Teaching Preservation: Reading Up On Wright

Posted on: January 7th, 2010 by Guest Writer 3 Comments

Written by Ivan V.


My own illustration of Frank Lloyd Wright's Lillian and Curtis Meyer Home.

Happy 2010 from Boise, where it currently feels like a crisp 19 degrees. The Boise Architecture Project is fresh from winter break and ready to get back into the swing of things – and I’m first up!

After studying architecture for a few years, I’ve found that I’m extremely interested in modernism. I recently took a trip to Chicago, where I was introduced to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. I’d like to use my first-ever blog post to talk about some of my favorite Wright buildings.

Frank Lloyd Wright is, of course, one of the most well-know architects in the world. He’s also someone I now deeply admire. While reading up on him, I was surprised by his extensive body of work, especially the residential projects. I learned that, after he completed one of his most famous works, Fallingwater, Wright’s popularity grew across the country. The result? Commissions to design more and more buildings.

Another view of Wright's studio.

Another view of Wright's studio.

Most of those new projects ended up being residential homes, and most became part of what Wright coined the Usonian movement – a new and unique American style that brought with it more modest floor plans. While not all of them are immediately recognizable as Wright homes, his simple aesthetic, his use of natural forms, and his modern designs of interlacing wood, brick, and steel are always there.

In my opinion, his houses that were built during the 1950’s are especially elegant examples of his work, and they can easily be mistaken for homes built within the past 15 years. Regardless, it still stuns me just how many homes he built during his career – I counted 154 within one of the books I recently read about his life.

Many of his homes – especially the Craftsman-style ones – are constructed of brick and incorporate cantilevered roofs/ balconies. They feature simple, repeating designs, and all have unique motifs and layouts. The interiors of the Usonian- and Prairie-style homes are always rich examples of stone and woodwork coming together. Many have a solid wall opposed by a large wall of windows. The solid wall often has a row of long windows at the top to bring in light. These can be long rectangles or repeating motifs. Also, great attention is given to the furniture and carpeting, all of which were designed specifically to fit each home. Regardless, the spaces are quite comfortable looking – perhaps a little too comfortable!

A house not classified as a Usonian (though it incorporates many of the same design principles) but nonetheless quite modern is the Gloria Bachman and Abraham Wilson Home. Its windows are decorative on the street-facing side and high against the roof to provide privacy but still bring in light. The interior is extremely clean and well designed.

A close-up shot of "The Boulders."

A close-up shot of "The Boulders."

Along with the Usonians, Wright designed several hemicycle-shaped homes, or buildings that incorporate a half-circle structure that is often the living area with windows being part of an arc. His first example of this is the Wilbur Pearce Home, which was built in 1950. The Lillian and Curtis Meyer Home is probably my favorite. Its roof and windows are a rich brown color that is perfectly offset by simple white siding. I still can’t believe it was built so long ago!

If you want to do some Wright reading, I recommend “Frank Lloyd Wright Mid-Century Modern,” as it's the book that inspired this post. Another good (and shorter) reference is “The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: A Complete Catalog.”

In this post, I’ve included several pictures that I took while in Chicago, as well as my own drawing of Wright’s Lillian and Curtis Meyer Home. In the illustration, notice the octagonal theme; using geometric units and/or shapes is common in many of Wright’s projects. You’ll also see a picture of two figures called “The Boulders.” These were designed by Richard Bock and are meant to convey the struggle of the oppressed. I thought they were pretty cool.

Please stay tuned for future posts about modernism – I don’t plan to stop here!

Ivan V. is a student at Boise’s Timberline High School and is participating in the Boise Architecture Project. You can follow the students here on the PreservationNation blog and on their Flickr photostream. Also, get daily updates from their teacher, Doug StanWiens, on Twitter.

Are you an educator interested in teaching preservation in your classroom? Visit PreservationNation.org for resources, tips, and ideas to enhance your curriculum with lessons that will teach your students to recognize and appreciate the rich history that surrounds them.

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Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Modern Architecture

3 Responses

  1. Kevin B.

    January 8, 2010

    Congrats on your recent discovery of Mr. Wright. Wright designed over 1100 srructures during his 75 year career, and approx. 440 of these designs were actually built. Of those, about 75-80% were residential projects.

    BTW, there is one Frank Lloyd Wright building in Idaho. It is a private home in Bliss, ID, overlooking the Snake River. It was built in the 1950’s, and is known as the Teater Residence, or Teater’s Knoll. There is a book that has been published about this house, the title of which escapes me right now. And while your drawing is quite good, it looks much more like the Meyer Residence in Galesburg, MI than it does the FL Wright Home & Studio in Oak Park, IL.

    Here’s a link you might find very interesting: http://savewright.org/wright_chat/viewforum.php?f=2&sid=b58f50d9596ed150a2bfcb3411d60540

  2. Jodi Summers

    January 8, 2010

    From 1919 to 1923, Wright spent time in Los Angeles, reinventing himself after the failure of his firm in Chicago. In was here he began experimenting with textile block designs (later to be used in the Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo). His goal was to develop a flexible building system combining the merits of standardized machine production to his own innovative creative vision. He built a series of interlocking pre-cast concrete textile block homes in Los Angeles. These include the Hollyhock House, Freeman House, Storer House, Ennis House and our Millard House. Wright saw the relatively small scale of his textile block concept as a uniquely monumental, adaptable and efficient design which can closely follows the contours of the landscape. His concept was visionary…

    “What about the concrete block?” Wright has asked. “It was the cheapest (and ugliest) thing in the building world. It lived mostly in the architectural gutter as an imitation of rock-faced stone. Why not see what could be done with that gutter rat? Steel rods cast inside the joints of the blocks themselves and the whole brought into some broad, practical scheme of general treatment, why would it not be fit for a new phase of our modern architecture? It might be permanent, noble beautiful.”

    Of his four concrete block properties in Los Angeles, two are currently for sale…

    MILLARD HOUSE, aka LA MINIATURA – Wright’s most romantic home in Los Angeles, asking price $7.5 million – http://www.santamonicapropertyblog.com/?page_id=1410

    “I would rather have built this little house than St. Peter’s in Rome,” revealed FLW about the Millard House. La Miniatura is set in a picturesque arroyo near the Rose Bowl. The official location is the Prospect Historic District – a Pasadena neighborhood of admirable residences designed by such renowned architects as Charles and Henry Greene, Wallace Neff and Myron Hunt.

    And for those of us with an extra $30 million – give or take, you can buy and restore Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House in Los Feliz, and make Los Angeles a better place. Experts estimate that purchase and repairs pencil out in the neighborhood of $30 million – $15 million to buy the property, $15 million to renovate, less grant money, give or take any given set of issues. But the results will prove to be a significant architectural monument. Think Falling Water… http://www.santamonicapropertyblog.com/?page_id=1327

    Do you know of any wealthy people who would like to add these legacy assets to their portfolios, please. They need love.
    Thank you,
    Jodi Summers
    The SoCal Investment Real Estate Group
    Sotheby’s International Realty

    Invest wisely in beauty; it will serve you all the days of your life. – Frank Lloyd Wright

  3. Ivan V.

    January 9, 2010

    Thanks for the link. You’re right, my teacher must have mixed up the captions as it is in fact the Lillian and Curtis Meyer house. It’s shortly mentioned in the blog. I’ve sent an email to him so it should probably be fixed shortly.