Jul 30, 2018

Visiting Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings

Frank Lloyd Wright was an American architect, interior designer, writer and educator who designed more than 1000 structures, of which 532 were completed. He is touted at America’s greatest architect and “The Man who Built America.” His architectural style was a reaction to the stuffy, ornate, and crowded look of the Victorian era.  He felt buildings should be inspired by the land and that there should be fewer rooms and that they should flow from one to another.  One of his most famous buildings is Fallingwater, near Pittsburgh. Built in the mid-1930s it was the summer home of the owners of Kaufmann’s Department Store. The house is built over the waterfalls and only two colors are used: the light ochre similar to the concrete and Cherokee red for the steel.

You don’t have to go to Pittsburgh to tour some of Wright’s most famous buildings. At one time Buffalo was one of the richest cities in the United States and the wealthy wanted the latest in architecture and that would be a Wright-designed building.  The Darwin D. Martin House is listed on the National Historic Landmarks. It is actually a complex of six interconnected building designed to look unified. The main house has a pergola that connects to the conservatory, carriage house with chauffer’s quarters and stables, the Barton House (for his sister and her husband), and a gardener’s cottage. The Martin House is considered an excellent example of Wright’s Prairie House style with horizontal lines, overhanging eaves, and central hearth. Even though the buildings had deteriorated an organization has been formed to restore the complex. 

Just south of Buffalo, on Lake Erie in Derby, is the summer home that was built for Martin’s wife. Called Graycliff, also on the National Historic Register, it was nearly torn down to build condominiums but the Graycliff Conservancy was formed to save and restore it. Martin’s wife, Isabelle, took an active part in designing the building with Wright, which was unusual for the time when males dominated society. She wanted a “severely simple, two-story house” and that it be flooded with “light and sunshine, including the maid’s rooms.”  She was instrumental in designing the extensive gardens. 

Both the Martin complex and Graycliff are open for tours; however, the Wright house in Rochester is privately owned and not open to the public. The Boynton House is also built in Wright’s Prairie style. 

One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous public buildings is the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. It is impossible to miss its unique spiral design. Wright was not thrilled with Guggenheim’s choice of NYC for his museum: “I can think of several more desirable places in the world to build his great museum, but we will have to try New York.” He thought NYC was overbuilt, overpopulated, and lacked architectural merit. Visitors to the museum start at the top and walk down the gentle curving continuous ramp where they can access various galleries. 

Wright liked to divide his time between his two homes: Taliesin East in southwestern Wisconsin and Taliesin West near Phoenix. Both are open to tours and offer master classes in architecture along with special performing and visuals art events. 

On my long “To-Do” list I have added the Usonia District north of NYC in the town of Mount Pleasant. Wright designed the area deciding where each house should be built and personally designed three homes and approved the plans of 44 others.