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While I'm heartbroken and sad, my friendship with him through the years has given me something I could never imagine.
My hope here is to celebrate a life well lived, and a talent that had no boundaries, even against all odds. He spoke to me often about being lucky. He sure was and I am for knowing him.
Rest well my friend. They shall never reject another drawing.
In the early days of our correspondence a dozen years ago, before he decided to post here, Laurie wrote much, about his views and his experience. I think a fitting memorial, and a choice I hope he would approve, would be to quote passages from some of those emails, over the coming days.
I’m reading and writing this sitting in the first Frank Lloyd Wright residential interior Laurie experienced back in 1964.
I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet him and correspond with him periodically. I will never forget the stay at the Penfield house he arranged and the dinner party with the Penfields, the Holubars, the Chrzanowski’s, Christine and me, and especially you, Bill.
He will be missed.
My father died when I was 8 months of age, and my mother never married again. The only training she had received was as a domestic servant, but having a child to care for disqualified her from that occupation. She worked very hard, and for long hours, but life was a struggle, and we were always skirting the edge of disaster. My grandparents had a major role in raising me, and I spent many hours at my grandfather's knee. He had one of the finest minds I have ever encountered, and whilst he could have debated mathematics with professors, it was an opportunity never afforded him.
I was a natural scholar, the top student at the primary school I attended, and at age 11 years expressed a wish to be an architect. There was much rebuilding taking place when I attended high school and the Principal designated me to assist architects who visited the premises by holding one end of the measuring tape, and similar tasks. After 2 years I was offered the opportunity to go to a technical high school, where in 1950 I was summa cum laude.
The school always undertook to find a position in private enterprise for the most successful student, but that year the first economic recession after World War 2 occurred, and there were no opportunities being offered in architect’s studios. I was offered a position in a engineer's office, and such were our family finances that I had to accept it. I was sent to Evening School to study engineering, with the incentive that if I passed the annual examinations my salary would be increased.
Two years after I completed my engineering degree I met my future wife, Mary.
Whilst I was a competent engineer, I hated being so, I found the profession extremely conservative. The prospect of spending a lifetime with a person who was unhappy in his work filled Mary with apprehension. She offered to grubstake me if I returned to university and studied Architecture. It was then a 6 year course, the 4th year of which had to be spent gaining practical experience in an architect's studio. Ironically, if one chose to work on a construction site for a year, really learning how to put stick on stick and stone on stone, that was considered to contribute only 6 months towards the requirement!
As a consequence of my engineering qualification I was given a dispensation from the first year studies, and in 1963 found myself in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, working for Malcolm Wells. Despite the fact that I was still a student, he gave me every opportunity. I started on a very low salary, but after working for 3 months it was doubled, and after 6 months I was awarded a further 25%. When in 1964 I told him that Mary was pregnant, and we intended to travel back to Australia in order that our child be born there, and I could complete my studies, he offered me half his considerable practice, without cost, if I would stay at his studio. I declined. A few days later he approached me again, saying that he was disappointed at my decision, but there were many buildings in the U.S.A. I should visit before returning home, and he would provide the finance for me so to do. Moreover, he had me trade in my old car, and paid for the cost of a new one. In addition, he furnished all the secretarial assistance necessary to gain access to the buildings I nominated. It was an act of extraordinary generosity, and would never of happened in Europe, or Australia for that matter. Mary and I spent 3 months in the late Summer and early Fall of 1964 traveling from New Jersey, north to New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, south to New York, west to Ohio, across the MidWest, south thru Colorado to Arizona, and then north again, finishing at Seattle, Washington.
Upon returning to the University of Melbourne I resumed my studies and graduated summa cum laude in December 1966.
Working in the United States of America has been the great influence on my life. I chose to work there initially because I was revolted by the philosophies of the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier. Moreover, I admired the quality of the construction documents, the high level of the information on the drawings, and the tightness and precision of the language in which the specifications were written, so much more thoro than in Europe or Australia. I have based my practice on what I learned in your country.
SDR, I've heard that first hand. Laurie's story on how he made his way out of the impossible revolving door of poverty to one of the best designers of Architecture is remarkable. And lucky. He mentioned that if not for some luck, he would have never been set free.
I will miss our occasional correspondence on the topics of organic architecture, Mac Wells, U.S. politics, and our shared enthusiasm for the advanced engineering of Citroen cars.During my tour of Frank Lloyd Wright houses in 1964 I did not visit the Joseph Euchtman house. Before I departed 109 East Main Street, Moorestown, Mac Wells had me trade in my old car, and he purchased a new, sparkling cream Volksvagen Beetle for me. The license plates were New Jersey IGN 863.
It was the era of the Civil Rights movement, and we were advised not to venture to the South driving a vehicle bearing such license plates.
We carried a full set of camping equipment, often spending the nights in the designated areas of State and National Parks, and it was emphasized to us that we would fall easy prey to any who thought we had traveled south in order to promote the cause.
After traveling north to visit the Zimmerman house and Mount Katahdin, we moved briefly south, before striking west until we were in Wyoming. Continuing south thru Colorado and Utah, we visited Phoenix, Arizona, Los Angeles, California, and finished our 3 month long tour in Seattle, Washington.
Since that time I have been able to tour the U.S.A. on numerous occasions, traveling in 42 of the states of the Union, but never in the area south of Virginia and east of Louisiana.
I have always considered the Joseph Euchtman house a most elegant Usonian. It was constructed at a time when Tidewater Red Cypress was more readily available than it is now, and if the board and batten walls are of that material, for them to have been painted constitutes a criminal act.
There's much more from my Virr file. I'll put something up each evening, until I run out of material . . . or someone asks me to stop !
The Sweeton house was the first design of FLLW that I visited when I arrived in the U.S.A. in 1963. Malcolm Wells resided just a short distance away, and he arranged for me to meet the Sweeton's and tour the house.
Malcolm Wells has not lived at Cherry Hill, New Jersey, for more than 30 years. Almost blind, deaf, and with congestive heart problems, he is lovingly cared for by his second wife. He and I have corresponded, continuously, since 1964, and we have kept all our letters. A wonderful man, he is now 83 years of age.
For a microcosm of what passes for Architecture in Australia, I refer you to http://www.canberrahouse.com.au.
This region is experiencing the most severe drought ever recorded. I am in the process of renewing the cedar shingles on the roof of this house. Some areas of it are open at this time, and the Bureau of Meteorology forecasts rain. I must get to it, but will reply to your wonderful letter, at length, as soon as the opportunity arises.
My Kindest Regards And Utmost Respect (his unfailing salutation)
SDR, Laurie was a long-time driver and lover of the Citroen mark. Parts for them had gotten difficult to find in Australia (ship from France), so his last car is from Korea.
I've never had a French car, but as a car guy, the DS would be the one. I like and drive the German and Japanese cars.
The memories of our trip for all things Wright will be forever etched in my mind. I'm still struggling with the fact that he is gone.
...and the phone is ringing.
Laurie always had a special memory and respect for the J.A. Sweeton house. The challenge to do something so good on a not so good budget. I remain grateful for our visit and the good company. We get lucky once and a while.
...andMost modern automobiles owe much to the Citroens of the 1950's and 60's. They were light years ahead of anything else produced, especially the fuel injected DS23.
I have owned two ID's, a GS, and a Pallas 21.
At this time I drive a Citroen C2. No clutch, paddles for gear changing as per Formula 1, either manual or automatic at the press of a button. 6.3 liters/100 kilometers.
Ownership is difficult here - servicing is expensive, mechanics are factory trained. In the U.S.A. of the 1950's it would have been impossible.
SDR, to answer your question, I have not owned a Citroen thus far....but I've test driven a few prospects over the years. Laurie had good taste in cars.The Citroen ID 19 was the less expensive version of the DS, but to my inexperienced eye it was difficult to discern the difference between them, Mine was the standard offering at the time - the DS was made available later in Australia - but had leather upholstery. The gear change was mounted on the steering column.
They were most comfortable cars. On one occasion I drove from Warrnambool, Victoria, to Rocky Crossing, Australian Capital Territory, a journey occupying 13 hours, and was able to alight the car and spend a normal evening.
The DS 21 had even better suspension, and I drove it until replacement parts were no longer available.
My present Citroen, the C2 VTR is the sports model of the C3. The latter is a 5 door sedan, and rather dull, but the C2 is what I consider to be a designer’s car. To be apprehended violating the speed limit here - the maximum anywhere is 110 kilometers/hour - is an extremely expensive business - and I choose to observe the restriction. Nevertheless, the C2 is rated as being capable of 192 kilometers per hour, and the acceleration is astonishing. All this from a 1600 cc engine.
The most popular Citroen here at this time is the C4.
Of the models available in Australia, only the C5 has the pneumatic suspension. I recall an old book in which one is exhorted not to covert one’s neighbors car, but I am tempted to buy a C5. To my mind it is the ultimate driving experience.
With me as an eager audience, Laurie was on a roll. Here's the bulk of a message from the next day, April 13:
As you have probably surmised, my attitude to matters associated with FLLW and the Taliesin Fellowship is ambivalent. Separating the myths, and the downright untruths, from the facts is very difficult. He was a great architect, but some of the claims he made just do not bear scrutiny, and in a number of matters he was absolutely ruthless.
Having stated that, I must add that the 14 ‘commandments’ that come at the end of one of his Princeton lectures, ‘To the young man in Architecture’, have formed the basis of how I have conducted my career. When I was an Architecture student I believed that he observed every one of those 14 precepts, but I have gradually learned it was not the case.
The Taliesin Fellowship was never going to be a success, for a whole variety of different reasons. I believe that one of the lessons that FLLW learned from the Oak Park Studio was that it was a mistake to have more than one gifted designer in any studio, simply because they would spend time showing each other just how talented they were. As an architect, William Eugene Drummond, was more than a match for FLLW in some respects, and Walter Burley Griffin possessed a better sense of the building in the landscape. As is well known, FLLW quarreled bitterly with both of them, I believe because he feared them, but he learned from both, without ever having the grace to acknowledge it.
One of his great attributes was that whilst he was not always an originator of concepts, he had the gift to take the idea of another and develop it far beyond its creator’s ability.
Robert Harvey Oshatz worked for Lloyd Wright in Los Angeles. One day they were discussing the days in the Oak Park studio, and the older man said, ‘William Drummond was a great architect, but Dad made sure he never knew it’. How appalling.
To my knowledge, post the Oak Park Studio, FLLW rarely employed gifted architects again, altho it could be argued that Richard Neutra and Rudolf Michael Schindler were exceptions.
Olgivanna was another major factor in ensuring that any young man of real ability did not get far at Taliesin. I consider she spent the whole of their married life aware that she was second best, and that the real love of FLLW’s life was Mamah Borthwick Cheney. He was never quite the same after the death of the latter.
The former had to live for more than 30 years in a house that had, visible within its structure, the smoke blackened stones that FLLW had retrieved from the first fire. Her response was to be over protective of her husband, and to be forever on the lookout for any possible threats to his supremacy.
Bruce Goff, when invited by FLLW to work with him, replied as follows: ‘Mr. Wright, you honor me ... therefore I feel I should tell you the real reason why I believe I should not accept your offer. I have known people who have worked with you in the Oak Park days and since, and they all seem to fall into two categories; one group thinks you have ruined their lives ... that you have stolen their ideas and that you are a devil. The other believes that you are a God who can do no wrong and that their lives are useless unless sacrificed for you. I don't want to think of you in either of these ways ... nor can I ever be a disciple. I need to be away from you far enough so that I can get the proper perspective.¨
Not only did those apprentices who stayed longest at Taliesin sacrifice their lives for FLLW, after his death they capitulated to Olgivanna when she announced that forthwith she would run the studio, and that all drawings had to meet her approval before they could be issued. What sort of an architect is it, presumably registered in a number of States and nationally accredited, who would tolerate that sort of dictum from somebody who demonstrated, conclusively, that she had no idea of design? The changes she made to both Taliesins after 9 April 1959 were disastrous. Moreover, so in thrall were they to her that they were prepared to break the law after her death and exhume the remains of her husband, buried as he was next to his true love, close to the Wright family Chapel.
Wow, what a great story about Laurie Virr and Malcolm Wells. I had no idea... One can dream about a Wells & Virr firm..!