Saturday, March 30, 2013

THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION

A view through a pier cluster in the Martin House westward along the long axis of the building
Martin House first floor plan with red arrow delineating vista from "A" (Plan courtesy Hamilton Houston Lownie Architects)

As the restoration of the Martin House progresses aspects of Wright's design that were lost in the mid-Twentieth century through neglect and vandalism are gradually coming to light, among them astonishing vistas through layer after layer of art glass. The photographic image above was taken from point "A," between the living room and the library  (see red arrow on the plan) looking through the two sets of pier clusters that flank the main entrance, across the reception room, through another pier cluster, and on into the outdoors -- six windows, altogether too many to capture photographically but the effect is mesmerizing to the naked eye. Multi-functioning, the pier clusters provide structural support, contained heat elements, served as book shelves and space dividers, and carry most of the light sconces. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

YOSHIHARU TSUKAMOTO VISITS THE MARTIN HOUSE

Yoshiharu Tsukamoto (photo by Alec Frazier)
The Darwin D. Martin House held a magnetic fascination for Yoshiharu Tsukamoto --  partner with Momoyo Kaijima in the prominent Tokyo-based architectural firm Atelier Bow-Wow -- enough to take a tour after an up-all-night trip to Buffalo and immediately prior to lecturing at UB's School of Architecture and Planning. The affinity had less to do with the fact that Wright went off to Japan for three months while the Martin, Heath, and Barton houses and the Larkin Building were under construction and less to do with Wright's six-year campaign to design and build the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (1916-1922) but a more to do with a predominant interest in both firms' practices with domestic architecture. Mr.Tsukamoto opened his UB presentation with a panoramic view of a vast swath of Tokyo neighborhoods where space for new construction is rare, precious, and often miniscule. He and his partner have built scores of small houses as well as public spaces by operating  somewhat like urban surgeons. Their remarkable creativity has earned them commissions in Italy, China, Denmark, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin and Linz, Austria, despite the current rage for the more bombastic work of the architectural stars. Pictured below is Atelier's Bow-Wow's "Split Machiya house," (the one in the middle) so-called for its division into two two-story buildings with a courtyard between them. Given the scale of this house one can not help thinking that the 1.5 acre Martin House site, and what Wright did with it, must have seemed to Mr. Tsukamoto like an embarrassment of riches. 


Atelier Bow-Wow, Split Machiya House, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 2011 (photos by  Manuel Oka)

Why "Atelier Bow-Wow"? I didn't get a chance to ask Mr. Tsukamoto about the source of the firm's name but they seem to have a certain affinity for little dogs. Their work is endearing and playful but remarkably creative within circumstances that are often tightly constricted.


Atelier Bow-Wow chair (woof woof)
   

Saturday, March 9, 2013

THE HISTORIC CONTEXT OF THE DARWIN D. MARTIN HOUSE





The immediate neighborhood surrounding the Darwin Martin House is rich in  late nineteenth century architecture. The curving street pattern [E] of the Parkside neighborhood was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Directly south of the Martin House stands the 1888 Tudor style home of William Wicks [D], partner of Edward B. Green who dominated Buffalo architecture at every level for over forty years.
Fig. D. William Wicks, Wicks House, Jewett Parkway, Buffalo, NY, 1888 (J. Quinan)


Fig. C.  Silsbee, Marling and Burdett, Church of the Good Shepard, Jewett Parkway, Buffalo, NY (Skyscrapercity.com) 

The Church of the Good Shepherd [C], east of the Wicks House, was initially designed by Silsbee and Marling but subsequently reworked by Marling and a new partner, Herbert C. Burdett, who came to Buffalo from the office of H.H. Richardson. J.L. Silsbee began his practice in Syracuse but relocated to Chicago where he flourished as a domestic specialist. Together with James Marling, Silsbee maintained an office in Buffalo where they designed numerous Victorian homes on Linwood and Delaware avenues and North street, but Silsbee is best known for hiring the young Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago in 1887. Wright had this to say about him in his autobiography:

Silsbee could draw with amazing ease. He drew with soft, deep black lead-pencil strokes and he would make remarkable free-hand sketches of that type of dwelling peculiarly in his mind at the time… His work was a picturesque combination of gable, turret and hip, with broad porches, quietly domestic and gracefully picturesque. [Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography (New York, 1943)]



Fig. B. E.B. Green,  Dr. Benjamin Grove House, Jewett Parkway, Buffalo, 1888 (J. Quinan)
Fig. 1. Bruce Price, Chandler House, Tuxedo Park, N.Y. 1885
Fig. 2. Frank LLoyd Wright, Wright Home, Oak Park, Illinois 1889
Across Jewett Parkway to the north of the church resides the Dr. Benjamin Grove House by Green & Wicks, a design with an intriguing lineage. The upper two floors of the front fa├žade are comprised of an isosceles triangular pediment that overhangs a pair of symmetrical half octagonal bays. According to Vincent Scully (The Stick Style and the Shingle Style, 1952) this motif first appeared in Bruce Price’s Chandler [Fig. 1]  and Kent houses, both built in 1885-6, in Tuxedo Park, New York, and was the inspiration for Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1889 home in Oak Park, Illinois [Fig. 2]. It seems that E.B. Green and Wright were looking at the same sources published in 1886.


Fig. A.  E.B. Green, Swiss Cottage Style House for Dr. Grove, c1890 (J. Quinan)
East of Wright’s George Barton House on Summit Avenue stands a marvelous Swiss Cottage by E.B. Green [A], also the property of Dr. Grove. Altogether the three Green and Wicks houses – Tudor, Swiss, and Shingle style -- bear testimony to the ready eclecticism that sustained the firm so long and established a foil for Wright’s radical critique of American architecture, so well represented here in the Darwin D. Martin House.


Fig. 3 Darwin D. Martin House, Buffalo, NY 1903-1906 (J. Quinan)





Wednesday, March 6, 2013

THE MUSIC OF WILLIAM C. WRIGHT



William C. Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright

Any serious attempt to understand Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture has to embrace the degree to which Wright was involved in music. He writes in his autobiography of a painful early memory: 

At this time a nervously active intellectual man [Wright’s father] in clerical dress seated at the organ in the church playing. Behind the organ, a dark chamber. In the dark chamber, huge bellows with projecting wooden lever-handle. A tiny shaded oil lamp shining in the dark on a lead marker that ran up and down to indicate the amount of air pressure necessary to keep the organ playing. A small boy of seven, eyes on the lighted marker, pumping away with all his strength at the lever and crying bitterly as he did so.

You might think that Wright would have grown to hate music, but no, subsequent accounts of life in the Taliesin Fellowship that include Curtis Besinger’s Working with Mr. Wright (1995), Randolph Henning’s At Taliesin (1992), Priscilla J. Henken’s Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright (2012), and others, attest to the constancy of serious music in the life of Wright and those around him.  As Henning has written:  the “music omnipresent and important,” even to the broadcast of the music of Beethoven across the valley from the belvedere atop Taliesin.

It is of considerable interest, then,  that David Patterson, a musician and musicologist in Oak Park, Illinois, has obtained funding through the Kickstarter program that has enabled him to gather and record twenty-one pieces of music composed by William C. Wright, the architect’s talented and restless father. I will leave the evaluation of Mr. Wright’s compositions to others better qualified but Patterson’s 31 pages of program notes are a boon to anyone interested in Wright and altogether “The Music of William C. Wright” deepens our understanding of both the architect and his father. As Wright tells it, his father passed quietly and briefly through his life but left one indelible message:

Father sometimes played on the piano far into the night, and much of Beethoven and Bach the boy learned by heart as he lay listening. Living seemed a kind of listening to him – then.
            Sometimes it was as though a door would open, and he could get the beautiful meaning clear. Then it would close and the meaning would be dim or far away. But always there was some meaning. Father taught him to see a symphony as an edifice – of sound!