Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays

As the Weekly Wright-up staff heads off for its traditional year-end retreat (to study the effects of wassail on blogging), we'd like to wish you a new year where the world is more peaceful, where prosperity grows, where good health is a right and not a privilege, where education equals opportunity, and where art and culture are celebrated.

Happy Holidays and New Year from the Weekly Wright-up!  

We'll return the week of January 4, 2010.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Rare Chair

By EJF, Honorary Chair

L and below:  Rohlfs dining chair from the collection of David Whitney 

The Martin family collection of furnishings includes a virtual who's-who of turn-of-the-twentieth-century designers.  Pieces by Stickley, Tiffany and Heintz Art Metal graced the Martin House c. 1907, and many of these remain in the collection today.  But one distinctive Arts and Crafts designer - Charles Rohlfs - is represented only at the periphery of this collection.

For years, an anecdote circulated that "the Martins" once owned a "Rohlfs dining chair or chairs" - an urban myth, perhaps, but a tantalizing one, given Rohlfs' legendary stature as one of most original designers associated with the Arts and Crafts scene of Western New York.  This tale remained unsubstantiated until 2006, when a Rohlfs chair with provenance pertaining to the Martin family came to light in Sotheby's sale of the collection of David Whitney.  

The Whitney chair can be traced confidently to "Mrs. D. R. Martin," though it is unclear which of the three wives of Darwin R. Martin was the owner.  The Sotheby's catalog entry attributes the chair originally to Mr. and Mrs. Darwin D. Martin "by repute." Although the chair was made in Buffalo in 1901 and would have been a plausible part of the elder Martins' decor, I consider the attribution unsubstantiated. There is no corroborating evidence that indicates that Darwin D. and Isabelle Martin had such chairs, either in their first home on Summit Avenue, or in the Wright-designed Martin House on Jewett Parkway.

Today, an apparently identical Rohlfs chair is included in the touring exhibition, "The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs" (American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation).  This example is from the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.  Additionally, other examples of the same chair are found in the LA County Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Two Red Roses Foundation.  The question remains: were these five chairs once part of the same dining suite?   

Given Darwin and Isabelle Martin's well-known interest in Arts and Crafts furnishings, it's tempting to think that they may have had a set of four to six of these chairs around a dining table in their Summit Avenue home.  But until we can connect these "dots" more clearly, we only know that one of their daughters-in-law once had one of these throne-like chairs, but apparently abdicated her throne years ago.  

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Spectacular Structures

By EJF, Chicag-o-phile 

 L:  corner detail showing slender, stainless steel columns, Greatbatch Pavilion 

The accolades for the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion just keep coming, and not just for the building's overall merits.  Earlier this year, the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois (SEAOI) gave the Pavilion its "Best Medium Structure" award via Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, LLP (SOM), the structural engineers who worked with Toshiko Mori Architects on the "garden pavilion" at the Martin House Complex.

This award should be of interest to more than just the "slide rule set;" it underscores SOM's role in making Mori's bold design vision for the Pavilion a reality.  SOM looms large in the history of modern architecture - from the Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower) to the 1962 Bunshaft addition to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, to the incredible Burj Dubai.  Moreover, this award from the Chicago-based SEAI provides a sense of historical symmetry to the Martin House / Greatbatch Pavilion project:  Chicago has long been the seat of innovation in modern architecture, from the birth of the skyscraper to the launch of the young Frank Lloyd Wright's career from the tower of Adler and Sullivan's Auditorium building.

R:  The Nichols Bridgeway 

But this award takes on even more gravitas if you consider the competition.  The runners-up in the medium projects category (recipients of "Awards of Merit") included the Nichols Bridgeway (Arup / Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.), a graceful pedestrian bridge linking Millennium Park and Renzo Piano's new Modern wing for the Art Institute of Chicago.  Also in the running were structurally distinctive new buildings for Loyola University (Halvorson and Partners) and Northern Arizona University (OWP / P).  The breathtaking structural achievement of each of these projects attests to the cutting-edge company that Mori / SOM's Buffalo Pavilion keeps.    

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stranger Than Fiction

The scattered pieces of the Martin House - art glass, furniture, fixtures and family ephemera - sometimes seem like holy relics from a Saint (Saint Martin perhaps?).  Like such revered bones, pieces of the Martin House have been taken to the far corners of the earth, transported and traded in secret and, at times, tragically lost.  The recent rediscovery of two fingers and a tooth from persecuted Italian astronomer Galileo attests to the lengths that people will go to preserve seemingly insignificant bits of history (or figures from history) and elevate them to sacred status by association.  It also attests to the grim absurdity of how such bits are squirreled away, only to resurface years later.  

The various vignettes concerning Martin House art glass in particular are stranger than fiction.  There's the case of the two pier cluster laylights that Darwin R. Martin once traded to a business associate for an anodized aluminum ashtray that caught his eye;  one of these exquisite panels sold via Sotheby's this year for over $200,000.  Then there's the pier cluster casement window that was rescued from sooty oblivion (behind a furnace) in an Elmwood Avenue basement by a UB student with a good eye.  That one's alive and well and retired to Ohio.

But perhaps the most bizarre and harrowing tale of lost art glass surfaced recently in response to the Buffalo News article about our new art glass book:  a reader called to say that, circa 1962, when the pergola, conservatory and carriage house were being demolished, an associate of his was witness to the demolition contractors using pieces of fallen art glass windows - broken glass and caming - as traction for their equipment on the muddy site.  I guess this would be a case of art-glass-as-kitty-litter.  I'm hard pressed to think of a more ignoble fate for these masterworks of Wright's design;  it's akin to using a Vermeer to patch a hole in the roof.

So please, when you need a little help getting your car out of the driveway this winter, don't put your Martin House window under the rear tires - give us a call instead.  We can think of a better use for it. 

Friday, November 20, 2009

Greatbatch Pavilion Honored by the AIA

Toshiko Mori Architect's Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion was the recipient last night of a 2009 Design Award from the American Institute of Architects Buffalo / WNY Chapter.  Already celebrated by the media, this project can now add to its laurels recognition in the "New build under 25,000 square feet" category from this prestigious, professional organization.  The jurors' comments invoke what made the Greatbatch Pavilion stand out among the other entries in this category:
This is perhaps the only building we reviewed that wanted to recede into its context and pay homage to a greater presence.  The pavilion focuses the visitor on the matter at hand - the Darwin Martin Complex.  The language represented in the design seems to respect and offer a tip-of-the-hat to many of the 20th century's great architects, while the reflections in the almost invisible glass envelope redirect our attention back to Frank Lloyd Wright's work.
On-hand to receive the award was TMA Project Architect, Sonya Lee, joined by MHRC Executive Director, Mary Roberts, and  Board member and Dean of the UB School of Architecture and Planning, Brian Carter.  Other notable award recipients for 2009 included:  Robert Coles, FAIA (The Robert and Louise Bethune Award), Gwathmey Siegel and Associates' Burchfield-Penney Art Center (New build over 25,000 square feet), and Iskalo Development's Electric Tower Lobby (Historic Preservation award).
The MHRC is delighted that the Greatbatch Pavilion is among such esteemed company, and thanks the AIA for its recognition of this inspiring new addition to the Martin House campus. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

See That Clip?

By E. Jackson-Forsberg, Desk Supplies Desk

In the pre-digital age of Darwin D. Martin (1865-1935), the everyday was awash in paper - newspapers (remember those?), letters and documents of all kinds. With all this "treeware" piling up, the paper clip was an essential tool to keep it organized. To this end, Darwin Martin seemed to be on a quest to find the perfect paper clip - or perhaps the perfect tool kit of clips for various jobs, large and small. His papers, reassembled at the University at Buffalo Archives, feature a collection of clip samples (no less than forty) and related advertisements and correspondence: an impromptu exhibit ready for the OCD Museum.

Martin's paper clip collection presents an interesting survey of a number of clip styles that are extinct or rarely seen today: the Staples version of Darwin's theory of natural selection. Some, including the "Eureka" clip, "invented for Bankers, Lawyers, Students and Business Men," were elegant brass constructions with a decidedly Victorian bent (no pun intended). Others show the evolution of the object as the mundane exemplar of "form follows function," resembling the common, lozenge-shaped "Gem" clip of today. Martin's collection is affixed to index cards and other paper ephemera, providing an accidental illustration of which would rust over time, and which would not stain one's documents.

Perhaps Martin thought that finding the ultimate source for quality (and cost effective) paper fasteners would revolutionize the Larkin Company's filing just as his application of the index card filing system had revolutionized their client records. In such a light, this quirky collection is not so trivial. Antiquated? Yes. Dry? Sure. But not trivial.

Now, if you happen to print out this post, please affix it to your other Wright-related documents using a fine Clipiola Italian paper clip, the official paperclip of the Weekly Wright-up.

Click HERE for a fascinating online (paperless) survey of historic paper clips from the Early Office Museum!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Genius and the Mere Mortal

It is hard for ordinary mortals to put up with geniuses. In the field of architecture,
it is hard for geniuses to put up with us ordinary mortals.

This observation was made by famed New Yorker critic and man of letters Brendan Gill, at the 1986 dedication of the Darwin D. Martin House as a National Historic Landmark. Gill was speaking of Frank Lloyd Wright's erudition and charisma as "bewitching" to the practical-minded Darwin Martin, but the statement inspires a much wider discussion of the visionary, superhuman artist (and architect in particular) fettered only by the conventional values and expectations of his client.

Extremes of this characterization can be found in both ancient tradition and contemporary culture. Consider the Old Testament description of God the Father as the "architect of the universe," or the mystification of gothic builders through the traditions of the Freemasons (inspiration for Dan Brown's new novel, The Lost Symbol). In recent years, the architect as superhuman puppet-master was portrayed in the figure of "The Architect" in the Matrix movies: a technocratic, grandfatherly figure who appears in the narrative as an abrupt deus ex machina and bears a striking resemblance to Freud (or many a nineteenth century architect, for that matter).

Above: William Blake's illustration of God as an "architect,"
with calipers.

Left: The "Architect" from The Matrix Reloaded.

Outside the realm of pure faith or pure fantasy, none of these figures ever gets to build a world on the scale or level of control that their implied omnipotence would suggest. Architects from Michelangelo to Louis Kahn have been thwarted in their attempts to re-make entire cities, their designs relegated to the utopia of the drafting board. But, should we blame the field of architecture for delusions of grandeur which clash with the realities of the checkbook and the construction site, or should we cite the tenacious cultural traditions that encourage us mere mortals to deify architects and their power to shape space?

Gill made a good point: Wright didn't shy away from assuming the guise of the god-like artist, and Martin may have been spellbound by this shamanistic role. One can even find a parallel between Wright's personal escapades and those of the philandering Olympian gods. But to keep Wright on Olympus obscures a full understanding of his work. He may have been a genius architect, but his visions were only accomplished through dialogue and partnership with "ordinary mortals" like Darwin Martin. And, at the end of the day, Wright was one as well.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Pickled Barrel (but is it Kosher?)

by EJF

The MHRC was delighted to receive a rare donation of a barrel chair earlier this year from Sandra Maddigan Moore, a Martin House volunteer. Sandra's family was the second owner of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Heath House in Buffalo, and the chair came with the house; it was passed down to Sandra's brother who used it in his home in Maui, Hawaii. Adding another curious twist to this tale, the finish of this barrel chair was "pickled," along with other furniture, cabinetry and millwork, during the Maddigan family's residency in the Heath House (1937 - 1950).

This unusual, milky finish clearly ties the chair to the Heath House during the Maddigan era, but the question remains: was it made for the Heath family or for the Martin family? And how did it make its way to the Heath House in the first place?

The plot thickens with the fact that there's no documentation of barrel chairs being specified for the Heath House. Other Wright-designed furniture, including a dining table and chairs, a sideboard and fireside armchairs are well known, but no barrel chairs appear in the historic photos of the house's interior.

Wright designed and specified six to eight barrel chairs for the Darwin D. Martin House. One is currently in the Martin House collection, one in the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and one was tragically stolen from the Martin House in 1990. There are various indications that other Martin House barrel chairs may reside in private collections. But this rough tally still leaves a few of these iconic chairs unaccounted for. Given that the Martin and Heath families were fairly close, it's possible that a barrel chair was "swapped" between them. Perhaps most plausibly, the Maddigan family might have obtained the chair as a period-appropriate furnishing from Darwin R. Martin, when the younger Darwin was acting as executor of his father's estate (c. 1940).

Further examination and research by the expert staff at the New York State Bureau of Historic Sites collections facility at Peeble's Island may shed new light on this odd barrel chair. Until then, join us in a round of applause for Sandra Maddigan Moore, who was instrumental in bringing this important piece back to Western New York. We may not be able to put this piece of the puzzle in place just yet, but at least it's in hand.

Above: the Heath House living room, looking toward dining room, c. 1907

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Know Your Prairie From Your Jugendstil

Eric Jackson-Forsberg, Ombudsman to the Fin de Siècle

Befuddled by the world of modern design? Many visitors to the Martin House arrive curious (and perhaps confused) about the myriad, overlapping movements in modern design, and come with questions about how Wright's Prairie-era designs mesh with those of Art Nouveau, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and the Chicago and Prairie Schools. These questions often require a dissertation to answer; but, of course, you may only have time for the "Cliff's Notes" version.

Never fear, there's a succinct, interactive, and beautifully designed resource to aid in this quest: the Minneapolis Institute of Arts interactive timeline of Modernism.

This online tool is enjoyable to use, and attractively illustrated with exquisite objects from the MIA's decorative arts collection (which includes the Wright-designed table and chairs from the Barton House - see also their online exhibition "Unified Vision: the Architecture and Design of the Prairie School").

This timeline and online exhibition may help to tune-up your understanding of the convoluted map of modern design. Wright's work is certainly "on the map," but stopping at that statement runs the risk of giving visitors the wrong directions.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Wright and the Workplace

by Ashley Takacs, Assistant (to the) Regional Manager

While as a college senior I have yet to experience office culture personally, I hope to join the ranks of the gainfully employed soon (fingers crossed). And, seeing that this is officially ‘Boss’s Day,' I thought it appropriate to look at the evolution of the modern American office building. It turns out that Frank Lloyd Wright and our dearly demolished Larkin building have an important place in this history.

In fact, many cite the Larkin Administration building (Buffalo, 1904) as the first modern office building. Just as Wright championed the open floor plan in his houses, he took the corporate world by storm by breaking down the walls that divided workers in traditional offices. The Larkin building’s innovative plan directed all service spaces to the corners, leaving a large atrium in the center. Unlike his prairie homes, which reached out in to the landscape, Wright’s public and office buildings - from the Larkin building to Unity Temple to the Johnson Wax building - were more insular. They fostered a sense of fellowship by establishing a virtually windowless perimeter. In the Larkin building, views out were limited to glimpses of the sky through high windows, creating an introverted sense of the company as a family dedicated to the ‘sacrament of work,’ as emphasized by the salutary inscriptions around the galleries.

To keep the interior space free from the pollution of passing New York Central trains, the building was hermetically sealed and provided with one of the first primitive air-conditioning systems. Wright’s attention to integrated detail extended to the design of the steel furniture, the first ‘system’ furniture and the built-in cabinets that lined the walls.

Years later, Wright would ruminate on the significance of the Larkin building, not only to his career, but to the way that companies organized themselves:

“It is interesting that I, an architect supposed to be concerned with the aesthetic sense of the building, should have invented the wall-hung for the w.c. (easier to clean under), and adopted many other innovations like the glass door, steel furniture, air-conditioning and radiant or 'gravity heat.' Nearly every technological innovation used today was suggested in the Larkin Building in 1904.” (An American Architecture, Edgar Kaufmann, Ed.).

For better or worse, Wright's innovations led to the advent of the cubicle in 1965 (Robert Propst, the inventor of the cubicle, has since apologized for his often bemoaned creation). Despite this retraction, the cubicle farm has become synonymous with modern offices and has been enshrined in American popular culture through films like "Office Space" and the beloved comic Dilbert. But before we blame Wright for these unsightly office mainstays, remember that cubicles re-erected the boxes that Wright worked so hard to break. So perhaps when you give your employer his or her fruit basket this 'Boss Appreciation Day,' ask him or her to get rid of the cubicles in honor of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

THINGS that go BUMP in the WRIGHT...

by Ashley Takacs, Arts & Entertainment

Wright’s personal life was as dramatic (and full of twists) as the spiral of his Guggenheim Museum. Like any Byronic hero or brooding genius, Wright’s life was infused with a level of mystery and spectacle fit for literary adaptation. Look no further than your local Barnes and Noble (or better yet, the Wisteria Shop) for proof of that -- Loving Frank and Death in a Prairie House were both inspired by Wright’s life.

While Wright’s persona has been known to overshadow his architecture, his designs have also sparked the imaginations of writers and filmmakers. The Robie House spawned a mystery-adventure children's novel – The Wright 3 – and the Ennis House in Los Angeles has served as the location for over 20 films and television shows, including the dystopic noir Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), the cult hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Joss Whedon, 1997-2003) and the 1959 Vincent Price classic, House on Haunted Hill. With its prime location in the Los Angeles hills, the Ennis house site is a logical choice for filmmakers. But it's the design of Ennis that makes this residence ideal for science fiction and thriller film genres. These narratives revolve around constructing an alternate reality, and with it’s mash-up of different cultures and eras, the Ennis House does just that. The imposing, temple-like façade and "textile" blocks reference Ancient Mayan buildings in a decidedly modern structure (the blocks are precast concrete -- a 20th century invention). This meeting of two worlds gives the house an uncanny, mystical aesthetic that sets it apart from the many other modernist homes that dot “the Hills.”

One look at the building on it’s dramatic perch overlooking Hollywood, and it is easy to see why the Ennis house has long fueled the creative minds of generations of filmmakers.

Just Bead It

by Eric Jackson-Forsberg, Business Editor

The hundreds of supporters of the Martin House - volunteers, donors, and friends - are all essential to the grass-roots efforts that have made this ambitious restoration possible. But sometimes the stories of our youngest supporters are the most inspiring. Take, for example, 11 year-old Margaux Charlier, who has launched her own Wright-inspired jewelry line, "The Wright Accessories," through Buffalo State College's Small Business Development Center's "Kid Biz." Better yet: a very generous 50% of Margaux's profits were dedicated to the Martin House Restoration Corporation.

The enterprising Ms. Charlier, displaying her wares

Margaux, daughter of Jim and Leslie Charlier, started expressing an interest in architecture at age 5, which led to her current fandom of Frank Lloyd Wright's work. And she's been beading up a storm since last Christmas, producing beautiful necklaces, bracelets and earrings to sell at one of the Kid Biz tables at the Bidwell Farmer's Market this past summer. Margaux's "angle" to attract more customers was the benefit that her sales would produce for her not-for-profit project of choice: the Martin House. The idea proved to be a win-win situation; Margaux sold $164 of her jewelry (despite one rained-out market) and presented the MHRC with $82. I don't think $82 has ever meant so much to us; you can't put a value on this kind of ingenuity and generosity.

Margaux's dad has commented that "She delighted in helping me determine the differences between verandas, pergolas and porte-cochères. Even if she doesn't become an architect, she'll have a healthy appreciation for architecture." To echo Jim's phrase, we at the MHRC have more than a healthy appreciation for Margaux's inspiring efforts.

Martin House volunteer Phyllis Ludwig,
modeling her Wright Accessories necklace

Thursday, September 17, 2009


by Eric Jackson-Forsberg, Editor-in-chief

Top: J. J. Walser House
Bottom: Barton House

Although they have slowed considerably in the last few decades, threats of extincti
on for Wright buildings are not a thing of the past. Landmarks Illinois 2009-10 Chicagoland Watch List of endangered buildings includes three Wright houses: the J. J. Walser House (1903), the William F. Ross House (1915) and the William J. Vanderkloot Bungalow (1915). The Walser House may ring a bell for Martin House fans: it's the model that Wright and the Martins chose for their first project, the George and Delta Barton House (1903-04). Walser is privately owned, but badly in need of TLC, enough to make Landmarks Illinois' endangered list.

The three Wright buildings on the list are joined by the distinctive Rose House and Pavilion by architects James Speyer and David Haid. Both studied with Mies van der Rohe at ITT, and his influence is manifest in these International Style icons. The house and pavilion are less threatened by neglect than the Wright houses are, but perhaps more threatened by the market: the property is currently for sale via Sotheby's for a cool $2.3 million, and inquiries have been made about possible subdivision or demolition. This property will look familiar to fans of the 1986 John Hughes comedy Ferris Bueller's Day Off, as the auto pavilion figured prominently into a pivotal scene involving a classic Ferrari and alot of broken glass.

If only the Walser House could claim such fifteen minutes of Hollywood fame, it might be in better stead today (insert heavy sigh).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

And Check the Oil Please

By Ashley Takacs, extra-special to the Weekly Wright-Up

The 20th century saw the advent of the autom
obile and the Martin House witnessed this revolution, with Darwin D. Martin buying his first car - a Maxwell one-cylinder runabout - soon after the completion of the Martin House complex in 1907. And with all of those cars came the need for new building types: the garage, the toll barrier and of course, the gas station.

Mies van der Rohe gas station, Chicago

As a new building typology, the gas station served as a playground for modernists who were looking to test their latest design principles. Plus, with their simple space requirements and focus on innovative roof structures, the stations left a lot of room for creativity. Unlike today’s standard Mobil station (its enduring design courtesy of Elliot Noyes), early stations were as diverse as they were functional. Mies Van der Rohe, Norman Foster and of course Frank Lloyd Wright all put their own spin on the pump. The design blog, OObject has collected the best of the best in its list of the world’s top 15 modernist gas stations. Wright’s R.W. Lindholm Service Station in Cloquet, Minnesota came in at number eleven. Wright’s signature cantilevers mark this work and no doubt have influenced contemporary stations. Sadly, the Cloquet station, currently for sale at $750,000, is in a state of disrepair.

Wright's Lindholm service station, Cloquet, MN

Perhaps Buffalo’s Wright-designed filling station, set to start construction next spring, will make OObject's list.
The unbuilt 1927 design includes period innovations like a ladies' room (so women would not have to use the greasy mechanics' bathroom) and gravity-fed gasoline hoses dangling from a cantilevered roof. The second floor features a waiting room with built-in seating. The structure will serve as the centerpiece of the Buffalo Transportation/Pierce-Arrow Museum. In fact, the station, initially intended for a site on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Cherry Street, will be erected entirely indoors, where guests can enjoy it year-round, protected from the harsh Buffalo winter. In an inadvertent nod to current "green" trends, there will be no functioning gas tanks in the structure. While automobile enthusiasts will certainly get their fill of history, they will have to go to the local Mobil or Sunoco to fill their tanks.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Walk the (High)Line

By Ashley Takacs, special to the Weekly-Wright-Up

After sustaining myself for months on New York Times slideshows and various design blogs, I finally got to live out my architecture-geek fantasy and walk the Highline in person. When friends heard of my plan, they feared I had joined a circus troupe or some kind of Johnny Cash tribute band. And while all that sounds rather exciting, my weekend in New York City was far more benign. In fact, it was merely a walk in the park – the Highline Park, to be more specific.


If they had been reading The Weekly Wright-Up, my friends would have known that the Highline is a park built on an abandoned elevated railway that once supplied meatpackers and manufacturers on Manhattan's West Side. Designers Diller Scofidio + Renfro integrated everything from the old tracks (which now host rolling chaise lounges) to the wildflowers growing among the rusted railroad ties.

The Highline’s rampant success (the media darling sees 20,000 visitors daily, among them Kevin Bacon, Ethan Hawke and Edward Norton) proves that modern cities can embrace their industrial heritage and promote sustainability, all while pleasing tourists, crabby locals and the haughtiest of architecture critics. But, as Buffalonians, it’s hard not to feel just a little left out. New York, it seems, is like the sibling who always gets the new bike for Christmas, while Buffalo get’s shafted with a pair of socks (hand-me-downs no less).

With its vibrant industrial past, the Queen City is primed for such a project. As someone who has grown up in the shadow of the derelict Wurlitzer building, Buffalo’s myriad industrial relics have always managed to capture my imagination (In fact, I’ve always dreamed of living in a grain elevator).

It turns out that I’m not alone in my fascination. Last March, I read an article buried on an inside page of the Buffalo News about Ran Webber. Webber imagines the Buffalo Skyway creatively re-engineered to function as a signature green multi-use mega-structure, complete with a glass enclosed green roof and pedestrian pathway – sound familiar? The design would effectively create a year-round garden path from downtown to the lakefront. Sadly, such repurposing of the Skyway has gotten little press since that article six months ago.

Perhaps with the Highline’s recent success, local developers will feel inspired to take the plunge. But, unlike the Highline, which had the luxury of celebrity boosters and a location in an already thriving district, the Skyway project’s risk is amplified by the fact that Buffalo is hardly booming. The stakes are greater here, but so are the rewards. Developers would be building more than a park in a swank neighborhood; they would be embarking on a project with the potential to help bring a city back to life.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Coming Attractions

See the new Fall Arts preview issue of Artvoice for a preview of Jack Quinan's exhibition "Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo Venture: From the Larkin Building to Broadacre City," coming to the UB Anderson Gallery in October.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Read the Book - Don't Wait for the Movie

Here's a confession: the following constitutes a shameless plug.

Upon returning from vacation last week, I found the first advance copy of Frank Lloyd Wright Art Glass of the Martin House Complex waiting on my desk, straight from the publisher in California. Our new book on the art glass of the Martin House Complex, this is the first Martin House-specific publication since Jack Quinan's Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House: Architecture as Portraiture (Princeton Architectural Press, 2004). It celebrates the ten-year anniversary of the exhibition "Frank Lloyd Wright: Windows of the Darwin D. Martin House" at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, drawing on some of the excellent text from the show's catalog, expanding the array of art glass illustrated and interpreted, and adding new, scholarly text in a stand-alone, hardcover book. The publisher, Pomegranate, beautifully designed, printed and bound this content into a handsome package.

Soon after I started as Associate Curator for the MHRC in 2003, I began to feel the need for more comprehensive documentation of the fascinating art glass created for the Martin House Complex. Then Executive Director John Courtin posed a seemingly innocent question to me: where did the term "Tree of Life" window come from - and when? This lead to a rapidly growing file of minutiae pertaining to the famed motif, and a growing obsession with getting to the bottom of John's question. Although I have not yet found the "smoking gun" in the case of the "Tree of Life" moniker, new insights on the function and meaning of the motif emerged, forming the basis of an essay that I contributed to the book.

From the outset, it seemed that this book was meant to be. First, Pomegranate, which has a growing catalog of Frank Lloyd Wright titles, signed-on as publisher. Next, we received a generous grant from the New York State Council on the Arts to support research and production of the book. This helped fund additional photography by Biff Henrich, needed to expand the catalog of art glass illustrated. Adding to the many photographs that he made for the 1999 catalog, Biff produced a number of skillful "portraits" of art glass not previously documented. All the contributors to the Burchfield-Penney catalog - Jack Quinan, Ted Lownie and Robert McCarter - were happy to allow their essays to be reprinted, some taking the opportunity to make revisions. Noted art glass expert Julie Sloan came on board to write an introduction, and Oakbrook Esser Studios, A-list artisans who produce exacting reproductions of Wright's art glass designs, collaborated on an interview to conclude the book.

I'm delighted that the final product seems to strike a balance between scholarly depth and coffee-table appeal. I can't thank all of the collaborators enough - from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives to Lesley Neufeld and Bernie Wagner. I hope you'll agree that the resulting book will make a fine addition to your Frank Lloyd Wright library.

Frank Lloyd Wright Art Glass of the Martin House Complex is not yet available to the general public, but we expect to have a supply in the Wisteria Shop by mid-September, and you may order the book through a special pre-publication offer; visit the MHRC website for an order form, or call the office at (716) 856-3858.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Little Hotel on the Prairie

by Ashley Takacs, special to the Weekly Wright-up

The Park Inn, then and now.

While the Martin House Restoration Corporation approaches its final phases of work on Jewett Parkway, another community of preservationists is embarking on a similar journey halfway across the country. Residents of Mason City, Iowa have formed Wright on the Park Inc., an organization overseeing the work of restoring Wright’s last surviving hotel, the Park Inn.

The group hopes to open the Prairie style hotel to guests in 2011 – a tall order, considering that the building, completed in 1909, has been in a state of neglect for over two decades. Mason City preservationists first made national headlines in 2004 when the City Council offered the building on eBay for $10 million to anyone who promised to restore it. When that failed to draw interest, Wright on the Park stepped in, and the city signed over the deed.

The $18 million complete interior and exterior renovation started early in August, thanks to numerous grants and local coordination. The task includes a comprehensive restoration of the brick and terra-cotta façade, replacement of the art glass skylights and a complete interior reconstruction – in the early 70’s, much of the space had been converted to apartments or altered to accommodate various businesses (including a strip club).

Of more than 500 completed Wright building, only six were hotels. The Park Inn’s massing suggests that it served as a prototype for Midway Gardens in Chicago, and the famed Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, both of which have since been destroyed. Perhaps even more significantly, adjoined to the hotel is the City National Bank, one of two remaining Wright-designed banks. Wright on the Park has purchased the bank, and eventually plans to reunite it with its neighbor.

For anyone interested in spending a night at the Park Inn, make sure to book early. Once completed, there will be a scant 20 suites. And Wright enthusiasts who cannot imagine a weekend without their hairdryer and cable television needn’t worry: the historic gem will be restored to its original splendor, while providing modern amenities that will appeal to today's travelers.

Click HERE for more on the Park Inn and City National Bank.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Shaw Festival

Wasmuth portfolio, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

With approximately half of Frank Lloyd Wright's designs never executed, it's often interesting to contemplate his unbuilt compositions in concert with built work of the same period. In the case of the Darwin D. Martin House, one such example that continually intrigues me is the C. Thaxter Shaw House that Wright designed for the Westmount district of Montreal in 1906. The more one looks at the Martin and Shaw designs, the more parallels emerge. I would go so far as to say that the Shaw House was to be the Martin House's Canadian cousin.

Though destined to remain in the realm of "paper architecture," the Shaw House is tantalizingly documented in the Wasmuth portfolio through a perspective and plan. These announce some of the major similarities between Shaw and Martin: their pier construction, extending, hipped roofs, bands of art glass windows, and "outrigger" garden walls. One of the main differences is that the Shaw plan is more rigorously symmetrical than the Martin plan. Robert McCarter likens the Martin and Shaw plans to that of the Imperial Hotel, one of Wright's most formal and symmetrical plans (Frank Lloyd Wright, p. 146). This strict symmetry extends beyond the "unit room" of the Shaw House, but does not in the western half of the Martin House, which hints at the Usonian "L" plans to come.

Although it demonstrates all of the "stock" Prairie characteristics, perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Shaw House is how it adapts the Prairie house to a hilly site. Such adaptations were relatively rare (e.g. the Hardy House, Racine, WI, 1906, built on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan); the Prairie House, by definition, is most comfortable on a flat, expansive site. With Shaw, the familiar, interlocking Prairie pavilions cascade down a terraced slope. Twin verandas extend at the lower level, like giant hands anchoring the house and gripping the hillside. But with all its symmetrical formality, the perspective drawing of the Shaw House recalls an imposing Roman structure such as the sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Praeneste, an austere, ceremonious presence in the design which may well have dissuaded Shaw from committing to build the house.

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives

This compare-and-contrast exercise extends also to the interiors and furnishings of the Martin and Shaw houses. An exquisite presentation drawing of the proposed Shaw living room shows many affinities with the Martin living room and its Wright-designed furnishings: a wisteria-patterned tile mosaic on the fireplace, a sofa with book storage built into the arms, a baby grand piano design, also with built-in book storage (though the Wright-designed piano was not built for the Martins either), and globe-in-square light sconces clustered around the piers. If executed, the tout ensemble of the Shaw living room would have been at least as aesthetically rich as the Martins.'

C. Thaxter Shaw shied away from the new house Wright designed for him, giving the architect the consolation prize of remodeling his existing townhouse. But even here, certain echoes of the Martin commission are evident. A drawing for the remodeled Shaw dining room shows a custom dining table incorporating planting stanchions - extensions of the legs near the corners, and an alcove designated for a cast of the Nike of Samothrace (one of Wright's favorite classical casts, often prescribed for Prairie period buildings). Sound familiar?

Clearly, Wright and his studio had no qualms about "recycling" certain interior and furniture design elements from one commission to the next - all in the spirit of testing and consolidating the Prairie vocabulary of design. Part of what makes the Martin House commission so unique is that its Canadian counterpart was never realized.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Guggenheim "From Within"

This week, I had the distinct pleasure of touring the Guggenheim Museum with Curatorial Assistant for Architecture and Design, Maria Nicanor, to see the exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward. The museum-wide exhibit focuses on sixty-four of Wright's key projects - built and unbuilt - culminating in his final, major built work, the Guggenheim itself. But the iconic package of the newly-restored building, which now re-incorporates certain details on Wright's wish-list, such as real ivy in the interior planters, becomes the omnipresent centerpiece (or perhaps "spiral-piece?") of the show.

The show faced the challenge of any major architectural exhibition: what you might call "drawing fatigue." Architectural drawings can present challenges of abstract obscurity to the general visitor - though the Guggenheim has been presenting such challenges in various media since its founding as a definitive collection of "nonobjective" art. The curatorial team for
Within Outward combat this obscurity with a number of models, both old and new, traditional and digital, that help illustrate Wright's design concepts from the relatively utilitarian (the Jacobs I Usonian house) to the utterly fantastic (Wright's expansive master plan for Baghdad). The Jacobs I model is a meticulously detailed tour de force, with the various layers of the house "exploded" in a way that emphasizes the modular and automatic nature of the Usonian concept. Other models, created by Situ Studio, offer ghostly abstractions of some of Wright's utopian, unbuilt designs, such as the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective and Planetarium and the Huntington Hartford Sports Club. Some of these make bold use of the unique space of the museum: the Gordon Strong model hugs the slope of the spiral ramp, and the Huntington Hartford model is boldly cantilevered from one of the reinforced concrete buttresses, reflecting the bracket tree fungus inspiration for the saucer-like cantilevers of the Sports Club itself.

These amazing models aside, the exhibition offers a rare, perhaps once-in-a lifetime opportunity to scrutinize over two hundred masterful drawings from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives. These often-reproduced but rarely-exhibited drawings are works of art unto themselves, from the crisp graphic quality of the Wasmuth portfolio renderings, to the radiant color and contrasts of the night views of the Pittsburgh Point Park Civic Center and Lenkurt Electric Company projects. Some of these drawings offer unexpected glimpses of history, as with the panoramic elevations of Taliesin West, drawn on Kraft paper during particularly lean times for the Taliesin Fellowship. One of the most stunning drawings in the exhibition is Wright's perspective of the "Mile High" Illinois building, his colossal skyscraper-to-end-all-skyscrapers proposal. The original drawing is over 95 inches high, its looming scale lost in reproductions. This rendering of one of Wright's most fantastic projects is enhanced further by digital animation that sizes-up various well-known skyscrapers and world monuments with the gargantuan Mile High, then takes the viewer on a dizzying elevator ride to the top of the virtual building, 5,280 feet above Chicago.

Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward is only on view through August 23, so consider hopping that JetBlue flight to New York to catch this rare opportunity for total immersion in the world of Frank Lloyd Wright. The exhibition catalog alone is destined to become one of the great tomes in the Wright Studies bookshelf, but the exhibition invites visitors to explore the rich spaces wrought by Wright's oeuvre, displayed in the Golden-anniversary reliquary of Wright's last - and most audacious - building.