Thursday, July 31, 2008

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin - Spring Green, Wisconsin

Green design isn't new.

American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) illustrated a few of the basic tenants of building green in the construction of his home and studio just south of Spring Green, Wisconsin.

The house becomes one with the land; neither is master or slave but work together in visual and functional harmony.

Indigenous stone, Wisconsin River sand (plaster), and local wood make up most of the home's material palette and serves to blend house with nature simultaneously minimizing transportation costs.

Decoration is non-existent. Ornament is always integral to the building efficiently eliminating unnecessary superfluous materials.

Modern-day green enthusiasts can learn a great deal from Frank Lloyd Wright; he called it "Organic Architecture."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More Organic Architecture - Frank Lloyd Wright's Meeting House in Madison

Here are a few more photos of the First Unitarian Society Meeting House in Madison, Wisconsin.

When construction bids came in "too high" for the church's budget, Frank Lloyd Wright went to a young contractor - Marshall Erdman - and promised to make him famous if he would build the building for $75,000.

Erdman accepted the challenge.

And true to his word, Wright talked Erdman up, gave him some additional work, and within the next few decades, Erdman would go on to be the largest constructor of medical clinics in America.

Erdman carried out several ingenious ideas over his career (he died in 1995 at the age of 72). To create synergy within his construction company, he started a line of component furniture that his stable of carpenters put together when they were not building cabinetry for their construction projects, insuring the continuous year-round employment for his over-1000-person construction team.

He also acquired the largest private collection of art in Wisconsin by making it a part of his business plan. Original art was purchased at healthy prices from local artists along with reproduction rights. Erdman ran off a series of prints from each art piece, and sold them to the clinics he built. Their art director puts together a custom package for each job.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Frank Lloyd Wright's Riverview Terrace Restaurant

The 1950's, Frank Lloyd Wright's last decade on earth, was his most prolific - at least in terms of buildings constructed.

The River Terrace Restaurant, now the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor's center, is one of those buildings. Perched on the Wisconsin River, this 1953 gem frames magnificent interior views northward over the wide Wisconsin River.

An organic spire tops the building giving a nice accent to the horizontal geometry of the building.

You can see this structure, visit the gift shop, and book a tour of Taliesin and Hillside - Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio -just around the corner.

It's worth a visit.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pre-Fab Redux

In Milwaukee, one side of a city block houses the largest collection of American System-Built Houses - Frank Lloyd Wright's foray into the world of pre-fab housing.

A full page newspaper ad in 1917 touted these designs as low-cost homes built with factory-made components.

Several designs were offered with variations on each design theme. This group of System-Built Houses is the largest grouping in existence today (and these appeared to be all still in use as residences; some are better kept than others) but individual System-Built Houses are scattered around the Midwest. I've found evidence of at least 5 existing homes scattered around Illinois. No telling how many were built around the country, all built without Wright's supervision.

A local attorney insists that he lives in a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home and showed me documentation of a newspaper article from the 1960's that made that claim. I've been adamant that no FLlW buildings were built in this city (according to W. A. Storrer's Complete Catalog of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings).

Now I'm beginning to wonder.

Anyone know of any American System-Built Houses outside the Midwest?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Organic Architecture in Wisconsin

Wow. Just back from a whirlwind trip to Wisconsin where I visited (and revisited) some of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings including this Madison gem - the First Unitarian Society Meeting House.

Constructed for $75,000 in the early 50's, the Meeting House became the iconic model for modern church architecture. Notice the extended brow. How many churches over the past 50 years have co-opted that dynamic architectural element? Unfortunately, the knock-offs usually have no understanding of "philosophy"; only a crude attempt to copy the "style," albeit in a stripped-down fashion. And, in a bit of humorous irony, many extended-brow churches sport a steeple on top - the opposite of the concept for the original building. I call those parodies "Frankenstein Buildings."

Frank Lloyd Wright made use of natural geometries - he urged designers to draw from Nature and not copy other buildings - and the Meeting House is a fine example. Notice the 30-60 degree triangles that show up in the composition, even in the shadows. Nature is full of 30-60-120 degree geometries. Look closely at the structure of stems and flowers next time you take a walk in the woods.

Church members pitched in to pull stone out of a local quarry to meet the budget. Using local materials is a basic tenant of sustainable architecture. Mr. Wright called it "organic architecture."

Find out more about the Meeting House at:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Top 5 Blog Posts

Sambo Mockbee tops the list of "most read" posts on the NAV blog for good reason; he changed the way many people, including me, look at so-called ordinary materials. He was as much artist and sociologist as Architect. For ultimate inspiration, click on "Shelter for the Soul."

The next most clicked essay - What's Your Walk Score? - links you to a site that scores your (or any) neighborhood for walkability. See how you rank.

Architect and professor Michael Berk takes the bronze with his design for the Green Mobile - an affordable, portable, and very green alternative to the modern-day McMansion.

Berk recently illustrated the power of truth and integrity. Forced by an aggressive and arrogant administration at Mississippi State University to "dumb-down and hide" the educational aspects of his design class, and under the threat of the Dean of the School of Architecture being fired, he stood up to the power structure with truth and integrity as his only defense. Long painful story made short, Berk and the Dean remain and the president of the University resigned. This deserves a more detailed post and is, I promise, forthcoming.

Coming in right behind Berk is America's first green Architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. At the age of 89, he made the claim that "If I had 15 more years, I could rebuild this country." Although prone to hyperbole for the sake of drama, he may have been right. Wright is responsible for more of our built environment than you think, including the open plan. He called it "exploding the box."

Rounding out the top 5 is Michelle Kaufmann. She's doing some very interesting things in the area of pre-fab design and building. All very contemporary. Check her out at:

Friday, July 4, 2008

Declaration of Energy Independence

For the want, will, and hopes of the people, and with acknowledgments to Thomas Jefferson and the Second Continental Congress, I submit to you this Declaration of Energy Independence.

WHEN in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the Emotional and Economic bonds which have connected them with a destructive Energy Policy, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should chart a New Course.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Energy sources are not created equal, that they are endowed by their Nature with certain identifiable Costs and Characteristics that affect Life (Sustainability), Liberty (Energy Independence) and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Women and Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Energy production becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a policy of Alternative Energy production, laying its foundation on sustainable principles and organizing its Powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.

The history of the present Energy Policy is a history of repeated Environmental and Economic injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over their Quality of Life. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

The current Energy Policy of these United States of America:

Has shackled the People with economic burdens of relentless and unpredictable spikes in the cost of Energy;

Has enriched certain Corporate entities while placing great strain on the Livelihood of the Citizens and the Health of their Planet;

Has fostered social habits among the Citizens so as to constitute addiction to and dependence on Non-Renewable Energy resources;

Has placed their Economic fortunes in the hands of rogue despots and unfriendly nations having control of oil and gas supplies;

Has influenced aggressive invasions of foreign lands by their Elected officials resulting in loss of life and limb and treasure and good will;

Has discouraged and downplayed the viability of Alternative Energies, and has underestimated the ingenuity of the Citizens of the United States;

And, by its short-sightedness, has caused the deterioration of the Health, Welfare and Well-Being of the American People.

We, therefore, the Citizens of the United States of America solemnly publish and declare, That the People are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent of all forms of Imported and Non-Sustainable Energy, and That the goal of Energy Independence shall be a National priority, and That the elected Leaders of the People shall act with urgency, intelligence, and resolve to achieve Energy Independence on or before July 4th, 2020.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Drafting a New Document

Here we are, approaching the July 4th holiday weekend. No longer are we under the heavy hand of Great Britain or King George (watch it with the wise cracks), but we are under a certain form of tyranny in the form of an energy policy that dictates and limits how we go about living our lives.

Tomorrow, I will publish a proclamation addressing a much-needed change of course:

The Declaration of Energy Independence.

Stay tuned, and enjoy your barbecue eggplant kabobs and not driving this weekend...