Thursday, September 30, 2010

Check out an interesting article on restoration efforts at our Rochester cousin, the Boynton House [click HERE]

Cincinnati Journal

I recently returned from the annual Conference of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy - this year in Cincinnati, Ohio.  This annual gathering of Wright scholars, homeowners and representatives of public sites was built on the theme of "Modifying Wright's Buildings and Their Sites:  Additions, Subtractions and Adjacencies."  This made for some interesting panel presentations and related discussions concerning buildings from the Guggenheim Museum (New York) to Taliesin West (Scottsdale) to the Freeman House (Los Angeles).  

I had the pleasure and privilege of sharing a presentation on the Martin House Visitor Center competition in a panel with some very distinguished company:  Neil Levine discussed Gwathmey Siegel's 1992 addition and renovation of the Guggenheim, Mark Hertzberg addressed Wright's own addition of the research tower to the S.C. Johnson and Son complex, Tom Kubala discussed his firm's recent addition to the Unitarian Meeting House in Madison, and Scott Perkins presented Zaha Hadid's dynamic project to expand the Price Tower Art Center.  All of these fascinating case studies grappled with the complex question of what makes a successful (and sustainable) partnership with a Wright building.  Other sessions explored the effect - perhaps inevitable - of changes to the built and natural environments adjacent to Wright's buildings.  And some delved into the question of whether a dormant Wright building can be re-purposed and still maintain something of its original form and meaning.

A highlight of these conferences is always the afternoon bus tours to various buildings by Wright and his contemporaries in the host region.  These tours offer continuing educational opportunities of a different sort - rare chances to experience the haptic dimension of these buildings in real time and space.  Memorable among these field trips was a visit to the Westcott House in Springfield, product of an ambitious (and downright heroic) restoration effort, and a tour of the Tonkens House in Amberley Village, a meticulously-preserved Usonian Automatic where gold leaf graces the ceiling of the bedroom wing.

The Building Conservancy and its annual conference have a special relationship to Buffalo:  the conference has been held here twice - first in 1997 and again in 2009.  Moreover, the Conservancy's mission - and its logo - stems from one of Buffalo greatest mistakes:  the demolition of the Larkin Administration building in 1950.  Senior Martin House Curator and UB Distinguished Service Professor Jack Quinan was among the founding vanguard of the Conservancy, and has dedicated a great deal of his time and expertise over the past two decades to seeing that no more "Larkins" are lost to the wrecking ball.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Gurdjieff! (gesundheit!)

If you're interested in Oligivanna Wright and intrigued by her mystical mentor (or if you're just into impressive mustaches), here's a free lecture that's right up your alley:

Exchanges on the Ideas of Gurdjieff:  Mathematics, Philosophy and Psychology, by Scott Williams.  Click HERE for details. 

Heavy Metal

Two prominent fixtures of the Martin House reception room - the pair of bronze firewood boxes that flank the arched fireplace - point to the multiple connections between Frank Lloyd Wright's clients, his decorative designs, and the custom fabrication of the same. 

Detail, Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building
The Martins' unique (and uniquely heavy) boxes were fabricated by the Winslow Brothers Company of Chicago, makers of architectural metalwork in iron and bronze.  Winslow executed intricate designs for Louis Sullivan and other designers of the "Chicago School" that emerged at the end of the 19th century, filling the blank slate left by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 with their proto-modern Arabesques.  An outstanding example of such work is the corner turret grille of Sullivan's Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building (Chicago, 1899).

The relative simplicity of Wright's angular design for the Martins' firewood boxes may have been a welcome departure for Winslow.  But William Winslow personally was no stranger to Wright's designs:  he lived in one.  Winslow's house in River Forest was Wright's first independent commission upon leaving Adler & Sullivan in 1893. 

Wright's presentation drawing for the Winslow House

The Winslow house may seem conservative in the scope of Wright's full career, but at the time it raised eyebrows with Winslow's late Victorian neighbors.  Winslow claims to have hidden behind his newspaper while riding the commuter line into Chicago because his River Forest neighbors were teasing him about his unorthodox new house.  Darwin Martin may have had his share of such incognito train rides, circa 1905 - though his nose would have been buried in a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Extra! Extra!

The Martin House utilizes most every building material known to man - concrete, brick, tile, wood, brass, bronze, magnesite and...newspaper.

Phase Five contractors recently found crumpled newspaper from 1920, used apparently as impromptu insulation to fill a hole around pipes in a second floor bathroom (between bedrooms five and six).  The date discernible on some of the pages of the Buffalo Commercial Evening is March 20, 1920.  This would suggest that the stuffing coincided with the changes made to the second floor in that year, when the south wall was moved outward and the northwest cantilever filled-in to create a trunk room.

This accidental time capsule yields some interesting snapshots of that day in the life of Buffalo and the nation.  The bold headline on the front page declares RESOLUTION TO DECLARE PEACE REPLACES PACT, a reference to Congressional rejection of the Treaty of Versailles and the United States' unilateral treaties negotiated with Germany and her allies to bring the American involvement in World War I to an official close. 

Local news was somewhat more frivolous:  one story tells of a quirky heist, and it bears publishing in its entirety:   

Auto Thieves Steal Pretzels, Machine, Too

Automobile thieves yesterday stole a large automobile truck loaded with 600 pounds of pretzels, property of the Lititz Pretzel Bakery, 111 Grey Street.  The machine and baked goods were pilfered from the corner of Hertel Avenue and Niagara Street while the driver, James Sweeney 40 years old, 611 Wyoming Street delivered goods in a saloon at that point.

Sweeney came out of the saloon in time to see the truck going west on Hertel Avenue and cross over the canal bridge passing down the towpath toward Tonawanda. 

The truck was recovered by police of Tonawanda early this morning.  It was abandoned and several hundred pounds of the pretzels were missing.  The tires were stripped from the machine also.

Perhaps the Tonawanda police should have put out an APB for crooks seeking to hijack a mustard truck...