Yesterday I read this article in the NY Times about the house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for his son. The house has been kept pretty under the radar for the past 60 years, but it is an amazing specimen of Wright’s work especially as an example of the spiral layout he employed for the Guggenheim Museum in NY. The drama fueling the article is that despite its history and importance as an architectural gem, the house is scheduled to be demolished by a greedy developer who recently bought the Phoenix property. (can you tell which side of the story I’m on?) There are now several petitions and protests all over the country in an attempt to save the house- but they are very likely too late.
Someone who is not familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright’s work might wonder- so what’s the big deal? Houses get torn down all of the time…. WRONG. This is a BIG. DEAL. and in case you are one of those people, today I’ve decided to showcase a few famous pieces of his work as a case for preserving a home by one of the greatest American Architects of all time.
Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Wisconsin in 1867 as the son of a minister. His mother was from an especially well to do family and is reported as saying she wished for her son to grow up and build beautiful buildings. She helped teach him at an early age the history of English cathedrals and provided him with educational toys such as building blocks that helped form his early understanding of geometry and architectural form. Despite a questionable education background (with no record of finishing high school and then dropping out of college), Wright was able to secure work at an Architectural Firm in Chicago in 1887 at only 19 years old. His early work is traditional- but still very Wright. For example the window massing on this Walter Gale house:
To Wright, architecture was not just about buildings, it was about nourishing the lives of those sheltered within them. His buildings were designed to connect residents physically and spiritually with nature. One of Wright’s most famous designs is Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, built literally over a waterfall in the Bear Run Nature Preserve. The owner of this home requested that Wright design a place where he “could enjoy the sound of the waterfall” and so Wright designed it that you could hear the waterfall from every room. It was only after construction that the owner- somewhat disgruntled at the layout- added that he would have also liked to SEE it… or so the story goes.
I remember when I was in Middle School our family visited Taliesin West- which is now the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. I remember specifically the triangular rooms and the transition between indoor and outdoor space- you almost couldn’t tell where one room ended and the outdoors began.
In another fairly recent Wright controversy, a project that had been shelved for 50+ years, was constructed on Lake Mahopac in NY – (which coincidentally, is my home town). While the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation insists that it is not a TRUE Frank Lloyd Wright house- the project was built almost exactly to the original plans with minor updates for modern amenities and building code requirements. The 5000 square foot home is on a small island, only accessible by boat, and is another beautiful example of Wright’s passion for the relationship between indoor and outdoor space.
So I guess the point of this long tale is that I hope the David Wright house survives- and I hope at least anyone reading this post appreciates its value in American culture!