Wright con­tin­ues to fas­ci­nate

It’s been 150 years since the birth of Amer­ica’s best-known ar­chi­tect, Frank Lloyd Wright

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PER­SPEC­TIVES -

It’s been 150 years since the birth of Amer­ica’s best-known ar­chi­tect, Frank Lloyd Wright. But his in­no­va­tive de­signs con­tinue to fas­ci­nate the pub­lic, from New York’s Guggen­heim mu­seum, where the cir­cu­lar build­ing it­self is a sculp­tural work of art, to the Falling­wa­ter house built over a wa­ter­fall in the Penn­syl­va­nia woods, to his mod­ernist home on the Wis­con­sin prairie, Taliesin, which served as a lab­o­ra­tory for his ideas.

Some of Wright’s build­ings, now his­toric sites, marked his birth­day mile­stone Thurs­day with par­ties and $1.50 tours. Other ex­hibits and events are be­ing of­fered into the sum­mer and fall, in­clud­ing a ma­jor show open­ing Mon­day at New York’s Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art called “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Un­pack­ing the Ar­chive.” The ex­hi­bi­tion, which runs through Oct. 1, show­cases Wright’s draw­ings, 3-D mod­els, fur­ni­ture and other ma­te­rial from an ar­chive the mu­seum jointly owns with Columbia Univer­sity.

One of the re­mark­able things about Wright’s en­dur­ing le­gacy is how pop­u­lar his build­ings re­main as pil­grim­age sites for his fans. In all, about 380 Wright struc­tures are still stand­ing, and

those that are open to the pub­lic of­ten sell out their tours weeks in ad­vance, even in rel­a­tively outof-the-way places like Taliesin, in ru­ral Spring Green, Wis­con­sin, and at the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, at 19 sto­ries tall the only sky­scraper Wright ever built.

Wright is “the only ar­chi­tect more pop­u­lar with the gen­eral pub­lic than he is with prac­tic­ing ar­chi­tects,” said Barry Bergdoll, MOMA’s ar­chi­tec­ture curator.

Jef­frey Chusid, a pro­fes­sor at Cor­nell Univer­sity’s Col­lege of Ar­chi­tec­ture, Art and Plan­ning, agreed, say­ing Wright “was al­ways do­ing what he wanted in his own style, and that style was of­ten more ac­ces­si­ble to pop­u­lar taste than it was to aca­demic taste.” For ex­am­ple, the MOMA show ex­plores Wright’s fre­quent use of colour, pat­tern and or­na­men­ta­tion, which Chusid said “es­sen­tially marked him as a 19th cen­tury ar­chi­tect,” putting him at odds with the stripped­down min­i­mal­ism gen­er­ally as­so­ci­ated with modernism.

The MOMA ex­hi­bi­tion also demon­strates Wright’s adept use of pub­lic­ity to en­hance his rep­u­ta­tion. Dis­plays in­clude Wright’s photo on the cover of Time mag­a­zine in 1938, and videos of his 1950s TV ap­pear­ances, in­clud­ing the “What’s My Line?” game show where blind­folded

celebrity con­tes­tants guessed Wright’s iden­tity by ask­ing ques­tions.

Wright’s sen­sa­tional per­sonal life con­trib­uted to his no­to­ri­ety. He was mar­ried three times, and his long­time mis­tress was mur­dered at Taliesin by a house em­ployee who also killed six oth­ers and set fire to the house.

But a large part of Wright’s ap­peal also seems rooted in the no­tion that he was an ar­ro­gant ge­nius who wouldn’t be dis­suaded from the purity of his phi­los­o­phy. Ac­cord­ing to one much-told tale, when a client com­plained that a Wright-built roof was leak­ing on his desk, Wright re­torted, “Move the desk!”

Those fa­mous leak­ing roofs are among many struc­tural is­sues that make Wright’s build­ings chal­leng­ing to pre­serve, Chusid said. Wright would build “things that a mo­ment’s thought would have sug­gested would never work,” he added. “But the thing is he also was mak­ing ar­chi­tec­ture and spa­ces and build­ings that were pas­sion­ate and as­ton­ish­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence.” He earned his fame not only as “the dra­matic fig­ure with the cow­boy im­age, the lone ar­chi­tect against the world, but it was the fact that he cre­ated such fan­tas­tic build­ings so of­ten.”

In ad­di­tion to Taliesin, the Guggen­heim and Price Tower, other Wright sites worth a visit in­clude Ken­tuck Knob, in Chalkhill, Penn­syl­va­nia; the Dun­can House, Acme, Penn­syl­va­nia; the Stock­man House and Park Inn, Mason City, Iowa; and the SC John­son Co. site in Racine, Wis­con­sin, known for tree-shaped col­umns sup­port­ing the struc­ture’s Great Work­room, and a re­search tower with win­dows made from 7,000 glass tubes. The Zim­mer­man House, in Manch­ester, New Hamp­shire, is an ex­am­ple of Wright’s mod­est Uso­nian homes and the only Wright house open to the pub­lic in New Eng­land. Oak Park, Illi­nois, has the largest con­cen­tra­tion of Wright build­ings in the world, in­clud­ing his home and stu­dio, ac­cord­ing to the Frank Lloyd Wright Build­ing Con­ser­vancy.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Build­ing Con­ser­vancy lists all pub­lic Wright sites on its web­site along with the 150th events . Ex­hi­bi­tions on view this sum­mer in­clude “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Jour­ney to the Prairie” ex­hi­bi­tion at the Price Tower, through Aug. 27, and “Build­ings for the Prairie” at the Mil­wau­kee Art Mu­seum, July 28-Oct. 15. And the Na­tional Trust for His­toric Preser­va­tion in part­ner­ship with the geo­graphic map­ping com­pany ESRI has launched a dig­i­tal story map of Wright build­ings .

Wright’s knack for pub­lic­ity and ego­cen­tric in­sis­tence on the rec­ti­tude of his phi­los­o­phy and de­signs all con­trib­uted to the stay­ing power of his larg­erthan-life rep­u­ta­tion. But at the end of the day, it’s the build­ings them­selves that prove irresistible - and not just be­cause “the tech­ni­cal de­tails were way ahead of their time,” said Joel Hoglund of the Frank Lloyd Wright Build­ing Con­ser­vancy.

“There’s this in­tan­gi­ble thing when you’re in one of his build­ings that you’re in the mid­dle of some­thing spe­cial,” he said. “Peo­ple come from all over the world to ex­pe­ri­ence that be­cause there’s not a lot of ar­chi­tec­ture that gives peo­ple that feel­ing.”


This Oct. 19 2012 file photo shows a home that ar­chi­tect Frank Lloyd Wright de­signed for his son in Phoenix, Ariz. The struc­ture was sal­vaged from de­mo­li­tion and do­nated to the school bear­ing Wright’s name. Thurs­day, June 8, 2017, marked the 150th an­niver­sary of Wright’s birth.


A vis­i­tor re­views a model of the Solomon R. Guggen­heim Mu­seum dur­ing the press pre­view for the MOMA ex­hi­bi­tion “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Un­pack­ing the Ar­chive.”


A 1952 model of ar­chi­tect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower hi-rise, which was built in Bartlesville, Okla., is dis­played at the press pre­view for the MOMA ex­hi­bi­tion, “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Un­pack­ing the Ar­chive,” in New York.

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