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This home in Phoenix that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright had been threatened by demolition but has now been purchased.

A house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright here for his son was sold on Thursday, guaranteeing its preservation after it had been threatened for months with demolition by its owners, who had planned to replace it with new homes.

The deal closed after at least one offer to buy the property had fallen through. Its former owners, Steve Sells and John Hoffman, principals at 8081 Meridian, a local development company, bought the property for $1.8 million in June and several times raised the price as the controversy over the potential demolition intensified.

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Fernanda Santos and Michael Kimmelman
New York Times


Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Charnley-Persky House (image via davicobbcraig.blogspot.com)

Next month, the very first sunken conversation pit will open to the public as a museum. The Indianapolis Museum of Art plans to open a private residence designed by Eero Saarinen for industrialist J. Irwin Miller as a design and architecture showcase, featuring interiors (and the conversation pit) by Alexander Girard.

To celebrate, we’ve collected the best of American’s modernist houses turned museums, magnificent private residences now made public. There’s Philip Johnson’s Glass House, of course, but also Richard Neutra’s Neutra VDL, Louis Sullivan’s early Charnley-Persky House and Richard Meier’s epic bachelor pad, the Rachofsky House.

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Kyle Chayka
Hyperallergic

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The great architect Frank Lloyd Wright was hyper-sensitive to the nature of place, like this home built in Wisconsin (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation).

There’s a major new show here at the Guggenheim Museum on the work of America’s greatest architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

If, like this writer, you’re a Wright fan, there’s tons of stuff to look at. No less than 64 of the master’s buildings are here in the form of drawings, models, photos, even computer simulations. The show is a grandma’s attic of Wrightiania, and you’re sure to be fascinated by stuff you’ve never noticed.

If you’re not such a fan, though, and you don’t already know your way around Wright’s work, I’m afraid this exhibit will seem random, confused, and pointless.

The occasion for the show is a double anniversary. Wright died at 91 in the same year the Guggenheim opened, 50 years ago, in 1959. The museum, one of his most famous creations, has just completed a massive $30 million, three-year renovation.

It must have seemed like a great idea. But an anniversary isn’t an agenda, and this show doesn’t have one. Instead it settles for rehashing every cliché you’ve ever heard about Wright.

Start with the title: “Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward.” The idea here is that Wright designed his buildings by first planning the interior spaces, and only then shaping the exterior appearance around them. Well, hey, sure he did that. In some of his early houses, indoor space pinwheels outward from the center, morphing into porches and courtyards and gardens and binding indoors and outdoors into a single harmony.

The problem is, Wright spent most of the 20th century bragging about how he was doing exactly that. This is not an appropriate theme for a new exhibit. It’s an old-fashioned view of an artist who in truth is as relevant today as ever.

I’d rather have seen an exhibit, for instance, titled “Frank Lloyd Wright: Environmentalist.” Wright believed in building from local materials, not from costly stuff shipped halfway around the world as is common today. Often his buildings grow from the trees and rocks of the site they’re built on.

In a world that today is sinking into universal sameness, Wright was hyper-sensitive to the nature of place. He built two houses for himself, both of them in this show. The one in Wisconsin is as different from the one in Arizona as the northern forest is different from the southwestern desert. Each is carefully attuned to the local site and the climate they live in. And the one near Phoenix, Taliesin West, is an especially masterful example of sun control by natural means – surely a lesson for a world that is wasting its energy resources.

The yawn-provoking theme, though, is only the beginning of problems with this exhibit. It’s a poor fit, for example, in the Guggenheim interior, which, of course, consists mainly of one endless sloping curving ramp. The heart of the Wright show consists of drawings, more than 200 of them. These are laid in glass vitrines, sometimes horizontal and sometimes tilted up like an old-fashioned drawing board. Rectangular tables on a curving ramp are awkward and they ignore the museum Wright actually intended. Wright designed the Guggenheim primarily for paintings and sculptures, which would be displayed on the vertical walls of the ramp (and skylit in his original conception). The museum works well when it’s used that way, especially for artists such as Miro, Kandinsky, and Calder who employ bold colors that carry across the space of the atrium and become part of the architecture.

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Robert Campbell
Boston Globe

I’ve been reading Thomas A. Heinz’s Frank Lloyd Wright Field Guide, a book that describes every surviving building designed by Wright, tells you how to get to them, and assigns each one a five-star rating.

The Field Guide also includes a brief discussion of the relative accessibility of each building. In most cases it’s a single sentence, usually either “The house can be seen from the street” or “The house cannot be seen from the street.” In certain cases, however, Heinz goes a bit further, and on occasion he really lets himself ago.

Some of his entries speak of bitter disappointment:

• “Visible from street and backyard but little to see” (Charles L. Manson House, Wausau, Wisconsin).

• “The station can be seen at all times and in all conditions. However, there is little to recommend a trip so far north unless visiting Duluth or the Boundary Waters” (Lindholm Service Station, Cloquet, Minnesota).

• “The front of the house is screened by evergreen trees. One can see only glimpses of the building, making photography of the subject frustrating” (Frank J. Baker House, Wilmette, Illinois).
Others hint at acute embarrassment:

• “The house is set well back on the site and cannot be seen from the street. Walking down the drive is not a good idea as it would disturb the occupants” (Carlton D. Wall House, Plymouth, Michigan).

• “The house can only be approached via the long driveway and by the time the house becomes visible one is nearly at the front door” (Duey Wright House, Wausau, Wisconsin).

I bet Mr. Heinz had some ‘splainin’ to do that day.

Like all Wright devotees, Thomas Heinz is a determined and tenacious fellow who will go to considerable trouble to see whatever there is to see:

• “The house is over a small hill on the river slope. Only the garage doors can be seen from the roadside. The front of the house can be seen from across the river and the filtration plant. A fence with a gate obscures the house” (Luis Marden House, McLean, Virginia).

On occasion, though, he seems to have gotten himself into hot water. Some of the latter entries are devastatingly succinct:

• “Not visible. Beware of the dogs” (Maurice Greenberg House, Dousman, Wisconsin).
Others supply a proliferation of alarming detail:

• “The house is very difficult to see in both summer and winter because of the profusion of small trees and shrubs. There is an electric eye across the driveway that alerts the occupants to anyone approaching the house” (John O. Carr House, Glenview, Illinois).

• “The house is set almost a mile back from the public road, behind several gates and fences, and is extremely difficult to locate. It is still a private home and is not worth pursuing unless invited” (Amy Alpaugh Studio, Northport, Michigan).

• “The house cannot be seen from the street. There are barbed wire fences and dogs for the cattle and the occasional trespasser” (Arnold Friedman House, Pecos, New Mexico).

• “The compound is not accessible because of the narrow private road and ferocious animals kept by the owners. Unless invited, it would be better to avoid this house” (Donald Lovness House and Cottage, Stillwater, Minnesota).

One entry is so rich in implication as to suggest an unwritten short story:

• “The island is approachable only by boat. The island is guarded by dogs and a gate prevents getting past the dock. Only a small portion of the building can be seen from the water. The trained dogs are ever-present and have been known to chase passing boats” (A.K. Chahroudi Cottage, Mahopac, New York).

Here’s my favorite piece of cautionary advice:

• “Only a small portion of the top floor can be seen across the concrete court. The house can be seen from Highway 9 above the waterworks” (Frank Bott House, Kansas City, Missouri).

Talk about nostalgia! I used to go parking in the hills above the Kansas City Waterworks, some thirty-odd years ago. I don’t remember looking for any Frank Lloyd Wright houses, though….

Terry Teachout
About Last Night

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