Wright on the InsideConference in Grand Rapids, Michigan
October 16-20, 2013
Frank Lloyd Wright has long been renowned for his work in the decorative arts as well as in architecture. For Wright, the two were inseparable. Furniture, fabrics, tiles, glass and even tableware were all integral contributors to a building’s design. While the entire building as a work of art was a widely shared ideal among arts and crafts and modernist architects, few were as prolific as Wright in a spectrum of media or as enduring in their pursuit of innovation in the decorative arts. This was a commitment that would leave a lasting impact on the avant-garde in the decades following World War I as well.
Grand Rapids, Michigan, one of the nation’s great centers for the design and production of furniture during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, served as a fitting location to gain fresh insight on Wright’s remarkable output in the decorative arts. More than 20 sites designed by Wright and his contemporaries were visited during the conference.
Frank Lloyd Wright and Midwest Modernism
Mason City, Iowa
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While early in his career, Frank Lloyd Wright began to design buildings that would have an international influence and that have long been considered internationally significant as well as quintessentially American. But he can also be examined as first and foremost an architect of the Midwest. That region was not only his home and the setting for the majority of his work, it was also a place to which he responded with particular acuity throughout his long career. The topography and climate of the Midwest, the natural materials suitable for building, the pervasiveness of its landscape of rural areas and small towns and the individualism harbored by many of its residents–all are embodied in his designs. Moreover, the Midwest was where Wright had the greatest impact on colleagues, both those who had worked for him and others who were inspired by his example.
Over 400 participants, homeowners and volunteers took part in the Conservancy's annual conference in Mason City, Iowa. Highlights of the conference included a benefit dinner at the recently restored Historic Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank (1909-1910) as well as tours of several other Wright structures: Stockman House (1908); Walter House (1945); Grant House (1946); and Miller House (1946). The conference culminated in the presentation of the Wright Spirit Awards, the Conservancy's highest honor, at a gala dinner on Saturday, October 13. In addition to the architectural tours and evening events, 16 speakers presented on topics ranging from the funding challenges involved in the restoration of the Historic Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank to the influence of other Prairie architects in Mason City and the Midwest.
Frank Lloyd Wright and the East Coast
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Frank Lloyd Wright may have disparaged his East Coast contemporaries as hopelessly locked in the past or bedazzled by the latest fashions from Europe, but he was no stranger to the East and maintained a network of clients, benefactors, and members of the popular and professional press who contributed to the success of his long career. This year’s conference examines “Frank Lloyd Wright and the East Coast” by focusing on his professional activity in the metropolitan areas of Philadelphia and New York City.
These regions are the sites of two works, Beth Sholom Synagogue and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (both completed in 1959), that are glorious summations of a lifetime of thought about architectural space and the making of places that bring people together. In addition to these landmarks, Wright also realized more modest residential commissions throughout the region, applying the principles of the Usonian house and Broadacre City, his model for urban development. Examples include the multi-family Suntop Homes (1938-1939) in Ardmore, outside Philadelphia; the planned community, Usonia Homes (begun 1945), in Pleasantville, NewYork; and numerous other Usonian houses built in the decade after World War II.
East Coast centers of publishing and high culture were essential to Wright’s energetic promotion of his work through exhibitions and publications, and he cultivated the support of writers and other opinion shapers. In February 1901, Ladies’ Home Journal,published in Philadelphia, introduced his “Home in a Prairie Town” to households across America. At mid-century he enjoyed the support of Elizabeth Gordon, the influential editor-in-chief of House Beautiful, published in New York, where his former apprentice John deKoven Hill served as architecture editor.Wright’s ties to leading professional journals based in New York included Architectural Record, which published some of his most important statements on architecture, and two publications of the Time, Inc. empire: Architectural Forum, addressed to architects;and House and Home, marketed to home builders. Time featured him on its cover in January 1938. East Coast writers and curators who interpreted Wright’s achievements for the public included Lewis Mumford, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Edgar Kaufmann, Jr.,and Arthur Drexler. Their views continue to underlie the way we speak about Wright today. The importance of New York to Wright was such that from 1954 to a few months before his death in 1959 he maintained a suite in the city at the Plaza Hotel.
Philadelphia provides a splendid vantage point for considering Wright’s legacy through the work of his former employees and apprentices, including Alden B. Dow. Antonin Raymond, a Czech architect, and his wife Noemi, who had both worked with Wright on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo established their own version of the Taliesin Fellowship in New Hope for a brief time before World War II. A more enduring application of Wright’s views of architecture as an expression of a way of life is the Bryn Gweled Homesteads(1939-1960), a thriving cooperative community founded by Quakers with many of the houses designed by Robert F. Bishop and Paul Beidler, both former Taliesin apprentices. “Frank Lloyd Wright and the East Coast” will explore these themes through a program of presentations, panel discussions, and tours.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy 2008 annual conference convened September 18-21 in Western Pennsylvania. The area’s rushing waterfalls, scenic byways and architecturally significant landmarks make this an ideal setting for the theme of the conference, “Frank Lloyd Wright and the Roots of Sustainability.”
It is more than likely that Wright never uttered the word “sustainable” while grounding his work in nature, but he frequently arrived at solutions of a sustainable nature. Wright was also attached to principles that foreshadowed suburban sprawl and run directly counter to the goals of today’s sustainability movement. In truth, Wright was too interested in pure artistry and the possibilities of new materials and technologies, to be preoccupied with the narrow confines of sustainable design, yet his “green architecture” achievements are remarkable. All of which provokes us to ask – just what is Frank Lloyd Wright’s relationship to sustainability.
Frank Lloyd Wright: From Private to Public
Chicago, IL & Racine, WI
Approximately 90 percent of the extant Wright-designed structures were originally private single-family residences. About 10 percent of the extant original works were designed as public buildings for institutional, commercial, religious or multiple-family use. Within the last 40 years, 32 private single-family homes, large and small, have been converted to historic house museums, and six to overnight stay houses, making public buildings now almost 20 percent of Wright’s extant work. The turnover from the private to the public sector reflects a measure of the continuing growth of interest in Wright’s work and the preservation of our cultural heritage through conservation of our built environment. However, when Wright houses are converted into public museums they no longer function as private residences as Wright originally intended. The theme of the Conservancy’s 2007 Annual Conference, “Frank Lloyd Wright: From Private to Public,” is intended to
stimulate thought on the full gamut of Wright’s architecture, exploring preservation, conservation and visitation issues at both private and public buildings, while also examining the problems, responsibilities
and obligations surrounding the conversion of a private building into a public site.
Brochures available for the following conferences: