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Haters of New Wright Buildings, Answer Me This:

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 8:32 am
by EJ
With all of the debate about what is and what isn't a "real" Wright building worthy of inclusion in his portfolio, I want to know from the folks who deride the "new" Wright buildings going up as to what the standards are for an "authentic" Wright building. I don't want to hear about "disneyland" or other subjective terms. Give some objective standards. Please.

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 11:02 am
by outside in
I think the issue lies primarily with Wright's involvement during construction. Evidently he never stopped designing the building - sketching over the working drawings while making site visits, etc. He would also many times talk the owners into landscaping and interior design issues once the construction had begun. Of course, this is not as big of an issue for buildings designed in the late '50's, as he was getting older and the office was swamped. But I think its primarily the speculation of what may have happened during construction that is the primary problem, at least for me. Its like cooking from a great recipe, rather than having an artist cook FOR you.

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 11:17 am
by jlesshafft
1. so what about those buildings where he was never on site?
2. what about Lykes then?
3. what about the buildings built/completed while he was in Europe overseen by others.

Seems like there are going to be problems with any type of criteria someone is going to come up with

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 11:32 am
by outside in
My understanding of the way in which Wright worked was that he was constantly in communication with his office - he would many times fire off telegrams, ask an apprentice to look at alternatives, review photographs of job sites under construction, etc. I'm sure you can find projects where his involvement was minor, but still the criteria, I think, is that he would have had the ability to "play" with the design throughout the process. I think is some cases the buildings look a little stiff and "formulaic" (I don't know if thats a word or not) when he wasn't allowed to apply himself. I believe the legacy program suffers from the same problem.

It should be pointed out that construction has changed as well. It is sometimes nearly impossible to achieve the same results with current technologies, craftsmanship and materials (not to mention $$).

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 11:43 am
by jlesshafft
Probably the biggest impediment to obtaining the same building today is current building codes. You could probably not use board and batten anymore pretty much anywhere. You'd also be hard pressed to get approval for 24" doors. There are also restrictions on the minimum size of the largest windows allowed in bedrooms.

There's no way you could get a building permit for most of the usonians in most US jurisdictions (legally at least).

Legacy Wright Buildings

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 2:23 pm
by Paul Ringstrom
Those of you have visited several hundred of Mr. Wright's buildings certainly have noticed that the quality of the interpretation and execution of the "blueprints" varies considerably based on the supervision of the contractor. The Baird House and the Cooke House would be examples of homes that are at the opposite ends of the spectrum of this phenomenon.

For geographic reasons (among others), Mr. Wright was probably not available for full-time on-site construction supervision for any buildings other than the two Taliesins.

Also, the amount of construction details that were available in the "blueprints" in his day was nowhere near the level of specific detail that is now considered routine. Thus the need for good quality on-site supervision to answer questions that came up during construction that were not addressed in "the plans."

The Robie House was built while he was in Europe. Should we dismiss this building from his oeuvre since it had exactly as much of his personal supervision as the Massaro House?

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 7:14 pm
by Palli Davis Holubar
In 1957 Wright told John Peter “I have no favorite child, I have no favorite building, and I have no masterpiece. You have to take my work as a whole, and it’s either a masterpiece or it isn’t. There is no one thing in it. There’s no taking It apart. There it is.�
We, years after his death, have the joy of seeing much of that whole body of work as it stands with the patina of time: the structures, and the drawings as well as the work of the apprentices, "the fingers of his hands". I don't want to pick it apart. I do want to revel in the experience of each structure and drawing, old and new, touched by Wright or not, sensing and honing my eye to see the Wright-ness in each.
Wright was first an artist, his ideas flowed muscularly through his mind and hand. So sure of the rightness of his vision, he could hardly imagine others couldn't understand it. If they did the work of building, the stone would tell them, the eye would tell them... naturally. Regretfully, his art was architecture, the most common un-artful art, so most people become familiar and content with disunity and discomfort. But despite his arrogant manner, he trusted his ideas and gave them over to the hands of regular people, inexperienced owner-builders, to build Usonian houses. He assumed that the work of building... hefting, trowelling, joining... would inform their eyes and help them make the uncharted choices Taliesin plans gave them.

Now I am intimate with the Weltzheimer (-Johnson) House, a 1948 Usonian that Wright never visited but sent Ted Bower to supervise. The vocabulary of the house is Wright and that aesthetic clarity shines through the "mispellings" and sad mistakes of both Charles and Margaret Weltzheimer and young Ted Bower.

Davy Davidson drew the W-J House plans at Taliesin. There were a couple of dozen Usonians on drafting tables during the period, the Unitarian Meetinghouse and the Guggenheim. There was an early sketch; the Weltzheimers saw it when they visited Taliesin to "hurry-up" the process. We don't have it, so we don't know what Davy was working from but we do know the organic principles the house had to embody. The house is a L-plan, generations down from Usonian One, so we can see it with informed eyes. Walking through the house our eyes tell us where liberties were taken with the plan, where an intersection is wrong (not just clumsy) or a where a whim trumped the original design. It has distinctive features that serve it well (the spherical dentil ornamentation, the brick pillars dividing the workspace from the living room) but it doesn't repose on a stepped foundation; the cantilever carport is small; a tool storage room has been omitted and a larger utility room included; and, it has an uncomfortable circular design for the perforated screens. All changes from the revised plans of August 1948 and supervised by a hard-working building supervisor/apprentice. I regret it all. But the clarity of Wright was only smudged. The W-J House is a perfect teaching tool to study the essential integrity of Wright's work and the fine line before that integrity is lost.

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 7:58 pm
by pharding
outside in wrote:I think the issue lies primarily with Wright's involvement during construction. Evidently he never stopped designing the building - sketching over the working drawings while making site visits, etc. He would also many times talk the owners into landscaping and interior design issues once the construction had begun. Of course, this is not as big of an issue for buildings designed in the late '50's, as he was getting older and the office was swamped. But I think its primarily the speculation of what may have happened during construction that is the primary problem, at least for me. Its like cooking from a great recipe, rather than having an artist cook FOR you.
I could not agree more with this post. The more FLW was involved the better the results. This is typical of any great architect. He was incessantly making changes and refining the design even as a building was under construction. He was a great architect who would grind away to produce his best work. He was compulsively revising and refining the design even as it was built. And even after it was built.

Re: Legacy Wright Buildings

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 8:10 pm
by pharding
Paul Ringstrom wrote:The Robie House was built while he was in Europe. Should we dismiss this building from his oeuvre since it had exactly as much of his personal supervision as the Massaro House?
The Robie was not designed and built in a vacuum. It reflected decades of FLW's development of ideas that manifest themselves in that great building. The building just oozes of greatness to this day. His staff that was involved in the construction were experienced and they knew what was important to the master. I am sure that they knew as it was proceeding into construction that the building was very special with a wonderful client with deep pockets. They knew better than to screw it up.

In my opinion the built Massaro House is less than brilliant.

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 8:47 pm
by Ed Jarolin
Palli Davis Holubar,

Well said! There are more than enough opportunities for missteps between the architect's drawing board and the finished building. Given the nature of Wright's nationwide practice, it's a miracle so many buildings turned out as well as they did. As you say, we can learn from the mistakes as well as the unqualified triumphs.

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 10:59 pm
by EJ
pharding wrote: The more FLW was involved the better the results. This is typical of any great architect. He was incessantly making changes and refining the design even as a building was under construction. He was a great architect who would grind away to produce his best work. He was compulsively revising and refining the design even as it was built. And even after it was built.

Yet many houses we take as canon did not involve Wright as much as others. Are these "lesser" Wright houses, but still the real deal? What's to seperate the "lessers" from the "new" buildings? He never visited many of the completed houses during or after construction, especially in the 1950's/ Guggenheim years. Are these houses to be less of Wright design, than say, Jacobs I, which Wright personally supervised?

I concede that Wright is not around to make the compulsive revisions that you describe, but, didn't the new designs come from his hand and mind? To me, that accounts for more than "compulsive revisions". Who's to say that Wright didn't put more into some of the "new" buildings that are now going up than he perhaps did on a random 1950's Usonian that was built. If you believe the authors of The Fellowship (and I know a lot of people don't) the senior apprentices worked with the designs with little input from Wright.

If Wright being alive during construction is a main point, as I think your post implies, then we can discount a whole bunch of Wright buildings completed after FLW died, including the Guggenheim (completed 6 months after his death). As for the Lykes house, forget it. What about the Erdman Prefabs? Again, they either are or are not Wright buildings.

Thus, that argument, while somewhat credible, doesn't blow me away. If Lykes and the Erdman prefabs are canon, as well as the houses that Wright did not supervise or revise, why not Massaro and the Boathouse and any other "new" Wright building rescued from the archives?

Posted: Fri Jun 29, 2007 7:09 am
by LikaComet
Mr. Harding...
Do you have a link to the as built Massaro house. I couldn't find images of the finished product.

Maybe my limitations don't avail myself of your views on "post-Wright" construction. I am thrilled whenever I hear of any Wright concepts finally being realized. At the least, Mr. Wright's legacy is continued. This is new history being made? The construction, like imitation, could be the best expression of flattery?

Where the ultimate result of Mr. Wright's influence should be manifest in contemporary design, would it be better if past unrealized concepts were not explored?

Isn't there a bit of you that is pleased that Mr. Wright's little boathouse is finally breathing the air of the Twenty-First Century. . .even if it is slightly asthmatic?

Posted: Fri Jun 29, 2007 8:14 am
by pharding
LikaComet wrote:Mr. Harding...
Do you have a link to the as built Massaro house. I couldn't find images of the finished product.

Maybe my limitations don't avail myself of your views on "post-Wright" construction. I am thrilled whenever I hear of any Wright concepts finally being realized. At the least, Mr. Wright's legacy is continued. This is new history being made? The construction, like imitation, could be the best expression of flattery?

Where the ultimate result of Mr. Wright's influence should be manifest in contemporary design, would it be better if past unrealized concepts were not explored?

Isn't there a bit of you that is pleased that Mr. Wright's little boathouse is finally breathing the air of the Twenty-First Century. . .even if it is slightly asthmatic?
Thank you for sharing your views and ideas.

I believe that RJH had a link to photos in one of his posts. You could search for that using the search feature of this web site.

The basic theoretical / professional flaws in this approach have been discussed above. I do not wish to repeat that. In my opinion cheap imitations or even expensive imitations of something that never existed always lose the special qualities of the original. The wonderful qualities of an original took an incredible amount of time and energy to develop by Mr. Wright. The original built work reflected decades of relentless development and refinement by FLW with contributions from his staff. In a sense as each building was built it was much like a prototype being built that he and his staff could use to refine FLW's ideas in that particular work. Architects make many changes large and small as they guide the contractor in building an architectural work. Each building by a great architect has sense of appropriateness to the time and technology of its period. It is fundamental to historic preservation that what matters is what was built, not what was drawn on paper. It also goes back to what we as a society aspire to or should aspire to. Are we going to aspire preserve real, authentic historic buildings or we are just going to pollute our culture and environment with crude cartoons of something that never existed?

There are some great architects that are doing great residential work, appropriate to our time and technology which embody principles of FLW. Two that immediately come to mind are James Cutler and Bohlen, Cywinski, Jackson. There are others. Today with with them you get something that is original, wonderful and very real that brings immense satisfaction to the clients. At the same time these works meet the needs and challenges of today.

In my opinion the whole discussion is about quality and fidelity.

Posted: Sat Jun 30, 2007 2:05 am
by archfan
LikaComet wrote: Do you have a link to the as built Massaro house. I couldn't find images of the finished product.
Apple has some images of the house on their website at:

http://www.apple.com/pro/profiles/heinz/index.html

There's also a link to a short video.