Frank Lloyd Wright had big dreams for southwestern Pennsylvania. Unbuilt plans detailed a drastic reimagining of The Point, striking additions to his famed Fallingwater house, modernist apartments and more. So what would Greater Pittsburgh look like if the architect let his imagination run wild?
An exhibit coming to Greensburg aims to answer just that.
The Westmoreland Museum of American Art partnered with Fallingwater to present “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Southwestern Pennsylvania,” an immersive exhibit more than five years in the making. It will run Oct. 15 to Jan. 14 at the museum.
The exhibit will present video animations and 3D models of never-built residential, commercial and civic projects Wright designed for southwestern Pennsylvania in the 1940s and ’50s, says Jeremiah William McCarthy, the curator of The Westmoreland.
“A lot of the ideas are still relevant,” McCarthy says. “You’ll see in the exhibition that Frank Lloyd Wright, although he wasn’t trying to create a dense, skyscraper-filled urban environment, was trying to create allure to bring people from the suburbs back into the city.”
McCarthy says the models and videos breathe life into plans for a civic center large enough to house a quarter of Pittsburgh’s population, a self-service garage for Kaufmann’s Department Store, an apartment building and a chapel and gate lodge for the Fallingwater grounds.
A viewing theater set within the museum’s Cantilever Galleries will display three of the unrealized designs as video animations accompanied by an original score. The exhibit will include historical videos, photographs and original furniture from his completed houses.
“There was no one who had ever done this before,” McCarthy says. “In sort of envisioning and going into the mind of an architect and realizing these plans that were unrealized in such a way, you actually felt like you could hear them, you could see them, you could feel them.”
The Westmoreland and Fallingwater tapped Oklahoma-based design firm Skyline Ink in 2018 to complete the animations and renderings for the exhibit.
Brian Eyerman, founder/CEO and artistic director of Skyline, explains that for accuracy, he poured over historical photos, took in-person trips to the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh and spent hours with the original plans.
He says to visualize how the buildings would have looked in their actual surroundings, he rendered Pittsburgh as it was in 1953 — down to the exact street car locations.
Lu Eyerman, director of communications and operations for Skyline and Brian’s wife, noted that some of Wright’s plans were highly detailed, others were still in the design phase so Brian had to take certain “artistic liberties” when rendering the designs.
Lloyd Natof, Wright’s great-grandson and a composition instructor at The School of Architecture in Scottsdale, Arizona, says Wright’s naturalistic take on contemporary design cements him in the present-day architecture conversation.
“His work is so moving in all these other ways and you don’t realize that there’s this engine of compositional activity that is animating it,” Natof says. “And that engine is very translatable and has tremendous utility for a contemporary designer.”
“Frank Lloyd Wright’s Southwestern Pennsylvania,” will run alongside “Toshiko Mori & Frank Lloyd Wright: Dialogue in Detail,” an exhibit that highlights two of the architects’ complementary works.
Both exhibits are free and don’t require entry tickets. The Westmoreland is open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day except Mondays and Tuesdays.
Champion of women and pioneering architect Beverly Willis died recently in Branford, Connecticut. She was 95. An influential American architect, she played a major role in developing concepts and practices that have shaped urban planning and city design across the country. Recipient of the American Institute of Architect’s Lifetime Achievement Award among other accolades, her legacy lives on through the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation (BWAF) and its initiatives that aim to create a more equitable future for women in the design industry.
The foundation, which she founded in 2002 as a non-profit, continues to further Willis’s mission to empower, educate, and support women in the field, changing the culture of architecture and design. According to a statement from BWAF, before her passing, Willis said: “I founded the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation to fight to ensure that women in architecture have the same opportunities as men to realize their dreams and to be remembered.” Throughout her career, Willis worked to bring to life this vision, even turning to film as an outlet.
She led the creation of several films related to the roles of women in architecture, writing and directing “100 Women Architects in the Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright – ‘A Girl is a Fellow Here’” (2009), produced by BWAF, as well as the documentary film “Unknown New York: The City that Women Built” (2018), highlighting the many female architects, engineers, and builders behind over 200 projects in Manhattan.
On February 17, 1928, Willis was born to a country that would soon begin grappling with the pain of the Great Depression. After her parents’ divorce and their subsequent inability to care for her, Willis spent her formative years in an orphanage. From playing semi-pro softball to participating in civilian air patrol as a teenager in World War II, her adventurous spirit and propensity for hard work lent itself to her later achievements as one of the most recognized architects of the 20th century.
Willis began her career in 1954 as an independent artist and earned an art degree from the University of Hawaii in 1955. Roughly a decade later, she established her own architectural firm, Willis and Associates Architects. Ever forward-thinking, Willis, together with William Wurster and Lawrence Halprin, pioneered the concept of adaptive reuse. Her 1960s reconstruction of the internationally recognized Victorian Union Street Shops in San Francisco was one of the first demonstrations of successfully reusing residential buildings in urban revitalization efforts.
Having worked on many notable projects, Willis is perhaps best known for the design of the San Francisco Ballet Building, the first U.S. structure envisioned exclusively for a ballet company. Additionally, she cofounded the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. in 1980, a non-profit institution that offers interactive activities surrounding the fields of architecture, design, engineering, construction, and urban planning.
Always willing to embrace new technologies, Willis and her firm developed and pioneered a software program called Computerized Approach to Residential Land Analysis (CARLA), introducing the first computerized programming for large-scale land planning and design, which catalyzed change in the field. Her work in that area currently is being celebrated in an ongoing exhibition, “Emerging Ecologies,” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
The impact of Willis’s illustrious career is evident in the legacy she left behind and the continued work of BWAF, cultivating a more equitable architecture and design industry for all. Willis is survived by her spouse, Wanda Bubriski.
Julius Shulman’s photographs of midcentury modern architecture, particularly those that came to be known as Desert Modernism in Palm Springs, were in part responsible for the style’s explosive influence during the 1960s, an influence so strong it continues today.
“Julius was such a big part of Southern California modern architecture, this incredible flowering of creativity in that period. But he certainly created so many of the images that that era was known for around the world,” says architect and historian Alan Hess. Hess worked with Shulman and artist and curator Michael Stern to create the book Julius Shulman: Palm Springs in 2008 for Rizzoli. “In some ways, what we think of as midcentury modern, southern California, is Julius’s creation, his image of it.”
Shulman photographed his first modernist home in 1936, one designed by famed architect Richard Neutra. “It was the first modern house I had ever seen,” Shulman told Artforum in 2001. A self-taught photographer, he shot it using only a Vest Pocket Kodak camera. Neutra hired him and shortly after he began photographing the work of even more architects who became known as the voices of modern design, like Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolph Schindler, Albert Frey, and countless others. It was partly with Schindler’s input, actually, that Shulman began to grow as a photographer and understand the many facets of the work both of them were making. In Artforum, Shulman remembered the architect viewing his early work, reminding the photographer light was never equally distributed across all walls at the same time, which architectural photographs should also duplicate.
As his career progressed, Shulman’s photographs of architecture became almost as important as the work itself: for most of his career, he was a commercial photographer who sold pictures of his work to magazines. There became a wealth of people who fell in love with modernist design by seeing it in a Julius Shulman photograph first.
While there were other architectural photographers at the time, what set Shulman apart, Hess says, was that his photographs weren’t just of beautiful buildings, but an entire lifestyle, a mythos of the elegant and exciting future as it existed in Southern California. America in the 1950s and 1960s became fascinated by what seemed to be California’s ease, with its clean homes that allowed for pleasurable living away from city grime, Hess says.
In Shulman’s famous image “Case Study House #22, Los Angeles, 1960. Pierre Koenig, Architect,” for example, two women sit chatting in a stylish, glass-walled home that seems to look out onto a glittering Los Angeles evening. “You’re just spending your evening looking out at this beautiful city laid out before you. That’s about pleasure. That’s not about theory at all….That, I think, is one of the things people liked about California modernism, and Julius captured that,” Hess says.
Shulman passed away at 98 in 2009, and continued making work throughout his life. In the last 20 years before his passing, Shulman came to be seen by the art world not as a journeyman photographer but as a fine artist, a label he had never previously tried on himself. “He was a businessman. He made his money by selling to magazines, and that was the main media of that time. And [he was] very successful at it.
He learned what sold, what didn’t, and he worked at it in that way,” Hess said, but an exhibition in the 1990s at Los Angeles’s Craig Krull Gallery changed all of this. “He really began to see his work in a whole new way.” This led to books of his images, including Hess’s, as well as museum and gallery exhibitions, lectures, and international recognition. People came out in droves to hear him speak, have their books signed, and listen to his stories. He became the “only photographer to have been granted honorary lifetime membership in the American Institute of Architects,” according to the International Center of Photography, which also presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.
Shulman’s archive, including over 260,000 images, was acquired by the Getty Research Institute in 2005, and became a treasure trove of design history. “He was just very conscious,” Hess says. “He had an idea about modern architecture, which was as specific as Richard Neutra did or Rudolph Schindler or Pierre Koenig or the others, just that they were expressing them through their architecture, he was expressing it through his very specific photos.”
John Lautner, one of the acknowledged masters of innovative midcentury architecture, is known to architecture and design aficionados around the world for the many fabulous and flamboyant homes he designed in some of L.A.’s most coveted areas. There’s the spaceship-like Chemosphere in the Hollywood Hills, the multi-story Wolff Residence just above the Sunset Strip, and the Sheats-Goldstein Residence that cantilevers over a steep hillside in the Beverly Crest neighborhood above Beverly Hills.
Lautner studied in the 1930s with Frank Lloyd Wright, and Wright’s influence can certainly be seen in one of Lautner’s lesser-known commissions, an unassuming ranch-style home in Long Beach, about 27 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. It is the only Lautner-designed home in the coastal harbor city.
The residence, designed and built in 1951, is known as the Alexander House after its original owners, local dentist George Alexander and his wife Grace. The home stayed in the Alexander family until 2018, and tax records show it last changed hands just over a year ago for a bit more than $3 million. Now, with few visible improvements or substantive alterations, the home is back up for sale for $3.4 million.
The modestly proportioned and extensively updated home, measuring almost 2,900 square feet with four bedrooms and four bathrooms spread over one floor, sits on almost one-third of an acre in the established Park Estates neighborhood, along a curving street lined with trees and tidily maintained homes of various styles, some of which were designed by other illustrious architects, including Paul Revere Williams, Richard Neutra, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, Lloyd Wright.
Midcentury hallmarks include post-and-beam construction with interesting angles held in check by taut horizontal lines, an open floor plan, and extensive glazing that allows for seamless integration to the outdoors. Many original features, including tons of built-ins and wood paneling, are intact, while the home’s bathrooms have all been renovated, as has the sleek, open-plan kitchen with its cotton-white counters, powder blue laminate cabinetry, and matching AGA-brand range.
There’s a home office (or possible fourth bedroom) and a bathroom overlooking the walled entrance courtyard; next to the kitchen, a paneled den flows out to the backyard; and a trio of bedrooms and bathrooms are located off a long, window-lined corridor.
Carefully positioned cutouts in the roof bring light and air to the covered dining and lounging terrace at the back of the house, while a tall perimeter wall and mature plantings provide a sense of seclusion. The professionally landscaped yard was also designed for entertaining. There’s a bar just outside the den; an outdoor kitchen is complete with a built-in ceramic grill/roaster/smoker; and the mosaic-tiled saltwater pool follows the angle of the home, with a baja shelf at one end and a party-sized spa at the other.
The listing is held by Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties with Keegan Cin of the Cin Coast Realty team.
Some recent news reaches us about a Wes Peters-designed building that has been added to the historic registry of Sauk County, Wisconsin. The former Bank of Spring Green AUTOBANK in downtown Spring Green was repurposed into a residence/tiny house/ pied-a-terre in September of 2014 by owners Catherine Flaherty and Charles Guadagnino.
They completed the project with a sensitivity toward preserving the exterior and interior of the building as designed by Wes and the Taliesin Associated Architects. Because of its unique design that incorporates many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s principles, the owners thought that it warranted consideration for inclusion as a county historic site.
As part of that process, the Sauk County University of Wisconsin Extension Education, Arts & Culture Committee approved a resolution to include the building in the county’s historic registry. The Sauk County Board of Supervisors approved the resolution on September 19, 2023.
Kudos to Catherine and Charles for their preservation efforts and hopefully other owners and caretakers of worthy Spring Green, WI buildings — including the larger version of the former Bank of Spring Green (now BMO Harris Bank) and St. John’s Catholic Church — will consider making their own submissions.
Fans of architecture, amazing photography, and beautiful book design are going to want to put the new book Lost in America: Photographing the Last Days of Our Architectural Treasures by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams and published by CityFiles Press on their must-have wish lists.
Lost in America documents the life and death of America’s architectural and historic treasures. The book is based on a remarkable archive created by the Historic American Building Survey, a Works Progress Administration project that still documents the nation’s most important buildings.
Lost in America focuses on 100 buildings that have been torn down over the past 90 years. Some―like New York’s Penn Station and Chicago’s Stock Exchange―were majestic. Others―like a tiny bridge in rural Montana and a small farmstead razed for Denver’s International Airport―were modest. But they all reflected America’s story. Using haunting black-and-white images by the nation’s top architectural photographers, the book presents a timely look at what we’ve lost.
In addition to the regular hardcover edition, there is a special slip-cased edition with a Richard Nickel photo of Chicago’s Republic Building signed by the authors in a limited edition of 100 available. Be sure to get your copy today!