This week I take you about 40 miles west of Madison to Taliesen, the estate of famed architect and Wisconsin native Frank Lloyd Wright. Our Friendship Force guests from Dallas were interested in seeing this National Historic Landmark and recently designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. After picking up our tickets at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors Center a few miles south of Spring Green, we boarded a small bus for the short ride to begin our tour. The guide started off the tour by addressing the most obvious questions people had about Frank Lloyd Wright, like his reputation for not paying his bills, it’s true! He was also a bit of a womanizer but she told us none of that took away from the fact that he was an innovative and well regarded architect. With those statements out of the way, it was time for us to see his work and where he lived for much of his adult life.
Our first stop on the tour was the Hillside Home School. FLW designed the Home School at the request of his two aunt’s, Jenny and Ellen, soon after he completed studies to become an architect. They operated the school from 1887 until 1915 when it sat empty for a number of years. As Wright’s stature grew in the field of architecture, he conceived the idea of using the abandoned school to house a school for architects and through the Taliesen Fellowship those students continue to come. The original building was remodeled adding a wing for a studio and another for a theater. Here are a few photos from our stop at Hillside. Note the colorful curtain in the small theater that Wright designed and created to fit the space in his style.
Our next stop was at the house and studio that Wright designed and built in 1911 after leaving his first wife with his mistress. His design was consistent with the “Prairie School” style common in the Midwest at the time. The house featured low, flat lines and use of natural stone that blended with the surrounding Wisconsin prairie landscape and limestone outcroppings. Much of the furniture is made from plywood, meant to be functional and inexpensive, harkening back to Wright’s Welsh roots. I have to say that I mostly understand Wright’s designs, the exception being his use of flat roofs in an area of the country that gets a lot of snow. I understand that’s one of main complaints about his work, the roofs need constant tending or they begin to leak. The other feature that I question is the use of odd angles in corners of the interior, for example, two walls coming together at a 45 degree angle. Yes, it mimics nature but reduces the usefulness of that space and it’s harder and more expensive to build. On the other hand, one of his design details is to have low ceilings at the entrances of buildings and rooms contrary to modern designs where one walks into a large and open space. His rational is that the low ceiling “feels” uncomfortable to people and the design invites them to move into the room where it’s more open. Keeps people from congregating at the entrance and plugging up the flow of traffic. Most of his work features large windows to let in the natural light to make it feel like one is in the out of doors with nature. While many of his buildings live on, he thought his buildings, especially private houses, should return to the soil thus further emulating nature. In order to keep some his most famous works including Taliesen from falling down, continuous maintenance and reinforcements are required. This makes one of his originally designed homes quite expensive to maintain even though they are great places to live.
Here are some photos of both the exterior and the interior of his home. Note the interesting design of the lamps with their limestone rock look and made of plywood! The tables are close to the ground as if to bring one closer to the earth.
This is the view that Wright had as he worked in his studio. It’s in the “Driftless Area” of Southwestern Wisconsin that characterized by the effects of glaciation with forested ridges and river valleys. Looking at it helps to understand his designs. Fortunately, we had a beautiful afternoon to make the scene even more stunning, in my humble opinion!
As mentioned earlier, the work and life of Frank Lloyd Wright continues to be studied even though he died in 1959 at the age of 91. To that end, he was named by the American Institute of Architects as “the greatest American architect of all time.” It was a delightful tour, I highly recommend it if you are interested in art and architecture or just plain curious what the big deal is with Frank Lloyd Wright.
For the next couple of weeks, I’m sharing a few words and lots of photos of a couple of local organizations where I do some volunteer photography. This means that I’m traveling, discovering more adventures to share and photograph!
Until then, happy travels!