Frank Lloyd Wright and World Heritage in the United States

Part One in a series about “The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright” World Heritage listing

Reading the Signs

“Bring out the nature of the materials. Let their nature intimately into your scheme. The good building is not one that hurts the landscape, but one which makes the landscape more beautiful than it was before the building was built.”
~Frank Lloyd Wright


In the first couple of years after we bought Frank Lloyd Wright’s Brandes House, in Sammamish, Washington, I noticed an unusual pleasure. In late January, the week of my daughter’s birthday, the large tree that stands outside our living room casement windows would bloom. That yellow-orange witch hazel marked the start of the blooming cycle of our winter garden, much of it planted and conceived by Mimi Brandes with the help and consultation of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Following that remarkable blossoming, which always led me to think of our own family’s winter bloom of life, and just to the tree’s left, the pink star magnolia would startle to life, a harbinger of spring. Soon, an inflorescence would follow on the next tree to the left, the gorgeous but tiny florets on our towering crimson maple, and then finally, in late summer, as a spectacular finale, as a completion to this gorgeous counterclockwise sweep around the living and sleeping quarters of the home, the delicate, elongated china white flowers on a multi-tiered dogwood would unfold.

A tree floricycle? I don’t know. Leave it to the experts to decide. I can only tell you that Mimi Brandes, the wife of the original owner and builder of Brandes House, was a landscaping contributor at Sunset Magazine and a master gardener. We know (from documents found at the Avery Library at Columbia University) that she worked with Wright on the design for the gardens and today we enjoy the now-mature results of her work.

But that is not why I am bringing up this fascinating tiny fact about our wonderful and difficult grounds. It is because of the start date — late January. While the trees still bloom in order, the date is no longer the same. That late January beginning for the witch hazel has crept earlier and earlier. This year, the first blooms appeared in early December, close to two months ahead of schedule. The winter bloom, which reminded me so much of the flower that is my daughter, was losing its tether to the seasons. Or perhaps it was trying to tell me something.

The “Heat Dome” in the Seattle area (which includes Sammamish) last July came as a surprise. But perhaps I should have expected it. Perhaps our trees were sending a warning. All of a sudden, it seemed, the state known for rain was facing days of parching, unprecedented heat. Why, I wonder, were we surprised?

Living in a Work of Art: The Seamour and Gertrude Shavin House

“Living in a Frank Lloyd Wright home is like living in a piece of sculpture,” my future husband, Jeff Crabtree, said facetiously the first time he visited the Frank Lloyd Wright House that had been my childhood home. That was so many years ago now, and I remember how much that remark surprised me. It had never occurred to me that there was a price to pay for the privilege of living in a beautiful space.

Having grown up in the Seamour and Gertrude Shavin house and then moved on to live in a more traditional two-story row house, I have had the opportunity to understand and reflect upon the meaning to my life of growing up in a work of art which was also my own family home. I soon realized that my ‘normal’ was not the same as the normal of most other people, and that the fundamental perception of what a home should be was the base of this difference.


Then – the Minimal

In my mind’s eye I am small and the house is large. Growing up, there was no space for excess. When I go back now, the Shavin house is even smaller than I picture it. Our wardrobes were minimal and we didn’t have a lot of toys. Books and musical instruments were the only ‘extras.’ Even with these minimal possessions, my small bedroom would appear cluttered quickly. My mother was quick to remind us to clean up. Thankfully, I could reach most of the things in the room from my bed. Now, as I look around the house, I understand her desire to not interrupt the pure lines of the house with ‘stuff’.


Eight Wright Sites Inscribed to UNESCO World Heritage List

The World Heritage Committee, meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, has officially inscribed The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, which includes eight major works spanning 50 years of Wright’s career, on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The sites in the group inscription span Wright’s influential career. They include Unity Temple (constructed 1906-1909, Oak Park, Illinois), the Frederick C. Robie House (constructed 1910, Chicago, Illinois), Taliesin (begun 1911, Spring Green, Wisconsin), Hollyhock House (constructed 1918-1921, Los Angeles, California), Fallingwater (constructed 1936-1939, Mill Run, Pennsylvania), the Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House (constructed 1936-1937, Madison, Wisconsin), Taliesin West (begun 1938, Scottsdale, Arizona) and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (constructed 1956-1959, New York, New York).

There are more than 1,000 World Heritage sites around the world, and the group of Wright sites is now among only 24 sites in the U.S. The collection represents the first modern architecture designation in the country on the prestigious list.

“This recognition by UNESCO is a significant way for us to reconfirm how important Frank Lloyd Wright was to the development of modern architecture around the world,” says Barbara Gordon, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. “There are nearly 400 remaining structures designed by Wright. Our hope is that the inscription of these eight major works also brings awareness to the importance of preserving all of his buildings as a vital part of our artistic, cultural and architectural heritage. All communities where a Wright building stands should appreciate what they have and share in the responsibility to protect their local—and world—heritage.”

The eight inscribed sites have played a prominent role in the development and evolution of Modern architecture during the first half of the 20th century and continuing to the present. UNESCO considers the international importance of a potential World Heritage Site based on its “Outstanding Universal Value,” which in the Wright series is manifested in three attributes. First, it is an architecture responsive to functional and emotional needs, achieved through geometric abstraction and spatial manipulation. Second, the design of the buildings in this series is fundamentally rooted in nature’s forms and principles. Third, the series represents an architecture conceived to be responsive to the evolving American experience, but which is universal in its appeal.

The Wright nomination has been in development for more than 15 years, a coordinated effort between the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, each of the nominated sites and independent scholars, with a substantial financial commitment realized through subsidies and donations, countless hours donated by staff and volunteers, and the guidance and assistance of the National Park Service. The nomination effort was spearheaded by Fallingwater Director Emerita and founding Conservancy board member Lynda Waggoner, with Fallingwater contributing support and expertise in the nomination’s preparation. The Conservancy will now coordinate the activities of the Frank Lloyd Wright World Heritage Council, chaired by Waggoner, which was established to support the responsible conservation and promotion of the eight World Heritage sites.

In 2015, the U.S. nominated a series of 10 Wright-designed sites to the World Heritage List. At its meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, in July 2016, the World Heritage Committee decided to “refer” the nomination for revisions. Over the past two years, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy worked with the council of sites and leading scholars to revise the nomination and rework the justification for inscription.

The National Park Service submitted the Wright nomination to the World Heritage Centre in Paris on November 20, 2018, and it was reviewed and inscribed at the 2019 session of the World Heritage Committee, on Sunday, July 7 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

View photos from the World Heritage Committee meeting in Baku on our Flickr page.