Frank Lloyd Wright Goes Camping!

Back Story

 

While visiting the Phoenix area, my wife and I decided to see Taliesin West. As a lover of most things related to architecture, it was a “no brainer.” It’s also a “must see” if you are interested in Frank Lloyd Wright, and if you have followed this blog in the past, you know that I am afflicted with “Frank Fever.”

 

Having lived most of my life in the Midwest, I have seen many of Wright’s architectural projects. Mason City, Iowa, is close to where I grew up, and my parents made me aware of the Stockman House and the Park Inn Hotel as Wright designs. I’ve been to Taliesin in Spring Green, and visited and photographed many other Wright buildings and viewed examples of his furniture and other assorted designs in museums so I really wanted to see Taliesin West!

 

Finding the place made me very thankful for Google Maps. While one might think that simply getting on Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard in Scottsdale is a simple solution to getting there, it’s only part of the story. You actually have to turn off onto a small road called Taliesin Drive, and the Taliesin signage is not very visible. However, it wasn’t a problem for us because Google Maps had it right, and I just followed the little blue dot!

 

Most of the structures are not easily seen from Taliesin Drive. It’s a combination of Wright’s organic architecture (things are designed to coexist with the land they are on) and the growth of desert vegetation since the buildings were originally constructed. We were directed to a parking spot and then walked a short ways to the bookstore where we purchased tickets for one of the 90-minute tours that begin every half hour. (Tour information at http://www.franklloydwright.org/taliesin-west/plan-a-visit.html).

 

Wright first visited Arizona to consult on the design and construction of the Arizona Biltmore in 1927. The architect of record, Albert Chase McArthur, hired him as a consultant because of his work with the “textile block” construction method. Chase ultimately employed a variation of this technique, the Biltmore Block, and there is an air of Frank Lloyd Wright about the building because of it. I believe that Wright’s four month stint in the Sonoran Desert opened up a new world of possibilities to him at a time when he was greatly in need of a fresh start.

 

Wright was always a controversial figure. Intelligent and head strong, he tended to do things his way, and his battles with clients and peers are well know as was his penchant for romantic affairs. Beginning in 1911 with the construction of the original Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin, an especially tumultuous series of events rocked his life. His paramour, Mahma Cheney, her children and several others were murdered at Taliesin East and a fire tied to the event destroyed part of the structure. The early 1920s were marked by two divorces and the death of his beloved mother, a new affair with a married woman that resulted in an arrest for violation of the Mann Act, another fire at Taliesin East and an assortment of business problems. It seemed as if Wright’s life was due for a remodel – enter Arizona!

 

While I have no factual evidence that a light bulb went off in Wright’s head once he saw the Sonoran Desert during the Biltmore consultancy, I think there is a real probability that he saw the area as an attractive venue for a fresh start. Wright had gone to new territories before to regenerate, and the desert certainly presented a very diverse set of challenges and opportunities compared to the Midwest. It was a blank canvas of sand and rock where he could try out his organic theory of architecture and see how it fit with a desert environment, and he could do it in a place that was relatively free from the press and public scrutiny.

 

Wright married Olgivanna Lazovich in 1928, and they honeymooned in Phoenix. Olgivanna was a key player in the formation of the Fellowship and the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. 1932 was the first year of the Fellowship and shortly thereafter they began wintering in the Phoenix area in makeshift accommodations. By 1937 Wright purchased the land where Taliesin West now sits on the west edge of Scottsdale.

 

For the first few years, Wright, Olgivanna and the members of the Fellowship were basically camping out in the desert. They would travel by caravan from Wisconsin, erect canvas structures in the desert and camp. They would spend the days studying and once the land was purchased, erecting more permanent structures that would eventually become Taliesin West. Even though members of the Fellowship were paying a substantial sum to learn from the master, they were expected to work hard as laborers as well as participate in everyday chores like food preparation, site maintenance, etc. It couldn’t have been an easy existence! In the spring they would pack everything up and return to Wisconsin for the summer.

 

Taliesin West Today

 

The buildings of Taliesin West do have a flavor of “camping out” about them. For many years the buildings had canvas for a roofing material. Wright made this material choice because the white canvas would let in light. Eventually, the canvas was covered with translucent white acrylic panels. Today there is an ongoing debate as to what to do with the roofs.

 

The buildings have definite similarities to the majority of Wright’s creations: they are low-slung, they are meant to blend in with the land on which they reside, and they are composed of native materials. In some sense they would not be unfamiliar to native populations that inhabited the Southwest hundreds of years ago.   One of the buildings in even referred to as the “Kiva”. Another factor that visitors to other Wright sites would find familiar is the compressed entryways of some of the buildings. They seem almost “claustrophobic” as you pass through, but they lead into large, open areas that feel like a breath of fresh air. I think this is exactly what Wright wanted visitors and occupants to experience!

 

The docents giving the tours are extremely knowledgeable, and there is much to see and a great deal to learn about Wright, Olgivanna, the Fellowship and Taliesin West. From the ancient petroglyph carved into a rock that Wright adapted into the “Clasped Hands” logo for the Fellowship to the amazing acoustics of the Cabaret Theater, there is a great deal to learn and much to enjoy at Wright’s desert oasis called Taliesin West.

A1-Taliesin-West

 

Weep Screeds and Halloween

There actually is a connection between the most commonly used weep screeds and Halloween — they both can involve some scary outcomes!  The purpose of a weep screed in thin veneer wall is to provide drainage at the bottom of the thin veneer wall. Unfortunately, the manufacturer’s literature often states that this drainage space will come from the formation of a shrinkage crack. This is neither a predictable nor adequate solution for providing the necessary drainage of moisture at the bottom of a thin veneer wall.

A paradigm shift is needed when it comes to draining thin veneer walls. Most architects and builders now recognize the need for a drainage plane (commonly referred to in the industry as a drainage mat) behind thin veneers. These products create a space behind the veneer that acts as a capillary break and a transport mechanism to move water that gets into the building envelope down to the bottom of the wall. The problem arises when that moisture reaches the base of the wall; the most commonly employed weep screeds restrict the flow out of the wall because of that pesky shrinkage crack! And no, those tiny little holes are not for drainage. Again citing the manufacturer’s literature, they are for “attachment purposes (not weeping).

Moisture-related failure of walls is not as much about volume of water in walls as it is about the time that some moisture is allowed to remain in that wall. If an adequate opening isn’t available at the bottom of the wall for moisture to exit and adequate airflow to occur, the wall is ripe for failure.

I prefer to remain optimistic about the building industry, but I recently read an article in a national building trades publication on the correct installation of adhered masonry veneers that set my optimism back a bit. As many of you know, adhered concrete masonry veneers have experienced a large number of moisture-related issues when not installed properly. Many articles have been written about this issue including “Best Practices: Adhered Concrete Masonry Veneer” by Mark Parlee that appeared in the Journal of Light Construction. Parlee, who is a builder as well as a forensics expert, notes in his article that ACMV walls have now become a trigger for inspections because of the large number of moisture-related failures they have experienced. He goes on to state that the solution is “drainage.”

Back to the article I read. It implied that drainage was necessary, but it referenced the use of two layers of WRB to create that drainage. That is a very old technique, proven by testing to retard the rapid transport of moisture out of walls. It does not provide the minimum drainage space specified by respected scientists like Dr. Joseph Lstiburek. In his article Mind the Gap, Eh! a minimum 1/8” gap or void needs to be present to create a capillary break and an effective drainage mechanism.

The building trades magazine article also mentioned the use of a weep screed, but it did not indicate what to look for in an effective product. Remember, the holes are for attachment, and a shrinkage crack isn’t predictable. I am disappointed that while we seem to embrace the goal of better buildings, we still employ old, outdated techniques even though many of the new materials we build with don’t work with the old way of doing things.  We need that paradigm shift!

You need to look for a weep screed that provides frequent, large openings for drainage. They do exist. Without “real” drainage space behind the veneer and “real” openings at the bottom of walls, you will wind up with a moisture “trick” rather than the “treat” of a beautiful, long-lasting building. Happy Halloween, hope you get a treat!

*For more information about weep screeds and weeps at the bottom of walls, download the MTI article “MTI-014: Getting to the Bottom of Moisture Management” in the MTI Library at http://www.MTIdry.com.

ACMV wall failure in a Midwest hotel.

This photo shows a moisture-related ACMV wall failure in a Midwest hotel.

Beautiful Public Buildings Preserved on the Plains

My wife and I recently took a motorcycle trip with some friends through parts of the Great Plains Region.  We saw a great deal of Nature’s beautiful handiwork from glacier-created lakes in western Iowa to the sacred pipestone quarries in western Minnesota, to sweeping expanses of grasslands that once teemed with buffalo (more correctly referred to as the American bison).  These natural wonders caused us to park the bikes and spend some time exploring.  What I didn’t expect, however, was experiencing that same sense of awe and appreciation over some man-made wonders!  Even more amazing, the buildings that gave us pause were county courthouses from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

rock county minnesota courthouse luverne minnesota

The Rock County Courthouse, Luverne, MN.

The first courthouse that pulled us in was the Rock County Courthouse in Luverne, Minnesota.  According to their website, “[This] three-story Romanesque building was built in 1888 of Sioux quartz rock mined from a quarry located in nearby Blue Mound State Park (one of the natural wonders I mentioned earlier).  It was renovated to its current condition in 1988 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.”

This beautiful building adorns a square two blocks north of the main business district.  Next to it, and also built with Sioux quartz, is the Veterans Memorial Center.  The Veterans Memorial building houses the Chamber of Commerce/Visitors’ Information Center and Brandenburg Gallery (home to many original works by National Geographic photographer and native son, Jim Brandenburg) along with a Veterans Museum (with artifacts and videos covering the Civil War to WWII).  We spent an entire morning feasting on these two beautiful architectural wonders and their historical and cultural contents.  View Slideshow of Both Buildings

Our other courthouse stop was about two hours south and east in the city of Spencer, Iowa.  The Clay County Courthouse has some similarities to Rock County’s.  Both buildings have a reddish hue, and both buildings feature a dome or tower with an open viewing area beneath their domes.  Like many buildings from this era, they also feature quality workmanship and beautiful architectural details.

Courthouse Clay County Iowa

The architectural styles, however, are different.  Clay County’s building, built twelve years later (begun in 1900), is Classic Revival while Rock County’s is Romanesque.  And unlike the Rock County Courthouse that still houses county offices, the Clay County Courthouse is only used for court cases and related judicial offices.  Since no cases were being held at the time we were there, we were able to tour the building and see the beautiful interior details such as stained glass windows, decorative ceilings, wonderful woodwork details, tile floors and other architectural touches that are often missing in today’s buildings (or are not done with the same quality of craftsmanship or materials).

There are several takeaways here.  Both these communities care about preserving the past.  Also, quality of craftsmanship, quality of design and material quality equal sustainable buildings that can still be functional and beautiful more than one hundred years later.  Finally, beautiful architecture is not confined to major metropolitan areas.  View Slideshow

Rigid Boardstock Insulation Moisture Management Issues

Rigid Boardstock Insulation: Friend or Foe?

“When the message is absolutely critical, and not heeding the message increases the likelihood that a disastrous outcome will occur, then repeating the message is (or should be) a professional imperative! This has never been more true than with the issue of specifying and installing rigid boardstock insulation exterior of WRB’s and exterior sheathing on the exterior building envelope.”

The preceding paragraph is from the introduction to John Koester’s new white paper on potential moisture management issues architects, contractors and building owners face when they choose to use rigid boardstock insulation directly behind the exterior veneer of the building envelope (see image below). Normally, we release these articles after they have been published in industry-related magazines; however, this one addresses a topic that is so timely, we are going to release it immediately via our electronic newsletter, our website www.MTIdry.com and our social media sites. There is absolutely no charge nor are there any other conditions to access this article. It is immediately available as a PDF document via the link at the end of this article.

The following are some highlights from the “Exterior Rigid Boardstock Insulation Moisture Management Issues” article.

  • Most boardstock rigid insulation has some moisture-resistant characteristics.
  • When layered against a weather-resistant barrier (WRB) on exterior sheathing, an undrained cavity/void will be created that may entrap moisture.
  • Installing a thickness of rigid boardstock insulation over WRBs and exterior sheathing may have an impact on the fastening patterns and/or structural requirements to secure thin veneers (stucco, adhered thin stone and thin brick and various other siding systems).
  • Rigid boardstock insulation may have dynamics of its own.
  • Installing a thickness of rigid boardstock insulation over WRBs and exterior sheathing will impact exterior building envelope rough openings…

The article goes far beyond simply pointing out problems. Through the use of text and numerous detailed drawings (17) it shows how to solve or avoid the problems. We hope you find this information helpful, as well as timely. MTI believes that too much time is spent on the energy-saving side of the building envelope detail while often ignoring the moisture management side of the equation.

Building envelope moisture management must be equally involved in the building envelope detail if sustainability and energy efficiency are the goal!

Download the Rigid Boardstock White Paper

insulation_moisture

Frank Lloyd Wright and the Wild West

I recently had a chance to look at a friend’s copy of Cowboys & Indians magazine for January 2013.  I did not expect to find an article on architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright in it; however, I should probably not have been surprised because Wright’s life parallels how most Americans envision the Wild West.

My childhood was filled with movie and TV westerns.  Most boys during the 50s & 60s were attracted to the cowboy ideal portrayed by movies and television during that time — “the rugged individual carving out a living in a relentless land full of untold dangers and unexplored territory.”  By the end of the movie, the hero had triumphed against all odds, and he had done it on his own terms and often with little outside help.  Sounds a bit like Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright was a maverick most of his life.  When he started as an architect, American designers had already begun to push back at the ornate, overblown styles of the Victorian period.  Wright is the most famous of the architects associated with this push back style known as “Prairie School” architecture.  Although best known for Midwestern homes and commercial structures done in this style, Wright was ready for a change by 1937.  Wright and third wife Olgivanna Lazovich had a first taste of Arizona living during the building of Wright’s Arizona Biltmore in Chandler.  Sick of Midwestern winters, the couple made a permanent move in 1937 choosing a spot in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains northeast of Scottsdale where they established Taliesin West.  According to the article, “It was here that the dark haired woman [Olgivanna] he had met by chance at a matinee performance of the Petrograd ballet would make a lasting contribution to her husband’s work.”

Wright, Olgivanna and Taliesin West would flourish in the American Southwest.  It was here that Wright designed the Guggenheim (see photo below); it was here that they established the Taliesin Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture that still thrives today; and it was here where they and their students learned self-sufficient living, an ideal that Wright “believed in and first implemented during the Depression.”  The Wrights and their students lived in tents as they built Taliesin, and they shared all the daily tasks like one big family.  The school’s motto still reflects this living/doing/learning lifestyle — “‘Live Architecture,’ is practiced continually in the context of the residential learning environment where life and work are integrated.”  (from Taliesin School of Architecture website)

To learn more about this period in Wright’s life, you can read the Dan Gleeson’s article, “Frank Lloyd Wright’s West“.  To discover more about the scandalous side of Wright and Taliesin, read the sister article in the January 2013 issue of Cowboys and Indians Magazine entitled “Tabloid Taliesin:  The Scandalous Side Of Frank Lloyd Wright.”  After reading them, see if you don’t agree with me that Wright embodied the promotional attributes of Buffalo Bill and the Wild West lifestyle of Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickock.  Happy Trails, Buckaroos!

Interior of the Gugenheim Museum

Interior of the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright during his Taliesin West period.  (Photo by Stevenuccia, licensed under Creative Commons)

Fort Worth Architecture

I recently had an opportunity to spend some time walking through the Sundance Square area of Fort Worth.  This is a unique area and well worth a visit.  Whether your interests are cultural, architectural, historical, gastronomical or shopping and entertainment, you can’t go wrong in Downtown Fort Worth!  It is one of the best downtown walking areas in the country; it even has its own website, www.sundancesquare.com.

The cultural attractions are many.  The one that most impressed me was the Bass Performance Hall.  Completed in 1998, the hall features just over 2,000 seats.  It also is an architectural wonder with its European Opera House style looks. The amazing trumpeting angel sculptures that adorn its facade are truly breathtaking!

The architectural style is mixed and runs from 19th Century cattle-town chic to Art Deco to modern.  Some of the buildings I found most interesting include the Sinclair Building (Art Deco, with its Mayan influences) to the restored brick buildings including the Knights of Pythius Hall and the Jett Building (supposedly haunted) with its Chisholm Trail mural.  The Ashton Hotel, a beautifully restored, Italianate style building with wrought iron balconies, decorative brick and stone is the only building of this style in the Fort Worth area.  Not only perfectly preserved on the outside, the interior speaks volumes about the elegance of earlier times.

Many famous Western figures spent time in Fort Worth including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as well as the rest of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.  This is where the famous picture was taken that led to their having to flee the country.  The spot is marked on Main Street where the photo was taken.  Others known to have frequented the area include Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and gambler, Luke Short (there is an historical marker on the building that housed Luke Short’s casino).

Many excellent restaurants and bars dot the area including Mi Cocina (great Mexican cuisine) and the Flying Saucer with its elevated outside seating area.  You will find something to excite any appetite from pastry to pasta to el pollo.  There are also many unique boutiques, shops and art galleries in the Sundance Square area where you can find anything from Western wear (the Retro Cowboy) to reproductions of famous Western art by such luminaries as C. M. Russell and Frederick Remington (Sid Richardson Museum).  Original Russell and Remington art is currently on display through May 13, 2012.

One final, and I think, bittersweet memory of Fort Worth’s historical and cultural importance is the Hilton Hotel.  Located at the southern edge of the Sundance Square area, it was the site of JFK’s stay the night before he was assassinated.  The hotel was then called the Hotel Texas.  The morning of the assassination, Kennedy delivered a speech in the hotel’s Crystal Ballroom.  Currently, a memorial to JFK is being erected across from the hotel’s main entrance.

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“Rude” Is A Four Letter Word – Civility Is A Sustainability Issue

Is it just me, or are manners an outdated concept?  Has the civil society gone the way of the dinosaur?  I was actually surprised the other day when I was thanked by a restaurant employee.  The surprising thing is that it seemed like such a unique event that I was actually taken aback!  Has our society really gotten to the point where courtesy surprises us?

Maybe it’s my parents’ fault; I was actually raised to say “Please” and “Thank you!  As a Boy Scout, I had to memorize the Boy Scout Oath that contained the phrase, “To help other people at all times,” and the Boy Scout Law that stated that a scout was “Trustworthy, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, etc.”   Are these concepts outdated and unnecessary?

In school I was taught to say, “Joe and I are –”  Now it seems that every statement involving one’s self and someone else begins with a personal pronoun associated with the speaker, “me and her are –.”  Besides being poor grammar, I believe it reflects the sad truth that we have become of society of “Me first!”  My needs are the most important, and as long as they are always met, you won’t have a problem with “ME!”  I think we see this phenomenon at all levels of American society, beginning at the top.  We have a government that has almost ground to a halt because no one can compromise.  It’s a philosophy of “My way or the highway.”  This was certainly reflected in last summer’s battle over raising the debt ceiling that ultimately led to America’s credit rating reduction.

We demand respect rather than living a life that is deserving of respect.  We bully others into acknowledging our positions rather than taking the time and effort to prove our point.  We are self-righteous about our positions or lifestyle or looks and publicly mock anyone who doesn’t look like us, speak like us, or fawn on us.  Witness the TV and radio talk show hosts that constantly mock and ridicule public figures.  Shows like Saturday Night Live and cartoons like The Simpsons are based on the premise of mockery and protected by the mantra, “It’s only humor.”  People post hateful things about others on Facebook, and kids are driven to suicide by digital hate campaigns.  The TV is awash with ads featuring half-truths about political rivals and rules and regulations political action groups dislike.

Are we doomed to a presidential ticket featuring Bart Simpson and Snooki?  Is it too much to ask for oncoming drivers to use turn signals so we know whether or not we can proceed at an intersection?  Do we need to “flip off” or honk at other drivers because they aren’t going the speed we want them to go?  Do we have to be on our cell phones as we shop, drive or sit in a theater?  Rather than building communication bridges, has technology really built walls of isolation?

Our kids are schooled each day by the people they see on the street, TV, and Internet and listen to on the radio.  An anonymous author once wrote, “Children are natural mimics who act like their parents despite every effort to teach them good manners.”  It’s not what we tell them to do that sticks; it’s what they see us do the molds their behavior.

Maybe I am overreacting, and if so, I apologize!  However, I think we would be a happier, more productive society if we learned to consider the feelings of others when making decisions about what we say or do.  So back to the restaurant employee.  As a businessman and as a consumer, I learned something from her simple application of courtesy – I will do business with that restaurant in the future, and I will support businesses that are respectful of their customers.  Every customer deserves a personal, courteous response from a real person, not computerized voices suggesting which buttons to push in order that you might reach the right digitized response to your question.  That’s not customer service!

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