.
    His designs were guided by his desire to use local materials, recyclable manufactured pieces, and wood as close to its original form as possible. He used barrel-vault roof elements manufactured for Safeway stores and sold as salvage; he often covered hot-mopped roofing paper with crushed walnut shells from the central valley of California; and several of his homes were manufactured from timbers of a disassembled nineteenth century bridge from the San Francisco area.
    There was humility about Mark that meant he didn't promote his practice the way big city architects did. If clients found him, fine. If not, well, someone else would. If clients wanted a simple house, he designed what they wanted, bringing only his vocabulary of modest and local building materials used in a humble but ethical way. But if a client wanted to engage an interesting site, and wanted to give Mills free rein, the resulting buildings were amazing.
    Additional Biographical Information
    Mills was born in Jerome, Arizona to the manager of a copper mine there. He attended the University of Colorado where he received a Bachelor of Science in architectural engineering. Upon graduation he returned to Arizona to work as a draftsman for the architecture firm Lescher and Mahoney. Shortly after starting there, he received a telegram inviting him to meet the renowned Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1944, Mills interviewed with Wright for an apprenticeship at his firm, Taliesin West. Mills moved to Scottsdale, AZ and spent the next four years working under Wright and learning about design and building from the ground up.
    In 1948, Mills and Paolo Soleri got their first commission for a small desert residence in Cave Creek, AZ. Dome House as it came to be known, was primarily a concrete cave dug into the desert floor with a large dome over one section. The glass panels of the "umbrella" could be rotated to follow the path of the sun, thus providing passive solar heating and cooling.
    After building the Dome House, Mills and Soleri parted ways, Soleri returning to his native Italy and Mills heading west to San Francisco. In San Francisco, Mills worked briefly for the firm Anshen + Allen before settling in Carmel where he started his own practice. He worked alone from his home in Carmel for the next 52 years until his death in 2007.
    Carmel and Big Sur provided Mills with clients who had unique ideas about how they wanted to live. Some of these clients allowed him to design structures on seemingly "unbuildable" sites. In addition to the wishes of his clients, Mills had what he called "the silent client." This was the site itself. He respected it. His structures fit gracefully into their natural surroundings. They preserve, not violate, the environment. They do not exist to make an "architectural statement." Often, they seem hidden until one comes close to them.
    Though structures designed by Mills are very different from each other, they bear his character: structural elegance and a reverence for space. Imagination aided by a background in architectural engineering allowed him to push boundaries beyond other architects of his time. Some of his most famous works are residences such as Copper Spine House or Hass House that are anchored into the cliffs along the seashore and use concrete shell roofs.
    Bennett, Janey. "Work of Mark Mills: Structural Elegance and A Sense of Reverent Space." Journal of the Taliesin Fellows. Issue 10, Spring 1993, pgs 18-29.
    Gordon, Alastair. "Maritime Modern." Architectural Digest. October 2009, Vol. 66, Issue 10, pgs. 50-53.
    Gordon, Alastair. "Outlaw Architect." Dwell Magazine. July/August 2004, Vol. 4, No. 7, pgs. 101-107.
    Mills, Barbara. 4 January 2012. Biographical Note editorial.

    Scope and Content Note

    The Mark Mills Papers contains the drawings of architect Mark Mills (1921-2007) of Carmel, California. Included are process drawings, photographs, specifications, correspondence, presentation materials, office records, published materials on Mark Mills, and personal notes and reference files. Architectural plans, elevations, sections and details documenting his extensive career in private practice dating from 1950 to the mid-1990s make up the bulk of the collection.
    The Mark Mills Papers are divided into four series:
    1. Personal Papers, 1939-2004
    2. Professional Papers, 1954-2009
    3. Office Records, 1953-2009
    4. Project Records, 1950-2010
    The Mark Mills Papers are housed in 14 document boxes and 24 flat file drawers with Office Records and Project Records containing the most extensive and unique portions of the collection.
    Series 1 contains the earliest pieces of the collection including a 1939 photograph of Mills at age 18 and his Certificate of Graduation from the University of Colorado. Other biographical and family information is included as well as personal photographs and notes.
    Series 2 contains pieces related to Mills' career as an architect. These include his Architect's License and certification from Taliesin West where he studied under Frank Lloyd Wright. Also included are sketches, correspondence, and Mills' collection of secondary sources regarding his good friend and fellow student at Taliesin West, Andrew Devane.
    Series 3 primarily contains published material on Mark Mills and his work, and presentation albums that Mills put together to showcase his work. The published material consists of magazine features, newspaper clippings and journal articles. Also included are presentation drawings, administrative papers and publication correspondence. There is also a significant collection of correspondence concerning, and in opposition to, the demolition of the Farrar House, one of Mark Mills' most notable works.
    Series 4 is the most prominent as it contains the architectural drawings for the majority, if not all, of Mark Mills' projects. The drawings are separated into two subseries: Mills original designs and Remodels or Additions to buildings designed by other architects. Within these subseries, the drawings are organized by client last name. In some cases for a remodel or addition to a Mills design, the original client name is given in brackets. Also included in this series are other documents and photographs that relate to the projects, such as preliminary process drawings, specifications, and cost estimates.
    Where possible, the provenance, or original organization, of the papers has been preserved. However, in order to simplify access to the collection for researchers, some materials in specific formats and topics were reorganized and refoldered to more accurately reflect their contents. Rights for photographs taken by Morley Baer and Al Weber vest with their estate.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Architecture -- 1950-1980.
    Architecture -- America.
    Architecture -- Arizona.
    Architecture -- California -- 20th century.
    Architecture -- California -- Carmel.
    Architecture -- California -- Monterey.
    Architecture, Domestic -- California.
    Architecture, Domestic -- California, Northern.
    Baer, Morley, 1916-1995
    Devane, Andrew, 1917-2000
    Mills, Mark, 1921-2007
    Modernism (Architecture)
    Shulman, Julius, 1910-2009.
    Soleri, Paolo, 1919-
    Wright, Frank Lloyd, 1867-1959
    Architectural drawings
    Personal records
    Presentation albums
    Presentation drawings

    Related Material

    Related Collections:
    Special Collections and Archives, Cal Poly:
    William F. Cody Papers, 1924-1975 (bulk 1950-1975) (MS 007)
    William F. Cody Papers 2, 1918-1980 (bulk 1950-1975) (MS 168)