Washington, D.C. developer Roy Sage Thurman wanted “the world’s greatest living architect,” describing Frank Lloyd Wright in 1940, to design Temple Heights. The 73-year-old Wright’s modernist style may have been celebrated around the world but it was unrepresented in the nation’s capital, according to a perspective by John Kelly.
For Temple Heights, Thurman envisioned what today we would call a mixed-use development. And he hired Wright to design it. Wright was not a fan of prototypical Washington architecture, proclaiming that the city had “a sufficiency of the deadly conventional.” Federal buildings were meant to “satisfy a kind of grandomania utterly obsolete.” Greek and Roman influences were everywhere, producing too many stolid buildings. John Russell Pope’s domed Jefferson Memorial, he felt, was “the greatest insult yet.”
With the commission from Thurman, Wright was going to shake things up — or try to.
Thurman asked Wright to place on the sloping Dean tract site a complex that would include a hotel, an apartment house, a parking garage, a movie theater, a shopping center and other commercial spaces. It would be an almost self-contained city within the city.
The design morphed over the months in 1939 and 1940 that Wright worked on it. What all the designs had in common was a crescent of tall, conjoined buildings — more than a dozen, most of them around 12 to 14 stories high — on the high ground at the back of the site. A large parking structure overlooked Florida Avenue. Between the buildings and the garage, Wright had preserved much of the existing forest, including the Treaty Oak.
There was also a bowling alley, an art gallery, a banquet hall, a cocktail lounge and other amenities. Read more about what became of this project here.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt once wrote; "I have an unshaken conviction that democracy can never be undermined if we maintain our library resources and a national intelligence capable of utilizing them."
Public libraries have been a central part of American life for centuries, including in Lake Geneva, a historic building which was recently renovated.
"We wanted to improve ease of use accessibility, safety after the lessons that we learned out of COVID but also keep the architecture that we have in place and actually highlighted a little bit more," said Library Director Emily Kornak.
The building is a mid-century modern construction built in 1954.
Kornak said special care was taken to protect the historic design by Wisconsin Native and Frank Lloyd Wright protégé James R. Dresser, uncovering characteristics long covered up by shelves of books. This fireplace," said Kornak referring to the fireplace in the lobby, "was an original part of this building, but it had been actually hidden."
Kornak said when it came time to remodel, the community was heavily involved. "Even the fundraising was a community effort," said Kornak. When they ran a 6 month campaign to raise $500,000 dollars for the building, the community gave $800,000.
Renovators took note. "They knew that it was very important to our community to preserve the architectural integrity of this building," said Kornak.
Like the stained-glass dividers. "Those were designed by Gilbertson studio of Lake Geneva, which is a stained-glass art studio," said Kornak, "the design is actually a replica of the Geneva Hotel windows."
The Lake Geneva Hotel, a Frank Lloyd Wright designed building, was torn down in 1970.
"And we have one of the original windows from the second floor of the Geneva Hotel right above our lobby window." See more here.
Guggenheim conservator Lena Stringari owns a house in an upstate community inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, highlighted in this article in Curbed.
The architecture is very demanding, I have to say,” says Lena Stringari, deputy director and Andrew W. Mellon Chief Conservator at the Guggenheim Museum, of the 1949 house and cottage she has been renovating for the past decade with her partner, Pedro Felix Perez. It’s in "Usonia," a community of 47 homes in Pleasantville, New York, which was created according to a plan by Frank Lloyd Wright — who, of course, designed the museum where Stringari works.
Usonia was developed by a group of New Yorkers who had been inspired by Wright’s idea of a “Usonian”’ house, which is, according to the architect, a “natural performance, one that is integral to site, to environment, to the life of the inhabitant. Into this new integrity, once there, those who live in it will take root and grow.” In the years after World War II, these idealists banded together to buy 95 acres of undeveloped land. Wright not only laid out the community but designed three of the houses himself. The rest were mostly by Aaron Resnick and David Henken — all in the Wright idiom: low-slung, blending into the landscape, and made of local materials. (Stringari’s house is by Henken, who spent time studying under Wright.)
“It’s a community based on an interest in sustainability and architecture that is embedded in nature,” Stringari says of the wooded setting. “Usonia was green long before the Green Movement.” Stringari had always thought she would want a minimalist modern house — a “white box with large windows” — but what she got was “no right angles, endless cypress, beautiful light, surprises at every turn.” The big drawback: It’s hard to find a place to hang art.
When she and her partner bought the house in 2010, “it was really a disaster,” Stringari says. They have been working on it with the architects Rudi Elert and Mark Rolfs — who lives in Usonia.
Wright’s and Henken’s use of concrete, glass, and cypress was part of the agenda to create low-maintenance housing that omitted any painted surfaces and Sheetrock (which has popped up in some more recent renovations but not in Stringari’s).
Stringari sees parallels between working on the current show she curated at the Guggenheim, Eva Hesse: Expanded Expansion (which runs through October 17), and her personal work on her home. “Hesse is something I have been working on for over 20 years now. This is part of what my life is like; it’s kind of a slow understanding of things and trying to do the right thing. There’s a legacy of an artist — how do you bring that into the contemporary world and still retain integrity?” Read more and see the home here.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy (FLWBC) is undertaking a special summer fundraising appeal with the goal to raise $15,000 to help general operating support.
Since the organization's founding, The FLWBC has been committed to building public Wright sites’ capacity for preservation and education. Your support ensures that the FLWBC can continue to help public sites as they face ever-evolving challenges and opportunities. The more people experience Wright’s architecture firsthand, the more likely they are to become advocates when his buildings are threatened. Public sites provide those firsthand experiences, and their success is vital to our mission.
Follow the link to learn more and make a special gift to help the FLWBC ensure that all Wright buildings are preserved for generations to come.