Thursday, September 30, 2010

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.

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