Lost 1953 NYC Wright Exhibition House

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SDR
Posts: 20438
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: Lost 1953 NYC Wright Exhibition House

Post by SDR »

That astute observation leads naturally to the question of what the architect took as his (self-imposed) brief?: Was he designing for a city building site ? For this particular bit of ground ? Or was he designing for what he knew would be his most likely client, Mr and Mrs Suburban ?

He was able, at least, to orient the plan to his second-most-favorite direction, with the glass wall of the living room facing south. The plan drawings for the house indicate this orientation, and that is how the building was placed on the site. (His preferred orientation would be 30º west of south, as exhibited in any number of Usonians when the lay of the land, the view, etc, permitted that placement.)

Of course it would make sense to overcome whatever limitations to adequate daylight were found in the particular situation the building found itself in. But many if not most Usonians not only turn their back on the street, as here, but also open themselves to daylight from that direction only a little, with a narrow clerestory band. Why does the Exhibition House double or triple the height of the street-side clerestories ?

In photos, at least, the main space strikes me as exhibiting what Mr Wright once decried, namely "grandomania," in its proportions and its vertical thrust. Was he speaking to Manhattan ? Did he adjust the homeliness and intimacy of his typical residence to accommodate what might be crowds of visitors to the space ? Did he find himself struggling a bit with the necessity both to meet the situation and the site, while retaining the features and character of his ideal residential environment ?

As we have seen, Wright's way with proportion and scale made it easy for his work to seem larger than it might be in reality. The ceiling here, he says, is 12 feet from the floor. This is not excessive, necessarily; many a century-old house in Manhattan would have 12-foot ceilings. Is it only his well-honed skill at maximizing the impact of his architecture, that here results in what appears to be Grand Central Station in miniature---as befitting "the greatest city in the world" ?

S

SDR
Posts: 20438
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: Lost 1953 NYC Wright Exhibition House

Post by SDR »

First section drawing of the 1953 Exhibition House. The need for light, or volume, or some combination of the two, has not yet sunk in. The unbuilt 1940 exhibition house, to be built in the garden behind MoMA, was similarly indistinguishable from a standard Usonian in the matter of clerestory and roof heights.

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The second, radically altered 1953 section. The upper roof has been raised; has the lower one been lowered as well ?

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Compare to Feiman. Ceiling is 11'-X" (illegible):

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and Trier. Ceiling is 10'-X" (also illegible):

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SDR
Posts: 20438
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: Lost 1953 NYC Wright Exhibition House

Post by SDR »

Okay---you twisted my arm, so here's apprentice Curtis Besinger on his experience with the project.

In his last caption to the photos of the Exhibition House, in "The Natural House," Mr Wright mentions the "14 boys of the Taliesin Fellowship" who assisted in the construction of the exhibit, led by "a former apprentice," David Henken. Little did the architect know that one of those apprentices was keeping notes, and writing to friends, about what was going on at Taliesin during his time there.

Here are the last nine pages of Besinger's chapter, "Summer 1953," from "Working with Mr Wright--What It Was Like" (Cambridge, 1995). I have included the page which contains the notes for this section of the book.

On the first page below is a reference to the designing of the Exhibition House. Besinger was apparently unaware that a drawing showing the first version of the living room had survived, as found at Artstor and posted above.


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© 1995 by Cambridge University Press (New York)

Roderick Grant
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Re: Lost 1953 NYC Wright Exhibition House

Post by Roderick Grant »

As a New Yorker, Stephen, you should know that Manhattan runs from SW to NE, so the glazed façade of Usonia faced SE. The house was set back on the lot, close to the SE lot line, next to a large brick apartment building, that blocked much of the sunlight. The 89th Street façade was enclosed in a high brick wall for security, and the NW façade faced the exhibition structure. So the house was hemmed in considerably. According to Geiger, who worked on the project, the extra tall clerestories were intended to bring in as much light as possible. Nevertheless, I would not call it grandomania. I think it is about as close to perfection as any house FLW built.

SDR
Posts: 20438
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: Lost 1953 NYC Wright Exhibition House

Post by SDR »

Well, NNE by SSW, then. But why would this Usonian need more light than most others of its kind ? There is no living-room skylight, nor a band of 30-inch tall clerestories wrapping the corner opposite the view windows, in any of them (those, that is, that preceded this design). Would the house have required more daylight than they---and if so, why ? Did it have to do double duty: both a residential model, and a public space ? Did it simply have to compete in some tangible way with the forest of towers around it ?

You may let John Geiger speak for Mr Wright in the matter; I would have liked the Old Man's word. All we have, on the same page as a photo showing those windows, is a note about the opposite side of the room, where he writes " High, open side of living room, seen from entry, faces living terrace and view (walled in only because of New York City limitations). I suppose that is what you (or Geiger) are saying . . .

S

SDR
Posts: 20438
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: Lost 1953 NYC Wright Exhibition House

Post by SDR »

On one of the three site plans we have for the exhibition, the property adjacent to the Exhibition House is marked "vacant lot." Perhaps, after visiting the site and discovering that he had been misinformed, Mr Wright returned (as recounted by Besinger) and directed that the "boys" raise the roof ?

Missing from this first plan are the deep fins that separate the clerestory lites outside the glass line (see partial plan of house, extreme upper left of drawing). Nor are they present on the building section of the house with its raised roof. They appear in photos, however. Perhaps they were intended to partially obscure the view of buildings across 89th Street ?


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