Frank Lloyd Wright was an American architect, interior designer, writer and educator, who designed more than 1,000 structures and completed 500 works. Wright believed in designing structures which were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture. This philosophy was best exemplified by his design for Fallingwater (1935), which has been called “the best all-time work of American architecture”.
What is architecture anyway? Is it the vast collection of the various buildings which have been built to please the varying tastes of the various lords of mankind? I think not. No, I know that architecture is life; or at least it is life itself taking form and therefore it is the truest record of life as it was lived in the world yesterday, as it is lived today or ever will be lived…So, architecture I know to be a Great Spirit.
— Frank Lloyd Wright
To Wright, architecture was not just about buildings, it was about nourishing the lives of those sheltered within them. What were needed were environments to inspire and offer repose to the inhabitants. He called his architecture “organic” and described it as that “great living creative spirit which from generation to generation, from age to age, proceeds, persists, creates, according to the nature of man and his circumstances as they both change.”
Fallingwaterconsists of two parts: The main house of the clients which was built between 1936-1938, and the guest room which was completed in 1939. The original house contains simple rooms furnished by Wright himself, with an open living room and compact kitchen on the first floor, and three small bedrooms located on the second floor. The third floor was the location of the study and bedroom of Edgar Jr., the Kaufmann’s son. The rooms all relate towards the house’s natural surroundings, and the living room even has steps that lead directly into the water below.
The circulation through the house consists of dark, narrow passageways, intended this way so that people experience a feeling of compression when compared to that of expansion the closer they get to the outdoors. The ceilings of the rooms are low, reaching only up to 6’4″ in some places, in order to direct the eye horizontally to look outside. The beauty of these spaces is found in their extensions towards nature, done with long cantilevered terraces. Shooting out at a series of right angles, the terraces add an element of sculpture to the houses aside from their function.
In June 1943, Frank Lloyd Wright received a letter from Hilla Rebay, the art advisor to Solomon R. Guggenheim, asking the architect to design a new building to house Guggenheim’s four-year-old Museumof Non-Objective Painting. The project evolved into a complex struggle pitting the architect against his clients, city officials, the art world, and public opinion. Both Guggenheim and Wright would die before the building’s 1959 completion. The resultant achievement, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, testifies not only to Wright’s architectural genius, but to the adventurous spirit that characterized its founders.
John C. Pew House, a residence he designed on Lake Mendota Drive and built in 1940, as the “poor man’s Fallingwater.” Like Fallingwater, the house fits well in a rugged waterfront setting and is cantilevered over the side of a bluff. By 2009, this unique property was in serious need of repairs. The current owner faced outdated plumbing and electrical systems, a failing roof, exterior deterioration, and overgrown vegetation. Repairs were crucial, but the owner demanded that they respect Wright’s original design and meet contemporary demands for efficiency and sustainability.
Many of the structural innovations that make this house so unique also complicated the repair process. Ismthus Architecture had to contend with the house’s complex wooden frame, worn exterior walls consisting of three distinct laminations of wood, and un-insulated and unfinished load-bearing walls.
The masonry exterior and chimney were re-pointed as needed, and older, non-matching patches were removed. The wood sash, trim, siding, and soffits were scrubbed clean of mildew and stains. Where necessary, deteriorated cypress siding pieces were replaced along with matching flathead screws. Paint was removed from the balconies, revealing the original natural wood appearance. Windows and doors were adjusted to improve their seals, while maintaining the original hardware. The insulation and sheathing were replaced with high density foam insulation and a membrane roofing system. Roof scuppers were restored or replaced to match the original design. The house also received electrical and mechanical updates, including a high-efficiency boiler. The house’s foundation was deemed sound, but a program was put into place to monitor its stability in the future. Butler also took steps to improve the building’s energy efficiency.
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