Tag Archives: Frank Lloyd Wright

The ABC of Architects

30 Jan

As a follow-up to my previous incredibly geeky primer on architecture, I have to share this wonderful video on The ABC of Architects from Ombu Architecture.  So fun.

Who’s your favorite and why?


The Tracy House – FLW 1955

1 Nov

Have I really been away that long?  Please don’t feel abandoned.  I still love you all and mid-century design and our house.  It’s just that I love my family more.  With Maeve in her first year of high school and Ainsley in her first year of middle school, these past few months have been insane with homework, football games, homecoming, rehearsals for the Haunted Forest and the Nutcracker, our annual Halloween bash.  It’s amazing I’ve had time to do anything else at all.  But I have.  (Or ‘we’ have, rather.)  I have lots to share once I get it all organized.  Stay tuned for that soon.

But leave it to my friend Jenn to send me something yesterday that gave me a gentle nudge back into the blog because she knew I wouldn’t be able to resist sharing it.  The Tracy House by Frank Lloyd Wright is for sale in the Seattle area.  It’s called ‘usonian’ design, which I had never heard of and was happy to learn about.  For just slightly less than $1MM, you can own this part of history.  And believe me, if I had that money, I’d be first in line.

Bill and Elizabeth Tracy were admirers of Wright when they moved to Washington State in the early 1950’s. Bill had studied architecture, though he eventually became an engineer. Elizabeth, originally from Michigan, had taken art classes from Alma Goetsch and Katherine Winckler at Michigan State College. As a student she had visited the famous Wright designed Goetsch- Winckler House (1939), Okemos, Michigan. After establishing themselves in Washington the Tracys purchased a 100 foot wide high bank west facing waterfront lot on Puget Sound. The property had mature trees and featured magnificent views of Puget Sound and the snowcapped Olympic Mountains. They became acquainted with Seattle based former Wright apprentice Milton Stricker and initially considered having Stricker design their home. However (and much to his credit) after visiting the property Stricker told the Tracys that their property was so magnificent that it deserved a design by Wright himself. He wrote a letter of introduction to Wright which eventually led to Wright accepting the commission.

Early on the Tracys expressed interest in the specialized custom concrete block system Wright called Usonian Automatic. These houses were derived from his famous textile block houses built in the Los Angeles area in the early 1920’s. The Tracy’s liked the aesthetic qualities of the buildings and also appreciated the system for it structural integrity. The idea that they could cast the blocks themselves, thus reducing the ultimate cost of the building, appealed greatly. The preliminary plans arrived and they asked Wright to complete the technical drawing with only very minor modifications. Wright had already constructed five “Usonian Automatics” so the Tracys felt comfortable that the system was well developed. They had the steel forms fabricated locally and set to work casting two sets of blocks each day working five days a week – in addition to their day jobs as engineer and physical therapist. They cast over 1,700 blocks!!!

When telling the story it was always intriguing that they emphasized the “five days a week” as they made it clear to all that they reserved their weekends for getting to the mountains to ski, ride their trail bikes and generally enjoy nature! They hired local contractor Ray Brandes, who had built his own Wright Designed house in the Seattle area a few years earlier, to build their house. They were well served by this choice. Brandes built a sound and well-crafted building.

Bill and Elizabeth were also committed to maintaining the building in pristine condition. Due to the beauty and simplicity of the design, the magnificence of the site and buildings excellent condition it has been widely published and is a favorite among Wright fans. The building is placed at an angle across the property and is afforded excellent privacy from neighbors. The manner in which Wright nestled the building into the landscape brings the line of the landscape up to the bottom of the bedroom windows creating an intimacy that he was afforded in very few sites. The native fir trees often welcome eagles and other native birds.

It is a tranquil setting that encourages peace and contemplation. Bill and Elizabeth enjoyed these qualities. They spent time every evening listening to music and/or reading to each other. They chose to entertain friends in small groups and valued intimate quality conversation.

The House is often described as a jewel box filled with books and music. This is true in the day time when the sun floods the living room and is softened by the tile-red integral color concrete floor, the redwood panels of many interior wall surfaces and the gold toned built-in seats. Evening brings new qualities when the colors of the setting sun are reflected in the full height pairs of doors that define the living and dining area and open to the spacious water side terrace. In summer the terrace, in effect, doubles the available area for entertaining.

As the sun sets the coffered concrete ceiling seems to float on the illuminated pierced concrete and glass piers that support the roof. The perforated concrete corner blocks with mitered glass that make up these piers are repeated in other parts of the house. Three ceiling levels enliven the play between spaces and the over-all result is a compact house that causes the eye to explore and feels much larger than it is.  One has an experience approximating living in the wilderness while being only twenty-five minutes from downtown Seattle.

The Tracy house is listed on the National Register of Historic Houses.

The House and its furniture are protected by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy

House Basics:

The house will be sold with a complete set of archival documents including, original plans, bibliography,

construction photos, plans for a later addition proposed by the Taliesin Associated architects (only the

cascading pools were built), and copies of all Wright and Tracy correspondence relating to the house and a

copy of the DVD of Bill and Elizabeth describing the house and its construction to visitors. Additional material

including writings by Bill Tracy, family photos, and other ephemera will be available through the Tracy Family

archives in Boise, ID.

• Approximately 1,150 sf. Plus a detached two car carport with storage.

• Three bedrooms and one bath, Living, Dining, Kitchen facing the water view, plus utility with laundry

• Principal materials: Concrete, redwood plywood panels and glass

• Lot: 100’ Puget Sound waterfront, 31,000+ sf., located in a distinctive community on a quiet dead-end road.

• The Tracy site is part of the Normandy Park plat and thus includes membership in the beach club with

access to the club house, swimming pool, tennis courts and secure access to the private beach.

• Price $949,000.

• Shown by appointment only

• Contact: Larry A. Woodin, Executor 206.794.5276 Email


Emergency Edition of Other People’s Homes: Gladys and David Wright House

23 Jul

I am sorry the cranky rant to come, but what is wrong with the world?  Why would anyone want to tear down an architecturally significant house to build new homes?  I can only think of one reason:  Money.  It sure isn’t because the world really needs are a few more McMansions.

(Thanks to Hooked On Houses for the head’s up.  Article via Today’s THV)

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AZCentral) — The owners of the Gladys and David Wright House in the Arcadia area of Phoenix have postponed plans to develop the property in order to find a buyer willing to preserve the much-lauded home.
Photo Gallery: Frank Lloyd Wright designed homeThe house, designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is owned by 8081 Meridian LLC, which is incorporated in Nevada.

Company officials say they have been working with design and real-estate professionals, the city and conservators. They are in the middle of a 60-day waiting period, which ends Aug. 21, to find an appropriate buyer and evaluate redevelopment ideas. The company agreed to not move forward with its initial plans to develop the property during this period.

Meridian Managing Partner John Hoffman said options include finding a buyer for the property as a whole or a buyer willing to purchase the home as part of a smaller lot while Meridian develops two custom homes on the remaining property.

A selling price was not offered, and there have been no offers on the home yet, he said.

Hoffman said that if a buyer isn’t found by the deadline, Meridian will move forward with initial plans to redevelop the land, which includes splitting the property and “requiring relocation of all existing structures on the site.”

In addition to the 2,500-square-foot main house, the site includes a 350-square-foot guesthouse.

This year, 8081 Meridian bought the property for $1.8 million from JT Morning Glory Enterprises LP, which bought it in 2009 from the Wright family for $2.8 million.

“The goal is to find the best development scenario to preserve the structure while maintaining a viable redevelopment project,” Hoffman said. “We’re hopeful a buyer will step forward before the 60-day standstill agreement expires.”

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy has launched an international search to find a new buyer who, they say, will save the house from possible destruction.

Janet Halstead, executive director of the conservancy, said that despite Meridian’s desire for preservation, the possibility of demolition remains.

She said the owners and conservators have different outlooks for the home, south of Camelback Mountain, near 56th Street and Camelback Road.

“The owners are working on plans for preservation, but we have concerns on how that would look,” she said. “They have indicated that it’s not a given the house can be preserved, and we’re taking that at face value.”

Wright built the home from 1950 to 1952 for his son David. It’s known for its spiral plan and elevated living quarters. David died in 1997, and his wife, Gladys, lived there until her death in 2008.

The conservancy is reaching into its network to find somebody who might buy the home, which, Halstead said, is an important Wright building, in a class of its own. The organization is also coordinating a group that opposes any efforts to demolish the house.

She said the conservancy is looking at various options with partners as a way to transition to new ownership or an appropriate new use.

She said that, for almost 40 years, no intact Wright building has been intentionally demolished, though some have been lost to fire and weather.

State Preservation Officer James Garrison said it’s rare for an individual to buy a property with the sole purpose of preserving it, but it’s more common for a group, such as the conservancy, to step in.

“Preservation can occur more along that vein. I’m sure individuals have (saved buildings), but usually, groups of people come together to do this. That’s the more common response to threatened architecture,” Garrison said.

“But the David Wright House is a tremendous piece of architecture and a whole other ballpark. It would seem possible to find someone who has the appreciation for his work to save it.”

The initial redevelopment plan for the 2.5-acre site included splitting the property into lots, which conservators say could effectively usher in the demolition of the home.

Architects, conservators and Wright aficionados responded by requesting a historical-overlay designation that would delay demolition, and the Phoenix Planning Commission agreed on June 12 to consider the request.

The approval process could include up to four public meetings over a number of months.

Michelle Dodds, Phoenix’s historical-preservation officer, said the next meeting could be in September.

Imperial Hotel, Tokyo

20 Jun

Below is a post from the wonderful architectural blog Paradise Leased.  It interested me because though I love FLW, I knew very little about this famous building of his.  The one thing I did know was that it survived the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923 when very little else in Tokyo did.

A telegram from Baron Kihachiro Okura reported the following:

Hotel stands undamaged as a monument of your genius hundreds of homeless provided by perfectly maintained service congratulations[.] Congratulations[.]

Wright passed the telegram to journalists, helping to perpetuate a legend that the hotel was unaffected by the earthquake. In reality, the building had damage; the central section slumped, several floors bulged, and four pieces of stonework fell to the ground. The building’s main failing was its foundation. Wright had intended the hotel to float on the site’s alluvial mud “as a battleship floats on water”. This was accomplished by making it shallow, with broad footings. This was supposed to allow the building to float during an earthquake. However, the foundation was an inadequate support and did nothing to prevent the building from sinking into the mud to such an extent that it had to be demolished decades later. Furthermore, alluvial mud, such as that at the hotel’s site, amplifies seismic waves.

However, the hotel had several design features that minimized potential earthquake damage:

  • The reflecting pool provided a source of water for fire-fighting, saving the building from the post-earthquake firestorm;
  • Cantilevered floors and balconies provided extra support for the floors;
  • A copper roof eliminated the risk of falling debris created by traditional tile roofs;
  • Seismic separation joints, located about every 20 m along the building;
  • Tapered walls, thicker on lower floors, increasing their strength;
  • Suspended piping and wiring, instead of being encased in concrete, as well as smooth curves, making them more resistant to fracture.

Garden, Pool, North Bridge and Elevator Housings.

Although Paradise Leased is essentially a blog dedicated to Southern California’s historic architecture on occasion we like to veer from the text if we feel it merits doing so. I recently rediscovered a set of photos and plans from one of the great lost buildings of the world – Frank Lloyd Wright‘s stunning Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan and wanted to share. These photos appeared in the April 1923 issue of The Architectural Record and accompanied an article by the great Louis H. Sullivan himself. I thought you would enjoy seeing the pictures and floor plans as well as some excerpts from Sullivan’s florid text and mourn with me the loss of this visionary masterwork.

Roof of Pergola, Looking into Garden Courts

This great work is the masterpiece of Frank Lloyd Wright, a great free spirit, whose fame as a master of ideas is an accomplished world-wide fact.

Entrance to Social Group

In this structure is not to be found a single form distinctly Japanese; nor that of any other country; yet in its own individual form, its mass, and subsidiaries, its evolution of plan and development of thesis; in its sedulous care for niceties of administration, and for the human sense of joy it has expressed, in inspiring form as an epic poem, addressed to the Japanese people, their innermost thought.

End Pavilion

In a sense it is a huge association of structures; a gathering of the clans, so to speak.; it is a seeming aggregate of buildings shielding beauteous gardens, sequestered among them. Yet there hovers over all, and as an atmosphere everywhere, a sense of primal power in singleness of purpose; a convincing quiet that bespeaks a master hand, guiding and governing.

North Wing and Jinrikisha Approach.

Upon further analysis…it is disclosed that the structure is not a group, but a single mass; spontaneously subdividing into subsidiary forms in groups or single, as the main function itself flows into varied phases, each seeking expression in appropriate correlated forms, each and all bearing evidence of one controlling mind, of one hand moulding materials like a master craftsman.

Detail of Pergola, showing relation of lava and brick.

The dispositions throughout the entire building are so so dexterously interwoven that the structure as a whole becomes a humanized fabric, in any part of which one feels the all-pervading sense of continuity, and of intimate relationships near and far.

Sunken Garden, North Bridge and Social Group.

In this especial sense the structure, carrying the thought, is unique among hotel buildings throughout the world. Japan is to be felicitated that its superior judgment in the selection of an architect of masterly qualifications, of such nature as to welcome new problems of time and place, has been justified.

Looking across Entrance Pool to Side Wing.

The longer the contemplation of this work is continued, the more intense becomes the conviction that this Master of Ideas has not only performed a service of distinction, but, far and above this, has presented to the people of Japan, as a freewill offering, a great gift which shall endure for all generations to come as a world exemplar, most beautiful and inspiring, of which Japan may well be proud among the nations as treasuring it in sole possession.

Main Promenade.

The Imperial Hotel stands unique as the high water mark thus far attained by any modern architect. Superbly beautiful it stands – a noble prophecy.

(Via Architalk)

The Imperial Hotel went down in 1968. Here is its replacement.

(Via Architalk)

Progress is inevitable and it is certainly not always bad, but there are times when progress, no matter the immediate profit it may generate, must be halted in the face of sheer genius. Is the world better off today because this run down old building was replaced by a much bigger, more efficient high rise?

For a great blog post on the Imperial Hotel’s history (with more photos) check out Todd Larson’s excellent Architalk post here.

Taliesin West

16 Apr

As our big extra-curricular activity on our vacation to Scottsdale, we put down the adult beverages and put on more clothes than the bathing suits we lived in to venture out to Taliesin West, the home designed and lived in by Frank Lloyd Wright from 1937 until his death in 1959 at the age of 91.  Taliesin West is also still an accredited functioning school of architecture, offering both BAs and MAs.  Who knew?

And as one might guess, I am a mighty FLW fan.  I am also a huge fan of the Ayn Rand novel The Fountainhead about the stubborn and idealistic architect Howard Roark, based loosely on the character of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Mind you, I don’t count myself amongst the ‘Objectivists’ but I do appreciate the philosophy behind the fictional architecture of Roark and the real architecture of FLW, as it has informed my own thoughts about architecture and design.  (Another great novel about FLW is The Women by T.C. Boyle.  I had no idea what a crazy life he led until I read that book.  Wow.)

The thing that really struck me about Taliesin was the sense that it was in constant evolution, a project that is never really finished.  Kind of like our own house.  If it’s good enough for FLW, it’s good enough for me.  (At least I will keep telling myself that.)  The other thing that one can’t escape when approaching Taliesin West is how much it looks like it belongs to the land, a hallmark of FLW sensibility that the site should dictate the design.

One of the design principles for Taliesin West is the triangle.  The hills behind the building are triangular in shape and as you go through Taliesin, you will see the triangle motif throughout in a variety of ways.

Below is the music room, as the arts were strongly encouraged among the fellows.  Below near the screen is a shape cut out of the wall on the right side that provides perfect acoustics for the room.  Our guide wound up a music box that sounded soft and tinny from where she is standing in the photo.  When she put it in the wall cut-out, the sound magnified in a way I would never have imagined.  It was truly one of the best things I saw (or heard) there.

There is still an artist in residence at Taliesin and she has produced a garden of sculptures that range in subject from the classical to the abstract.

God is in the details.  Look at the triangular shadows along the breezeway.

The belltower for calling the fellows to meals and events.

I fell in-love with this huge orange door to the dining area.

The fireplaces at Taliesin West were amazing.  This is an outdoor one opposite the orange door above.  It was as tall as I am!

Below is FLW’s room and study.  He had two beds, one for napping and one for sleeping at night, separated by a wooden divider.

Below is his wife’s room.  Only one bed for her.  One of the astonishing things about this home of a world famous architect is the scale.  These rooms and the furniture are small.  Objects had to be kept to a minimum.  Makes me wonder how we get back to that small footprint with the modern McMansion mentality.

Another fireplace in what was my favorite room, the Garden room.  Filled with furniture designed by FLW, I love the angles and symmetry.  Triangles everywhere.

All in all, an eye opening experience and I hope to visit more.  If I could see Fallingwater, then I would die happy.  Have you visited any FLW homes? What did you think?

Dream Houses

15 Dec

Okay, so I know this is total kitsch, but I love all these brilliant gingerbread houses that honor mid-century and modern architecture. And while we love beautiful design, I can pretty much guarantee that we will be making a traditional gingerbread house. From a box. Sorry. My talents only go so far.

From the University of Texas Architectural School blog, a gingerbread house of Le Corbusier’s flat roofed Villa Savoye. The house was the result of a contest sponsored by the Chicago Tribune celebrating Chicago architectural legacy (from whence all good things come).  Gorgeous.

From Baz at Atomic Indy, a gingerbread replica of his very awesome mid-century home. I so wish I could do this.

From an old post on Inhabitots, a lovely ‘Cake’ Study House 09 with banana succulents, almond cacti, hazelnut flowers, a pepper Palm tree, almond grass and pepper ferns. Modern pastry landscaping at its best.

eco-friendly gingerbread house, felt gingerbread houses, gingerbread, kristina hahn atelier, modern gingerbread house

I love this one for the Lifesaver Wintergreen MCM wall. Absolutely perfect from Craft_Schmaft on Flickr.

And the coup de grace would of course need inspiration from the master Frank Lloud Wright, a gingerbread house Falling Water. From Garden Melodies, the most gorgeous gingerbread house I have ever seen.  12 hours of work put into it! That is dedication.

 As I was rolling out the trash and recycling bins this morning, I was looking at our house and thinking  maybe I could do that.  Except I have no idea how to make gingerbread that thin. Does anyone have a recipe to share?


Don’t want to leave out chocolate houses and furniture too…

From Notcot, a chocolate Eames house…


From reader Lynne, check out this amazing Mies van Der Rohe bed cake!


Weekend Show and Tell

11 Sep

Hope everyone is squeezing out the last juices of this gorgeous summer weekend, at least here in the Northwest anyway. Our day is full of cleaning house, wallpaper removal, volunteering at the Mercer Island Farmer’s Market (come say hi!) and dinner with neighbors. Take a few minutes to also enjoy these wonderful links from our Weekend Show and Tell.

From the man who started it all, Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Is there anything more lovely? I recently finished a novel by T.C. Boyle (bought at my home away from home Island Books) entitled ‘The Women’ about FLW and the many (crazy) women in his life. Man, that guy had it rough, I tell you.

One of the most gorgeous dining rooms I’ve seen in a long time from Rajiv Saini in India. The house is situated next to the Ganges, and while I am not a huge fan of the exterior, I think this dining room and the wood slatted ‘walls’ are something close to brilliance. Plus I would kill for that dining room furniture. Sigh.

I think sometimes I wander off the MCM trail into the contemporary modern trail, just to see how the other half lives. In that vein, I found two pieces I love: these wooden tumblers (which at $57 each is a just plain WOW price tag) and this outdoor ceramic sponge light.  Gorgeous inspiration.

And finally, thinking that after the living and dining room wallpaper comes down, we need to tackle the wallpaper monster that is our bedroom, I find myself continually drawn to this combination of yellow and gray.  Apartment Therapy did a post on the bumble bee-esque combination of black and yellow, which is a bit too much for me.  But yellow and gray…yum.

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