Once a month or so Marie and I have dinner with a group of old friends, all of whom happen to be particularly interested in theater and other creative arts. The subject of architecture in general and Frank Lloyd Wright in particular popped up during one such recent gathering over Indian food.  Our friends burbled enthusiastically about their past visits to various Wright buildings and how beautiful they are. 

 

     I got into trouble when one friend mentioned in an admiring tone that repairs to Wright’s buildings often involve meticulously dismantling structures and restoring them when the repair is completed.   The others nodded approvingly, but I thumped my fist on the table (gently so as not to splatter my curried chicken, but firmly enough to get their attention) and said “Time Out!!”

 

     “These buildings are notorious for needing constant repair that wouldn’t be necessary if artistic design had only been coupled with sensible construction.  It was old F.L. himself who replied to a client’s complaint that the roof leaked with the famous answer ‘Of course it leaks.  It’s a roof.’     

 

     “I’ve been spending time this week repairing something on a neighbor’s house that had already been fixed unsuccessfully twice before.  The repairs looked great, but the ceiling below leaked because the repairs didn’t start by solving the underlying problem.

 

     “Art is wonderful, and our distant ancestors created art on the walls of their caves.  Modern buildings need to be beautiful too because people won’t take care of them if they’re not.  But we need buildings to protect us (and themselves) from the elements. If they don’t do that they don’t work.  First things first, please.”

 

      My friends around the table looked at me as if I were beating my cat.

 

     Wright’s buildings are incontestably works of art.  Unfortunately, they need to have geodesic domes built over them (and sometimes all the way around them so they can stand up to the elements). 

 

    The Beatles had it right (“We all live in a geodesic dome”).  Remember:  we need to manage the elements, not invite them in for a cold one and a bowl of chips. 

 

     The tens of thousands of American Foursquare homes that are found all across the country can be beautiful as well, and they can do so without screwy dormers and what-have-you.  So can the ranch houses and the cape cods.  And many of them need remodeling, retrofit building performance improvements, and repairs required not because of their compromises of durability for the sake of art but because they’re old.  Anybody out there doing that sort of work?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comment by Chris Kaiser on July 8, 2011 at 4:35am
Sounds like this problem is not just Wright, but other artistic architects.  I was on MIT's campus a few weeks ago and was admiring one of Gehry's buildings on campus.  Though I was surprised when I looked through the windows and saw the interior of the building was lit up with Metal Halides!  Of course I'm sure Wright didn't choose this inefficient form of lighting, but still.  But then I read about how MIT is suing Gehry because of all the building problems.
Comment by Craig Savage on June 16, 2011 at 9:01am

You had me, Ed, right up until you tried to solve the problem by building a geodesic dome over the FLW structure. I've never seen a dome that didn't leak....of course the leak was usually near a section of wall that was un-furnishable, so it hardly mattered. 

 

Comment by Carol A. Markell on June 15, 2011 at 8:31am
And I was so looking forward to touring FLW homes when I'm in Chicago for the Multi-Family conference in August.

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