UC Santa Barbara’s Art, Design & Architecture Museum is an art museum with a defining collection of Southern California architecture & design.
Between stacks of rolling flat files, Silvia Perea slides open a drawer and flashes a smile. “This, let me show you,” she says, “is a house made by Rudolph Schindler in 1922.”
Born in Vienna, Schindler moved to Los Angeles to work for Frank Lloyd Wright and went on to become a seminal designer of modern architecture in Southern California. The drawing of one of his homes that Perea has located is among nearly 2 million items in the Architecture and Design Collection (ADC), which this year celebrates its 60-year anniversary. The collection is part of UC Santa Barbara’s Art, Design & Architecture Museum (AD&A Museum) and Perea seemingly knows where each item is.
“It’s fundamental to approach architecture with artistic eyes and to approach art with architectural eyes,” said Perea, the museum’s curator of architecture and design. It’s the museum’s distinctive approach and interest in cross pollination that brings the architecture and fine art programs together.
A fountainhead for the study of Southern California’s built environment from the late 19th century to today, the ADC houses architectural plans, blueprints and other drawings and papers by dozens of iconic architects and designers. Since its inception in 1963, it has grown fantastically in size and reach.
The collection was founded just four years after the museum itself, by the AD&A Museum’s first director, late architectural historian David Gebhard. At the time, it was a visionary idea.
“Nobody else, or hardly anyone else, was looking at architecture as something that could be collected,” Perea said, “and that gave him the great advantage of amassing one of the most important, relevant and richest collections in North America.”
Through Gebhard’s pull and that of others, and as the museum also bloomed around it, the collection grew to include archives from the mid-century movement that gave us a recognizable Southern California architectural style which remains in the popular imagination today.
“It’s one of two halves of the permanent collection, the other being the fine art collection of roughly 10,000 objects,” said Gabriel Ritter, the AD&A Museum’s director and an associate professor of art history. Founded as an art gallery in 1959 with its first show — featuring German painter Max Beckmann, it later obtained the American Alliance of Museums’ accreditation in 1977, becoming the University Art Museum, later renamed the Art, Design & Architecture Museum.
The jewels in its crown — plucked from the coastal forests and deserts of California modernism (1920s–1960s) — are its nearly 290 archives of architects, landscape architects and industrial and graphic designers practicing in Southern California. Among them are the drawings and blueprints of Gregory Ain, Albert Frey, Edward Killingsworth, Barton Phelps, Lutah Maria Riggs, Eero Saarinen, Robert Stacy Judd and Paul Tuttle. While UCSB does not have an architectural school, the ADC is visited regularly by architects and architectural historians as well as by students and faculty.
AD&A Museum’s recent curatorial programs “Genius Loci” — an exhibition that highlights the unique artistry of California home design — and “ESPÍRITUTECTUAL” — an art show with clay buildings that represent the artist’s hometown of Long Beach — crystallize the museum’s effort to combine the examination of art and architecture.
You might not know the name Dorothy Liebes (1897–1972), but the American textile designer and weaver was a hugely influential figure, with her work in fashion, film, transportation, and interior and industrial design helping define 20th-century taste in the U.S.
Now, she’s back in the spotlight with her first posthumous solo show—her first in more than 50 years—at New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. The exhibition, titled “A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes,” is a celebration of the artist’s many accomplishments, her skills as a designer, and her considerable business acumen.
“Her career was so vast,” Susan Brown, associate curator and acting head of textiles at Cooper Hewitt, who co-curated the show with Alexa Griffith Winton, the museum’s manager of content and curriculum, told Artnet News. “She did so many different things, from being a Californian hand weaver, to her very prestigious commissions with important architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, to her work with fashion designers and on film sets.”
Born in Santa Rosa, California, Liebes got her start in textiles with a two-week stint at Chicago’s Hull House in the summer of 1920, taking weaving and dyeing classes. Three years later, she graduated from University of California, Berkeley, with a bachelor of arts in decorative art, architecture, and applied and textile design. (She already had a degree in art education from the State Teachers College at San Jose.)
“This exhibition changes what you thought you knew about mid-century design,” Brown said. “There’s been so many monographs written about all of Dorothy Liebes’s major collaborators—Frank Lloyd Wright, Henry Dreyfuss, and Samuel Marx. Now, hopefully people will realize there’s been a very important story missing all along. Her work was very impactful and broad-reaching, and touches on so many different aspects of 20th-century design.”
A home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—one that the architect himself briefly lived in—has listed for $8 million. Tirranna, also known as the Rayward-Sheperd House, is currently on the market and listed through Marsha Charles and Albert Safdie of Coldwell Banker Realty. Located in New Cannaan, Connecticut, the 7,000-square-foot home is one of the American icon’s largest and most expansive residential projects.
Built in 1955, the property gets its name from the Australian aboriginal word meaning “running waters,” a reference to the Noroton River which trails right by the home. Set on 15 acres of forested land, the grounds of the home were designed by Frank Okamura and Charles Middeleer and make up one of the most extensive Wright properties, featuring a greenhouse, tennis court, barn, play house, circular pool, and one-room guest house. The low-slung main home is designed in a hemicycle style—a uniquely Wright shape—and features seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a rooftop observatory, and a wine cellar that has been converted into a bomb shelter.
Inside the home the material pallet is classic Wright. Philippine mahogany decks the walls and complements the Cherokee red concrete floors. Built-in bookshelves and furniture stage the living quarters while large windows bring nature inside. The lighting, cabinetry, and furniture is all original.
The home was first commissioned by John L. Rayward, though it was Herman R. Shepherd who completed Wright’s vision after purchasing the property in 1964. In The Frank Lloyd Companion, Wright researcher and lecturer William Allin Storrer writes that Rayward was in “constant pursuit of the lowest bid,” while the home was under construction, and it was Shepherd who salvaged the home after most of these economic choices.
According to the press release, Wright himself briefly stayed in the home while working on one of his most notable projects, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The greenhouse was built using some of the leftover scalloped glass windows from the Guggenheim project.
When Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes come to the market, we’re usually talking about multimillion dollar properties. In the past year, Wright’s Randall Fawcett home listed for $4.25 million, Tirranna hit the market for $8 million, the Circular Sun House for $8.9 million, and Westhope in Tulsa was put up for sale for $7.9 million. So news that a home designed by the famed architect is available for less than $100,000 surely sounds like something out of a fantasyland—and yet, it is reality.
Located in Chicago just east of Garfield Park, a town house in Wright’s Waller apartment complex is for sale for just $75,000. Of course, this price comes with one major stipulation: The one-bed, two-bath home is abandoned and gutted down to the studs. “[It] will take an experienced professional with cash and city development experience,” reads the listing, which is represented by Joe Schiller of @Properties Christie’s International Real Estate. The façade is protected under landmark status, so new owners cannot change anything about the exterior other than repairs. A virtual tour of the home shows an interior in desperate need of some TLC, though perhaps it also represents an exciting opportunity for a Wright aficionado eager to breath new life into one of his earliest works.
Built in 1895, the building was commissioned by Edward C. Waller, a real estate developer and early patron of Wright. According to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, the five adjoining buildings were built as low-cost housing, with each building containing four one-bedroom apartments. Built before Wright’s 30th birthday, the project was one of his early commissions shortly after starting his own practice and leaving his position as head draftsman at Adler and Sullivan. “These apartments are considered among the earliest examples of subsidized housing in Chicago,” reads a plaque outside the complex. “The simplified design of the façade indicates the young architect’s departure from traditional design toward the abstract, modern principles for which he was later internationally known.”
As reported by Crain’s Chicago Business, the seller has owned the property for two decades and is looking for a “savior.” Reportedly, a group of three partners, Thomas Garrity, Sam Fiorenzo, and Jerome Guerriero, purchased the home in 2003 for $88,500 with plans to restore it, though the project became overwhelming and was never completed. Neighbors, who share walls with the run-down unit, are eager for a passionate buyer who can get the home to hospitable condition, as its current state poses threats to their homes. While two potential buyers—both professional house flippers—had entered into contract, both deals fell through. “I usually don't have trouble selling real estate, but this one is a challenge,” Schiller tells AD. “We need to find some Frank Lloyd Wright fans who appreciate the historic value of the home and are invested in the process of restoring it.”
It is the busy season for tours of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous example of residential architecture. The house was designed as a summer retreat for the family of Kaufmann’s department store mogul Edgar J. Kaufmann, famously built using cantilevers that extend over Bear Run in Stewart Township near Mill Run.
“Before the pandemic we had a lot of volunteers, probably close to double what we have now,” Fallingwater Education/Volunteer Coordinator Lisa Hall said. “We’ve been trying to recruit more.”
Hall said openings for volunteers are needed filled in many areas of the historic site. “There are over a dozen different opportunities for someone who would like to volunteer here,” Hall said. “We can find volunteers something based on their preferences and on their experience.”
Hall said there are presently volunteers who travel.
“We have people who drive from the Pittsburgh area who have been volunteering for years,” Hall said. “We also have a lot of people who are local who volunteer here.”
Hall said volunteer options run from helping in the café to helping with grounds and gardens upkeep. Volunteers are needed to assist paid employees in different aspects of the site.
“Some serve as ambassadors to our paid staff,” Hall said. “If you have time to volunteer, we will find something for you here.”
Interested volunteers need to contact Hall and come to the site to fill out an application.