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Frank Lloyd Wright

David Wright House
Phoenix, Arizona, USA

I and members of the Contemporary Forum, an art-aficionado group, had the distinct pleasure of touring Frank Lloyd Wright's David Wright House in Phoenix, Arizona. David Wright was FLlW's son from the first marriage, and both he and his wife, Gladys, lived very long lives. David was in the concrete block business, so the house is, of course, concrete block. However, it's odd that the house was first conceived in wood -- probably because of it's unique circular shape.

The house spirals up a wide ramp to the main floor which "floats" above the hot desert floor and allows breezes to flow underneath. There is a small pool by the ramp with a central garden that the house surrounds. All of the walls are block inside and out with Mr. Wright's trademark red concrete floors. The wood cabinetry is built in, of course, and the wood board ceilings are some of the most intricate and beautiful I've seen. The finish carpentry in this house is incredible!

The house has been shrouded in mystery for years, and as I have understsood, no strangers had been allowed to see it for decades. I remember visiting in 1995 with a friend of mine. We stood at the driveway by the mailbox that simply read "Wright". There were tarps over the windows facing the street. It was very eerie.

Unfortunately, David and Gladys passed on in the house, and last I knew, it was for sale. It was an honor to be able to walk through it's graceful, flowing space -- to imagine living in it day by day, enjoying both fireplaces on cold desert evenings. Once again, Wright was able to build an idea, based on the organic principles he maintained all his life. It's not merely another house, but instead a free, creative, thoughtful response to Client, site, and human imagination in the hands of a master! Enjoy the photos below.

Note: All photography by Colin Edward Slais with permission of Owner for this blog only. Copies are strictly prohibited without express written consent of the Homeowner.

Louis Penfield House
Willoughby Hills, Ohio, USA

We had the thrilling pleasure of staying a few days at Frank Lloyd Wright's Penfield House in Willoughby Hills, Ohio (visit to book reservations!). It was early November and the crisp autumn air happily required a glowing fire in the large centrally-located fireplace. The house is on acres of land with trees and clearings for walks and views of the Chagrin River. Nature sets the stage as you (the audience) watch through floor-to-ceiling windows/doors from the comfort of the built-in Living Room bench. You are surrounded by various fall colors visible through the many windows in every room. The view of trees from the 2nd story bedroom invokes a treehouse feel -- that you're a part of the landscape, not separate from it. You "float" up to the 2nd floor by wood stair treads with open risers so as not to obstruct views (see photos below).

Louis Penfield was 6'-8" and so the house has taller ceilings and is more vertical than the infamous low-ceilinged horizontality of Wright's other work. When asked if he could design a house for someone so tall, Wright replied, "Yes, but we'll have to design a machine to tip you sideways first." The wood post supports harmonize with the verticality of the multiple tree trunks around the house. This consistent structural system is clearly expressed throughout the house, with solid or glass infill panels as screens defining space.

Overall the house is a pure joy to experience. It's like nothing else, and you never want to leave its serenity and beauty. It allows you to slow down and relax into your natural, biological rhythm. I encourage everyone to visit, but beware, you'll miss it, and you will never look at your current home the same way.

Note: All photography by Colin Edward Slais with permission of Owner for this blog only. Copies are strictly prohibited without express written consent of the Homeowner.

Palmer House
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

As an admiring Frank Lloyd Wright fan, you might imagine how thrilled we were at staying 2 nights in the infamous Palmer House in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Yes, you can rent the house all to yourself! Just visit for reservations. The home is a spectacular composition of warm, red concrete floors, glass, wood & brick on a triangular module -- all seemlessly wedded to its lush site. "Of the hill, not on it" Mr. Wright exclaimed. Both site and house are enhanced by each other as a harmonious whole.

We loved the warm, golden early morning sun waking up the home. It's a peaceful, spiritual respite to renew your soul. It's also cozy and protective yet intimately connected to the ever-changing out-of-doors. The generous eaves shelter you snugly from the pattering of rain on the roof. What masterful harmony of respecting nature while elevating everyday human needs to a more profound level.

Wright reminds us that we are part of nature, not separate from it. This house allows your natural biological rhythms to re-calibrate. It encourages you to slow down enough to experience the numerous variety of plants and animals (even some occasional deer!). Leaving is always tough because you want to live like that the rest of yor life. It's definitely life-changing and worth the trip! I would love to design a house with this kind of integrity for a willing Client. The photos say everything! Enjoy them and hopefully you will experience the tranquility first-hand one day soon!

Note: All photography by Colin Edward Slais with permission of Owner for this blog only. Copies are strictly prohibited without express written consent of the Homeowner.

Updating Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright has been my inspiration for many years. Having visited nearly 200 of his buildings (even renting a few) along with extensive reading & conversations w/ homeowners, I consider myself somewhat of a Wright expert. His Usonian homes w/ their simple, clean lines, expressed floor grid, overall orderliness, and of course, connection to nature excite me the most.

Wright taught that an architect should develop his/her own individual nature from within. We should learn & grow from looking INTO, not AT. So, as an architect w/ an inquisitive mind and "countenance of principle", I intend to blaze my own trail of a new Organic architecture for the 21st century. With this said, there are some "shortcomings" I've personally experienced (at 6'-2" tall) and been informed of by homeowners that we can address & update for the future. Let's briefly review these and strategize more acceptable alternatives to quell some criticism of Wright's work:

1.) Leaks (Walls/Roofs) - Wright's Usonian homes gave the blessings of architecture at extremely low cost ($5K at one point). We can now properly flash, seal & provide better water-resistive barriers w/ new products complying w/ code.
2.) Sagging Cantilevers (Roofs) - Materials/Technologies weren't ready for Wright's inventiveness like they are now. Stronger, lighter engineered woods & proper use of steel will mitigate this issue. Again, for Wright, cost imposed many material limitations.
3.) Heating/Cooling - When Wright's underfloor radiant heating worked, it was wonderful, but an expensive headache when it didn't. Many Usonians didn't have A/C when originally built (save cost & rely on shading, natural breezes). Homes today typically need both, & the design should accommodate (see #9 Insulation). However, passive solar design should still be used to reduce utility cost & lower carbon footprint.
4.) Low Ceilings - Wright definitely owns the idea of horizontality & human scale. But, we know we've gotten bigger (and taller?). Current code now sets minimum ceiling height anyway (which are still comfortable for me at 6'-2" tall). Any ceiling above 8' (drywall/plywood standard size) except in large rooms is a waste of material/$. Breadth of space can do more than height.
5.) Dark Rooms - I thought the bedrooms in the Tracy Residence (Washington State) were dark due to small clerestory windows (lots of shade outside) & dark wood wall paneling. The wood paneling in the Usonians tended to be darker than walls that can be painted, say, a light color. Lighter colors reflect light & make space feel bigger/more open.
6.) Small Bedrooms/Kitchens/Doorways/Hallways - Wright was saving cost & maintaining human scale. However, today human scale needs adjusting. Also, we now live more in our Kitchens & Bedrooms than maybe we did in the 50's. Sizes need to increase, but not any bigger than necessary to function.
7.) Monotony (Too Much Wood, No Variety in Color) - Wright's Usonian houses were thoroughbreds reduced to a minimum of materials for cost, but also for design continuity & a sense of repose. My wife's comment on the Palmer House (which we loved) was that there was a lot of same-colored wood walls/ceilings throughout. I can appreciate the observation, but also the sense of continuity. Nice thing about paint is variety & the ability to change.

8.) Architect Control, Inflexibility, Built-Ins - Wright undoubtedly controlled the built environment through design. When you hired him, you knew what you were getting. To that end, he tried to minimize "poor taste" by building in tables, seats, shelves, etc. Though this provides continuity again, it's inflexible for today's ever-changing needs. I believe in designing or purchasing things that look a part of the whole, but be movable and transportable when moving to a new city, thus allowing more freedom.
9.) Poor Insulation, Single-Pane Glass - Again, saving cost, Wright had to minimize material quantity. He didn't use studs for walls, thus decreasing insulation space. Roofs were minimally insulated as well, and double-pane glass not available yet. Today, especially w/ new "green" building techniques, double-pane Low-E insulated glass is becoming typical, along w/ foam insulation & exterior polystyrene board. Much better R-values (insulation values) are attainable.
10.) Enclosed Kitchens - Wright invented the open plan common today. Ironically, his Kitchens (he named "Workspaces") were still closed off from the Living area. We've already done a good job of opening up the Kitchen these days to become an attractive, integral, and even desired part of the Living space. The barstool island (becoming way overdone) is the only separation now. I think Mr. Wright would approve of this development, but who knows.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Longevity

Mr. Wright’s Organic architecture “returns us to our natural biorhythms in connection with nature” said an original homeowner. We are so fortunate to still have some original Frank Lloyd Wright clients/homeowners with us, though the number is declining with each passing year (Mr. Wright’s doctor, Mr. Joe Rorke, recently passed away in his 90's). We are also grateful to have some of those who lived and worked with Wright here to pass down personal stories and teachings to the next generation. There is a wealth of knowledge still among us that we must continue to appreciate and not take for granted. To know that those having direct contact with Mr. Wright can still share their wisdom after 50 years or more is a testament to their longevity.

I have had the great fortune of traveling the country over the years visiting nearly all of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes and buildings (even staying the night in a few). The experience, inspiration and knowledge gained from not only seeing the work first-hand, but listening to the stories told by original owners is an education not to be had any other way.

During my conversation with several original homeowners, it occurred to us that there were a lot of Wright clients who lived (and are still living) to be quite advanced in years. After some quick research, it was discovered that many lived well into their 80’s, 90’s and even 100 and beyond (most noticeably Wright’s son, David, who passed at 102, and his wife Gladys at 104!!). A lengthy list of Wright Clients and their ages was developed, just going back to the 1930’s. So, at least as far as the Usonian period goes, there were/are several dozen octogenerians and nonagenerians. Just as a side note, many of Wright’s apprentices lived and continue to live long, productive lives as well.

Is there a correlation between Wright’s architecture and the homeowners’ length of life? The research seems shows some kind of correlation. If so, then how? Could it be that Wright’s designs “return us to our natural biorhythms” as one homeowner postulated? Could it possibly be that Organic architecture’s principle of a close, harmonious relationship with Nature helps support the health of its occupants? Perhaps Mr. Wright’s organic architecture is so purely humane, peaceful, natural and beautiful as a work of art, helping nurture a desire within for a healthful lifestyle. Maybe being an integral part of the changing seasons, the birds, deer, garden, trees, helps reduce stress and thus more effectively sustains life itself. Can living in a home as a respite from noise and chaos also have a profoundly spiritual resonance with the soul making it dance and maybe keeping us in this world a little longer? One homeowner’s granddaughter exclaimed, “I can’t tell you how much the impact of the birds, and the light, and the openness and the harmony, and the beauty affected me”.

 Nowhere else have I personally experienced such serenity, beauty, comfort, ease and joy as in a Frank Lloyd Wright home, and Wright received numerous client letters thanking him for this lifetime thrill of living in his creation. Isadore and Lucille Zimmerman wrote, “The beauty of the house defies verbal description, while utility is so married to beauty that the two become one”.

Wright once asked his apprentices if they felt they had contributed a note of concordance and sympathy with their fellow human family. I think the answer is quite apparent, and the fact that so many of his clients and apprentices went on to live happy, healthy, productive, fulfilled, long lives is confirmation enough that his architecture was the most attuned to that life ever created, inside or out.