Monday, August 12, 2013


The Darwin D. Martin House (from Ausgefuhrte Bauten und Entwurfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (Berlin, 1910)
A committee of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy has been working on Key Works of Modern American Architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright, a serial nomination of ten Wright buildings as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003. When the ten buildings were chosen I was not on the committee but when I eventually joined I was dismayed to learn, and objected, that the Darwin Martin House was not included, especially considering that the Martin House closely follows the basic plan configuration of Wright's prototype Prairie House, "A Home in a Prairie Town" of 1901 and the whole Martin complex represents five variations on that basic cross-axial scheme. The sole representative of the Prairie House on the World Heritage nomination is the Frederick C. Robie house in Chicago. People who have toured both sites -- one a relatively brief experience, the other easily filling two hours --cannot understand how the Robie House was chosen. A major reason has to do with the portion of the guidelines of the World Heritage Site commission that have to do with Authenticity and Integrity. These are rigorous (and were made even more so in 2007). A portion of the guideline on Authenticity reads:

In relation to authenticity, the reconstruction of archaeological remains or historic buildings or districts is justifiable only in exceptional circumstances. Reconstruction is acceptable only on the basis of complete and detailed documentation and to no extent on conjecture.

As for Integrity here is some of the language:

Integrity is a measure of the wholeness and intactness of the natural and/or cultural heritage and its attributes. Examining the conditions of integrity, therefore requires assessing the extent to which the property:
a) includes all elements necessary to express its outstanding universal value;
b) is of adequate size to ensure the complete representation of the features and processes which convey the property’s significance;
c) suffers from adverse effects of development and/or neglect.
This should be presented in a statement of integrity.
the aesthetic qualities of the property.

The issue with the Martin House lies with the demolition in the 1960s of the pergola, conservatory, and carriage house, and their eventual reconstruction using new materials and painstaking research based upon Wright's drawings, photographs, artifacts and extensive letters. 

The omission of the Martin House remains a sore point in some quarters, particularly in the light of the inclusion on the World Heritage List nomination of the Marin County Civic Center which was built entirely posthumously between 1959 and 1964. Perhaps, one day, the Martin House will be nominated as a World Heritage Site on its own.

No comments: