December 23, 2011

The unseen Frank Lloyd Wright house.

This is how close we got to Samara when we were in West Lafayette, Indiana the other day.



This just looks closer:



But here's a delightful 10-minute video interviewing the original owner of the house in the house where he still lives:

63 comments:

MadisonMan said...

I recently read that another Wright house -- the one in Rockford -- is being sold by its original owners as well -- a couple in their 90s!

The husband has been in a wheelchair and Wright designed the house with that in mind.

Correction: Has been sold.

Pastafarian said...

I hate to play Philistine again, but:

I just don't get what people like about FLW houses.

This one looks like a shitty split-level from the 70s, with garish green and yellow furniture. Sure, it was made in the 50s, so it was 20 years ahead of its time. But it's not timeless, like good architecture. It's now dated. He was a visionary because he hid the enormous console TV; too bad he didn't see flat-panels coming.

And I wonder how long that radiant heat system (copper pipe embedded in the concrete sub-floor) will last. No heating system lasts forever, but some are much easier to replace than tearing up the entire slab.

Even the landscaping is hideous -- you can't even see this short squat little house. It looks like it's being gang-banged by little ornamental trees.

Pastafarian said...

And the guy must avoid walking on his own special FLW rugs -- otherwise, what would you do when they wear out?

It's like living in some sort of museum exhibit -- and the exhibit is "house of the future" as imagined in 1950.

YoungHegelian said...

@Pastafarian,

I have to jump on the Philistine bandwagon with you here, buddy.

When I saw FLW's Falling Water house in PA, my thought was of the line from John Water's film "Female Trouble" -- "Who wants to die for art?"

I asked the custodial staff (it's now owned by the state of PA) if it was a maintenance nightmare, and they said it was. The water always wins in the end.

ErnieG said...

Back in the '60s, I lived in Lakeland, Florida, a few blocks from Florida Southern College. The campus was laid out, and the buildings were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It's a beautiful place, but it has its problems. I used to use the library, and had to watch out for head-bangers while going up and down stairs. The covered walks around the campus has slanted supports - more head-bangers. He may have been a genius and all, but he didn't like tall people.

The old library is now used for offices. The new library is large and spacious, and doesn't look "Wrighty" at all.

DocInKY said...

Having grown up in Oak Park, Illinois, I have had the pleasure of seeing all of Wright's houses there - spanning years of his work. The evolution is really interesting as his style changed. His house itself is well preserved and had many inside advanced design features for the time.

If you ever get to Oak Park and have the time, take the tour (both the house tour and the street walking tour). It is well worth it.

The Elder said...

Good grief. Some people never let facts interfere with their determination to be Philistines. To say such things without even visiting the home

I have been in the home several times, beginning 51 years ago when I was 8. It is unique, it is beautiful, and it was magnificently designed to serve the lifestyles of Professor and Mrs. Christian. Many of the decorative touches and furnishings were added by the Christians as they became able to afford them, but their additions always were true to the original design and to Mr. Wright.

Had other owners of Frank Lloyd Wright homes treated their designs with the respect that the Christians did, we would have many more examples of the artistry of Mr. Wright.

Like all works of human creativity, some architectural designs function better than others. Samara has been a life-long labor of love for Prof. Christian and is a wonderful and functional treasure.

But if someone is determined to be a Philistine, that wouldn't matter. Opinions wouldn't need to be based on information, knowledge, or actually by experiencing the space. Sheesh.

TML said...

I won't eneter the raging archimatecture debate. I will merely agree that the video was, indeed, delightful.

Harrington said...

@Pastafarian

More than a little truth in what you say, numerous of his projects have serious flaws, (one in Mississippi is supposedly sinking), but my first experience with one was awe-inspiring. I was very young, didn't have a clue as to who FLW was, but instinctively knew I was at a house that was truly unique. This was the Palmer house in Ann Arbor. One of the Palmer family supposedly said "when you live in a Wright house, you live the way Wright wants you too". If you get a chance to visit some of his projects, I recommend doing so.

Jeffrey said...

Ann,

Comma after Indiana, please.

I've been noticing people often dropping the comma after both years and states. Although I belong to the descriptive camp of linguists, this is one situation where the deletion of a comma makes no sense to me.

David said...

Nice gate.

Hope the house isn't leaking too much.

YoungHegelian said...

@Elder,

Exactly who was talking about architecture they hadn't seen in this thread?

What Pasta & the rest of us are claiming, inter alia, is that form should follow function, and that FLW is not always too good about that. Not exactly a new & radical thought in architecture.

There is, after all, a bit of history of "the little people will live in my building as I want them to" in 20th architecture (e.g. Le Corbusier), & I don't think FLW was immune from that pernicious influence.

rhhardin said...

It's a tough test for the Wright house, with all the rain.

His aircraft engines were better.

garage mahal said...

Also, "a lifelong labor of love" is not what most people are looking for in a well-built home.

I'm going to go waaaaay out on a limb here and guess most people don't live in a FLW home, and those that do, actually like the quarks.

Lionheart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Don't Tread 2012 said...

Buffalo boasts a FLW-built home, the Darwin Martin house.

ALH said...

The scream you are hearing is from lefties who just found out that Walker is Governor of the year.

gail said...

I too thought the video was delightful, and the owner is obviously satisfied and proud of his house.

I'd rather live next to Sumara than some 2000's-era development house where the front door is hidden behind the 3-car garage.

WV: droness...primary architectual style of the development I see from the barnyard.

Old Dad said...

The house is literally on the northeastern border of Purdue University, about 200 yards or so from the football stadium. It's beautifully hidden by the landscape. Almost no one knows it's there, let alone that it's a FLW house. I guess it's an acquired taste. I personally think it's gorgeous. There are lots of cheesy knock-offs on the west side that do look like crappy split level dreck. But not this one.

edutcher said...

The Blonde and I would see Falling Waters occasionally on our way to the Woodlands resort in PA.

It's easy to see why it was so iconic in it's time, but, yeah, Pasta's right about the split level thing aging poorly over time.

And YoungHegelian speaks an eternal verity - the water always wins.

shiloh said...

Walker is governor of the year.

And Hitler was Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1938.

>

We now return you to FLW.

Curious George said...

FLW stole a lot from the Arts & Craft movement.

deborah said...

I have wondered about the flat, boxy house designs, such as this and the water fall house, but also some in the desert Southwest, adobe-syle. What is beauty, and why don't I find them very appealing? The one in the vid is pretty, with its copper fascia and how it snuggles into the landscape.

deborah said...

Walker seems like an ideal VP candidate.

edutcher said...

He'll make an excellent POTUS in 8 years.

garage mahal said...

Walker seems like an ideal VP candidate.

He'll make an excellent POTUS in 8 years.


Walker will have free time coming up soon. He's all yours!

rocketeer67 said...

Garage accidentally typed out the above comment while pounding his head on the keyboard.

rocketeer67 said...

I like most of the Wright houses and buildings I’ve visited, and I think I could be comfortable living in one. I think most of the physical problems associated with his houses can be attributed to the fact that his ideas so far outstripped the building materials and technologies available to him in his day.

rocketeer67 said...

FLW stole a lot from the Arts & Craft movement.

He and Elbert Hubbard took Arts & Crafts and made it submit to American will. Which is just how we roll.

gk1 said...

What do you expect when you leave a work of art out in the rain? :-P
That was a standard jibe of FLW's work during his lifetime. I think his architecture is delightful and wish more of his sense of space penetrated the houses we live in today.

Chuck66 said...

I had a chance recently to visit, not a Wright designed home, but a Write inspired home in Western Wisconsin.

The owners have maintained it very well, but have not remodeled it. So instead of tacky out-of-date updates, you have a house that looks like a Wright house as built.

The Praire style, the exposed stone, decent sized windows overlooking a wooded hillside (that serves as their front yard). Even the built into the wall display cases. I love it.

Chuck66 said...

You kids must visit Mason City, Iowa. The Wright hotel was just restored. I understand it is quite nice. There is also a Wright house there, and some Wright inspired houses the make a pleasent stroll through the neighborhoods east of downtown.

James said...

I worked in the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Adminstrative Building for several years and developed a love/hate relationship with it. The building is spectacular but leaked like a sieve; I remember going on two-week Christmas break in 1998 and returning to find my office flooded. Right now all the glass tubing is being replaced.

The Research Tower is closed since it can't be brought up to code but I used to sneak up there in the elevator that looked more like a dumb waiter than something to carry people.

ALH said...

James -
that entire tower is no longer used?
Are there plans to take it down?

Chuck66 said...

When you are inside a FLW building, no matter how stylish and cool the building looks, you realize that much of the interior is really much like the interior of any building built in the 1930-50s. So you get things like the small elevator, some dated woodwork, and other things that haven't aged well.

James said...

James -
that entire tower is no longer used?
Are there plans to take it down?


Yes, the entire tower is closed; I was told it can't be brought up to code because of the narrow stairways. Since its on the Historic Register I don't think it can be torn down.

virgil xenophon said...

FLW, iconoclast that he was admittedly had a thing about low ceilings, he of the "height challenged." Falling Water is a prime example. Wright also designed his own custom built-in furniture and purposely made his residential hallways too narrow for people to truck in their own furniture to the bedroom, etc. As several have pointed out here, Wright wanted people to live in his buildings as he thought they should live in them. And is ego wasn't small either, to say the least. My favorite quote of his from his autobiography "A Testament" is about the piano (of which he was famously fond and an eager student): "If I had seriously taken up the piano I'd have been better than Beethoven." LOL!

rick said...

"And Hitler was Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1938."

And our maximum leader won the Nobel Peace Prize.

He also could be in line for the drone launcher of the year award.

Steve Austin said...

I think the Scott Walker commentary in this thread is actually fitting.

Frank Lloyd Wright is indeed a patron saint for the homes of the Madison professori. When I went to UW and we would be invited over to the profs houses, they invariably had all the Wright like trappings.

Low ceilings, narrow hallways, the burnt yellow carpet and bonsai trees. For some reason those style homes just scream liberalism in the same way the Brookfield McMansions scream GOP.

T J Sawyer said...

I started collecting on-location pictures of FLW properties some years ago. A fun hobby.

We have his an FLW doctor's office and his only gas station here in Minnesota. Both are readily accessible.

An architect friend has long admired the creativity but pointed out that most of them leak and have other practicality issues.

And as for FLW's love of that new high-tech building material called plywood? Well ...

Cheryl said...

Yes, a delightful video. Thank you.

I am a little sad that no one will get to live in the house after the professor and his wife are gone. Looking at the interior is not the same as living in it. I love many things about it but would very much like to see the bedrooms. Also, that hallway looked way too narrow!

Homes were meant to be lived on them and used. I'm dealing with a similar situation right now--trying to buy a house and farm that is currently in the owner's will to be left to the town as a nature preserve. It's a farm, has been for over 200 years, and it should be lived on and farmed. (He's afraid of developers. We just have to continue talking and convincing. One day, maybe.)

I digress. Lovely home, lovely man.

James said...

@virgil xenophon:

I didn't know those were common characteristics of FLW buildings but you described the building I worked in exactly.

The ceilings were very low in many parts; I'm 6'7" and I found myself instinctively ducking quite a lot. The ceilings were probably 7 to 7.5 feet high but I always felt that I was about to hit my head.

I remember that after about a week or so the company sent an industrial hygienist to shadow me for a day. She recommended that I move to another location but I didn't want to be away from my colleagues. They ended up having to put blocks under my desk to raise it about 5 inches but the chairs were surprisingly comfortable athough they looked really weird.

bagoh20 said...

I agree with what Pasta said, and I still love it.

My home, which is a tract house built in 1954 along with hundreds of others has some of those 1950's ideas: sliding pocket doors, a lot of built in stuff and hidden spaces. It's very dated now, a little funky, and I like it anyway. I've had to remodel most of the home just because of wear, and I wish I had taken more time to design in some more funk of my own. I did a little of that, adding one of a kind elements, but I really envy how much men like Wright accomplish in a life.

Stuff like that is what makes me want to live forever, just to spend one life after another as a student of different endeavors:

an architect, a musician, a writer/ traveler, a rich philanthropist, a rogue and playboy, a biologist, a doctor, a photographer, a member of the rat pack, an old style camp counselor, a navy seal, a chef, and Chuck Norris.

bagoh20 said...

I'd also like to have been Jack's girlfriend in the movie "Titanic".

deborah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
deborah said...

lol bago, time to switch to the decaf.

bagoh20 said...

Yea, I'd like to spend my winters thinking up interesting ways for kids have fun and learn, and then spend the summers torturing them with my creations. It would be a ball, and outdoors. Outdoors is always good.

deborah said...

Make it work.

Carol_Herman said...

I loved the house! And, I loved this post. Let alone that you get the owner ... who is now the age Frank Lloyd Wright was when he designed this place.

It took a lot of love.

The video was mezmerizing! (And, at the end of it you see the living room full of school kids! No one was worried about the rugs!) Imagine what it's been like for all those lucky students. CAROL

Craig said...

What Pasta & the rest of us are claiming, inter alia, is that form should follow function

Oh, really? And what universal truth supports that assertion? Form can follow anything the designer wishes. Oh, I've got it. It's an opinion.

FLW-bashers are an interesting lot. Sort of make you think they're being contrarian. Y'know, just because everyone likes him so much. Come to think of it, they're a lot like good ol' F in that respect.

Chip Ahoy said...

Honey, I realize we're just married and have budget considerations and everything that I keep mentioning, that means not enough having money, by the way, but whatchyasay we get Frank Lloyd Wright to build us a house? Huh?

Toni said...

Frank Lloyd Wright, Mason City, Iowa. The historic Park Inn Hotel is the only Wright designed hotel left in the world. There's a nice slideshow online. We also have the Stockman house with tours.
Meredith Willson of "Music Man" fame grew up here in "River City". We have the Music Man Square with streetscapes where many community events are held.
We're quite proud to have a small claim to fame.

Freeman Hunt said...

My home, which is a tract house built in 1954 along with hundreds of others has some of those 1950's ideas: sliding pocket doors, a lot of built in stuff and hidden spaces. It's very dated now, a little funky, and I like it anyway.

I like my dated 1970 house too. There is a pull down 8 track player and a turntable built into the wall of the kitchen along with one of those home wide intercom systems. We never use any of that, but it's sort of goofy and fun.

garage mahal said...

FLW-bashers are an interesting lot.

The more things change the more they stay the same

d-day said...

FLW is a big presence in this town (hell, I've lived on a street named after him) but I never understood the hype until I saw it person. His repeating motifs seemed kitchy and cheap, with the dated 70s colors - like old logos for discontinued products or styles.

In person it's completely different. What you can't understand is the scale, and the texture. All those jagged little surfaces invite you in - they draw you closer to pick out the patterns, you want to get close and touch them, but get too close and see how sharp they must be. The textures position you in the space - when you walk into the room, you actually relate to it, and it to you. Then I got it.

Thanks for the video.

Steve Koch said...

I love FLW's architecture and have bought and read a handful of books about his architecture (OK, they were mostly pictures). He created beautiful buildings and was innovative in his use of cantilever, windows, siting, concrete and concrete block, integrated design carried throughout the entire house (including furnishings), etc.

It is true, however, that his houses' roofs tend to leak.

Falling Water is a spectacular design but, in retrospect, was it best to build the house on top of the waterfall? Why not build it where the occupants could see the waterfall from an ideal perspective? This approach would also have tremendously reduced maintenance and made the house less vulnerable when the river flooded.

Form may not have to follow function but form cannot be dysfunctional.

Steve Koch said...

FLW's Usonian houses (of which he designed around 100 and built around 60) were an attempt by FLW to make affordable houses and at least some of them were bought by clients of modest means (but excellent taste).

My parents built their dream home based on a design by a student of FLW. It was extremely horizontal (including a flat roof), featured lots of glass and cantilevered architecture and a passive solar design that worked very well. My dad was the general contractor and very closely oversaw all the details of building the house. BTW, the roof never leaked a drop.

Chuck66 said...

Toni, I've passed through Mason City several times on trips to Iowa (I can't stand I-35 as it is the most boring freeway in the midwest...so often take the 2 lane roads). Also have had meetings there as it is centrally located for attendees of said meetings. Finally one time I purchased a walking tour guide book of Mason City. Now I need to get back there with some free time and walk around the town. Check out more of the buildings.

Carnifex said...

As a carpenter with 30 years of experience with all phases of construction I will say this. FLW was a wonderful designer, a fair architect and a poor engineer.

An apocryphal story I heard about Falling Waters is that the original builder added twice as many floor joists as Wright called for in the cantilevering, and it still sagged. I do know that upkeep on it has been a nightmare.

Another apocryphal tale told by carpenters is the way to make an architect is to take a carpenter, and beat him senseless. :-)

True story time:

When I was working on amusement parks, our architect would come in with a sketch that he had already "sold" the client on. He would tell us "Make it look like this." After we were done, he would come in, get all the measurements, then draw them up. He would then ship the drawings to an engineer to approve them. After approval he would show the client the plans, we would ship the building to where ever, and rebuild it in a couple of weeks.

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Craig said...

I think the Richard and Berenice Smith house built by Wright in Jefferson in 1951 is on the same block as the parsonage where my dad and his family lived from 1929 until 1931. The circular drive entrance to the Meadow Springs Golf Club should be across the street. The golf course was built in the early 20s.

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ESFtest said...

I am a volunteer with SAMARA. The house was designed with a specific family and their needs in mind, which was met. Dr. Christian still lives in the house and continues to follow his plan of allowing visitors to see the house as Mr. Wright designed it. Many of the principles used in the house are currently seen in new construction. I would suggest reserving judgment about the house until you have experienced it as a guest that has sat on the furniture, walked on the rug, enjoyed the in-floor radiant heat and stood under the flat roof that has not leaked.