September 25, 2009

"Respect the vision of Frank Lloyd Wright and look to the future and forget the towers.”

Do you know about the Lamp House? What do you think of this proposal to raze the surrounding buildings and construct a giant glass box all around it?

Brenda Konkel champions the buildings slated for destruction:
[She] said what makes the Lamp House charming is the fact that it’s surrounded by other historic homes, in a largely intact historic neighborhood. “Coming in and tearing out six houses just destroys the neighborhood,” she said. “Moving the Lamp House is insane. Part of what’s special about the Lamp House is that it was put in the middle of the block on purpose.”
Here's her blog post showing those other houses, which are really ordinary. But I guess that's the idea. The Lamp House looks distinctive because of the contrast to the other old residences. Putting all that new glass around it would create a completely different effect.

But is that so wrong? I'm thinking of the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. Yes, it's radically out of context, but that's what museums always do to things. The real question is whether the recontextualization is good.


Paddy O. said...

Can they keep the other, more charming, houses and demolish just the Lamp house?

I think that would be a much more postmodern gesture, excising the modern isolated distinctiveness and embracing the community which are only considered ordinary because of cultured bias. Yet, those houses have memories as well, and meaning within the context of Madison history.

They are made ordinary because an extraordinary man sought to dominate the neighborhood and impose his narrowed, utilitarian, modern vision upon an established community.

By demolishing only the Wright house, we raise the ordinary out of their ordinariness and suggest that it is their very ordinariness which best expresses the human situation.

Indeed, their ordinariness is not even that ordinary anymore. They are expressions of a pre-corporate property construction/management philosophy which substitutes charming and real with a facade of
uniqueness. But this uniqueness is no at all unique, as the same exact buildings can be seen here in Pasadena and every other city.

It is the ordinary of Madison which makes Madison its own city. Keep the ordinary. Abolish the interloper. Raze the Wright. Keep the six. Embrace your place, your history, your being.

former law student said...

The Lamp House is nothing special as far as Wright houses go, but what's up with demolishing a residential neighborhood to put what looks like a factory in it's place?

Surely there are some decrepit factories in Madison which would benefit by the glass box treatment.

Sofa King said...

I have a soft spot for these "ordinary," century-old (or more) homes. They're like old cars - more dangerous, more work, more expensive, and more inefficient than the marvels we build today. Yet, nothing like them will likely be built for the common man ever again.

Richard Dolan said...

Hilarious, really. I'm not familiar with the Lamp House, but it hardly looks like Wright's best effort.

Works of domestic architecture don't work well as objects of veneration. That's about as far from FLW's intentions as one could get. Even if one subscribes to the 'religion of beauty' -- as an idea, it seems a bit worn out to me -- this effort to turn a so-so example of Wright's work into a secular reliquary, preserving the saintly old bones for posterity, seems nuts.

The analogy to the Temple of Dendur doesn't quite work. While we've got lots of examples of domestic architecture around, there aren't too many Egyptian temples covered with heiroglyphs dotting the American landscape. As Anne says, preserving those old bones under glass for posterity and putting them in a cultural and artistic context is what museums do. While I've never been to Madison, I suspect that its streetscape of ordinary houses is pretty far removed from that museum paradigm.

rhhardin said...

It looks like Wittgenstein's house to me.

Not new American, you wouldn't think.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

They can't be serious. The Lamp House is ugly compared to the rest of the neighborhood.

They want to destroy the homes and rip up the families who live in them to make some sort of shrine to this not very attractive Wright house? Destroy an entire neighborhood, for what?


TosaGuy said...

The National Register of Historic Places has Seven Aspects of Integrity, which is the ability of a property to convey its significance.

Setting is one of these 7 and refers to the character of the place in which the property exists. It involves how and where the property is situated and its relationship to surrounding features and open space. How the building is situated can say much about how the builder/architect concept of nature and aestheic preferences.

Don't really have an opinion, but just pointing out some relative historic preservation info.

chuck b. said...

Put a glass box around the whole block.

MadisonMan said...

My opinion is that anyone who funds a condo project in overbuilt undersold Madison will lose money.

Especially a condo that is butt ugly.

miller said...

Do we have to preserve everything old, even if it's no longer serving a purpose?

Take photos, videotape this, and then bulldoze it. It's ugly.

Sigivald said...

I'm kinda with Paddy here.

I've never seen the Wonder That Is Wright, and many of this houses are spectacularly ill-designed.

Move it, raze it, I don't care. There are more than enough remaining Wright houses and by now they're mostly if not entirely well-documented; The Ages will not scream in agony at this, I assure everyone.

Screw his "vision" and freezing an entire neighborhood forever because of Wright-worship.

Henry said...

The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a Frank Lloyd Wright interior.

This is a somewhat controversial issue. The argument is that if a building is going to be destroyed, it makes sense for a Museum to acquire it -- or parts of it. Yet, when Museums start bidding for chunks of buildings, they create a market for destroyed historical properties.

Cedarford said...

@Althouse - the artiste and docent.

I remember you were guiding tours of FLW houses and remembered your posts quite well because "docent" was a word I'd never heard before.

So, what do YOU think, Althouse? Your opinion is perhaps more informed, if not more correct about what they have planned than your readers.

BTW - You also made a fetching, if short, living column at one of the houses. Excellent Capital, truncated Shaft, tiny foot Base for the House you were helping hold up. I'm sure Meade agrees. Hope you're recuperating well from your outpatient foot surgery yesterday.

BJM said...

One wonders how many of those "ordinary" homes are the owner's dream home?

This is not only wrong from a fairness point of view, it's incredibly stupid management policy unless the surrounding neighborhood is in decline or only partially residential.

Building multi-story, multi-unit housing will lower the value of homes in surrounding residential blocks substantially.

How many "ordinary" homeowners may suddenly find themselves under water on their mortgages?

The city, aka other home owners and tax payers, will also be required to allocate more revenue for additional services; water, sewer, police, fire, street maintenance and traffic control while collecting less revenue from surrounding homes.

Even if Lamp House was a fabulous example of Wright's design, I would question surrounding it with a large structure that may decline in appeal.

Big Mike said...

Wright seems to have had a problem with basic engineering principles -- Falling Water in Pennsylvania has needed considerable shoring up and it looks like the Lamp House will need even more. If I owned it, I'd tear it down, but obviously my trouble is that I keep thinking houses are there to, ya know, live in.

The Drill SGT said...


You need to provide som conext from whch we can evaluate the badness otf this proposal.

1. Did the city condemn the other properties?

2. Did the owners of all 7 homes sell out to a developer who now wants to build?

3. is the current zoning fine for this complex or did somebody get a zoning change?

4. no other place in town to build this condo?

peter hoh said...

Speaking of FLW, did you know that you could spend a night at Fallingwater?

Big Mike said...

@peter, yes I knew that. But I think it would bother me to (1) spend that much money to (2) stay in a place so poorly engineered.

This discusses the problems -- and fix -- for the Fallingwater cantilevered balconies. Especially read the final page. Now click on this image of the Lamp house and take a hard look at it. This place is falling apart. If you didn't know Frank Lloyd Wright designed it, you'd sell it as a tear-down in a minute. How many gazillions of dollars -- and where should they come from -- just because Wright assumed that art trumps physics?

former law student said...

Big Mike -- Deferred maintenance, neglect, ground settlement -- you should look as good after a century if no one took care of you.

If I forget to change the oil in my Ferrari, and the engine seizes, is it Ferrari Motors' fault?

Christopher said...

I think Richard is essentially right about inaptness of the comparison--we have recontextualized the Temple of Dendur because the original context has disappeared and the recontextualization is essential to the survival of an extraordinary cultural artifact.

On the other hand, the Lamp House, if we consider it a similar cultural artifact, survives in its original context. In what sense could a "recontextualization" possibly improve or protect it?

peter hoh said...

FLS, I can't speak to the Lamp House, but there is a point at which the designer has to take the blame for a design that is difficult to maintain.

And as we learned from the Kansas City Hyatt walkway collapse, design is for naught if not matched with good engineering.

We had a civil engineer come to a class I was co-teaching. I came away with a greater respect for the engineering side of architecture.

former law student said...

there is a point at which the designer has to take the blame for a design that is difficult to maintain.

True, if you are building a glass-skinned house for the first time. However, this is a standard brick house.

And alls I know is that brick houses like this one need to be tuckpointed from time to time. Considering that bricks and mortar go back millenia, I can't blame Wright for the owner's neglect. Even the finest galvanized metal rusts. etc.

lumiere said...

Ain't gonna happen. This is Madison where tearing down a single house, let alone an entire block, is much more difficult than tearing down the Berlin Wall. By the way, how much TIF money is the developer gonna ask from the city for this project?

Joe said...

Frank Lloyd Wright is overrated. Many of his designs are brilliant, but far to many are hideous. Unfortunately, many of the brilliant looking designs suffer from piss poor engineering.