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

 

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

Prairie Jewel – Wright’s Park Inn Hotel

I had the opportunity to take a tour of the newly renovated and recently reopened Park Inn Hotel last week.  If you have been reading this blog over the last few months, you are aware of my intense interest in this project.  Until last week I had little direct knowledge on the interior of the hotel.  I had been amazed by the beauty and detail on the outside on my earlier visits; however, the work done on the inside is simply stunning!  A walk through the hotel is like stepping back in time 101 years. (See Slideshow at Bottom)

Originally, the hotel occupied the west end of the building; the east end was occupied by the City National Bank.  If you view the building from Central Park (across the street and directly to the north), it is fairly easy to see that there are two distinct structures.  The dividing point, known as the “waist,”  juts inward at the mid-section of the entire structure.

The Park Inn Hotel is the only remaining Frank Lloyd Wright designed hotel in the world.  Not only did Wright design the building, he also designed the stained glass windows and interior pieces like the barrel chairs and the Mercury statues in the Bank/Ballroom.  Since the renovation was an historical renovation, the rework had to model the original as closely as possible.  One of the most difficult challenges was returning the bank portion back to its original two-story height.  This area had been changed into a three-story structure (see three-story photos compare to renovated bank photos) to accommodate a variety of businesses, and turning it back to the original two-story configuration was a real engineering challenge.  Another huge task involved all the stained glass windows.  Some had to be located (the large Skylight Room window was found in a Mason City home and the owners donated it), many had to be restored, and some had to be reproduced.  Fortunately, an artist capable of the restoration work was nearby.  John Larsen of Clear Lake restored or re-created 62 stained glass windows for the project.  Old photos and Wright’s drawings were consulted to aid in reproducing period furnishings such as carpet and furniture, and some original items were used as models for reproduction pieces such as the Mercury statues in the Ballroom.

So what’s original and what isn’t?  The original items include:

  • skylights in the Ballroom and the Skylight Room
  • art glass in many of the rooms and the hotel lobby
  • some of the bathroom floor tile, as well as the floor tile in the main lobby and Skylight Room
  • wood flooring, stair railings, louvered guest room doors and some of the paneling, doors, transoms and safe frame in the Law Office
  • donated Stickley pieces in Law Office are period
  • copper facia and much of the brick as well as the polychrome tile on the exterior
  • the Historic Suite is in 1910 configuration
  • clerestory window grill work (some original grill work was found in a nearby community where it was serving as a residential fence)
  • cement urns on balcony outside Ladies Parlor

Items that were reproduced include:

  • the Mercury statues in the Ballroom (one original was found and the owner allowed it to be used as the model for casting)
  • the Mezzanine balcony (the original failed within ten years and was removed)
  • the Law Office library table
  • exterior light fixtures and the Bank grill work on entry door
  • clerestory windows on Bank section
  • the ground floor cement urn at the entry into the Waist portion of the building
  • the barrel chairs were reproduced from Wright drawings.
  • billiards table is original period piece but was not original to the building

Things that have been changed, added or modernized:

  • the number of guest rooms – originally there were 40 some guest rooms; now there are 27 guest rooms (now includes third floor of bank)
  • an elevator and some new railings and ramping for accessibility and safety
  • new heating, plumbing and electrical
  • very few original furnishings remained; designers had to find correct styles of period furniture; carpeting had to be designed and manufactured
  • guest rooms now have individual bathrooms

I was fortunate to have Scott Borcherding as my tour guide.  Scott, of Bergland + Cram, was the Interior Designer on the project.  Scott was an excellent tour guide, and I gained many interesting insights about the building, others involved, and about Wright himself.  One piece of information that I found extremely interesting is that Wright completed his design in 1909 and shortly after began his affair with Mamah Cheney.  Because they ran off to Europe together, construction of the hotel and bank complex was actually supervised by Wright’s associate, William Drummond.

I am signing off for now.  I have much more to say and show about the Park Inn Hotel project, but it will have to wait until next time!  (You can learn more about the project at Wright On The Park.)

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Wright and the Middle Class – The Usonian Dream

For an architect of Frank Lloyd Wright’s stature and ego, to pursue affordable architecture for the average person seems out of character.  But that was the goal of his Usonian dream.  Based on the Populist and Progressive ideas of elevating the common man, Usonian (a term pulled from United States of North America) architecture sought to democratize building.  Wright’s Usonian homes were simple, one-story homes, of modest square footage, without a garage, a basement, or much storage.  They were also modest in exterior adornment.  Like the earlier Prairie School houses, the Usonian homes usually featured low roofs with large overhangs and open living areas.  Bernard Pyron wrote that for Wright, “Nature, Democracy, Spirituality, Culture and Art all became talismans that he used to promote the ideas spawned from this worldview.”  As a result, Wright came to believe that members of the middle and lower classes might be cultivated to appreciate great art and to develop as individuals in a free, democratic culture. In Frank Lloyd Wright’s mind, to accomplish this meant developing a uniquely American architecture that was affordable for all.  All these beliefs led to the development of his Usonian architecture.

Wright’s Usonian homes aimed at using as much local material as possible, a sustainable idea that Wright had long supported, and one he used in the construction of his own home, Taliesin.  Wright also wanted these homes to be compatible with their natural surroundings; to flow from them and blend naturally with the landscape.  He wanted organic structures with lots of natural materials and lots of windows that made use of natural light, and that allowed the inhabitants to experience the land around them.

My wife and I happened to stumble on an open house at one of Wright’s Usonian homes while on a motorcycle ride in southern Wisconsin this past weekend.  I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to walk around the grounds and to take pictures of the exterior of the home.  I am not going to reveal the location of this property as it is still occupied by family members of the original owner, and their privacy needs to be respected.  For that reason, I am going to be purposefully vague on certain details.

The story behind this house is a great one, and is certainly true to Wright’s goal for a democratic architectural style.  The house was built in the early 1950s by a young professional who wanted to construct a house for his family for a maximum of $15,000.  In order to accomplish this, he would act as his own general contractor, doing some of the work himself.   Two things led to Wright’s involvement with the project.  First, the owner had attended the University of Wisconsin where a professor had fostered his interest in Wright’s designs.  Second, his wife had worked for and developed a relationship with Wright’s sister, Jane.  These two bits of fate put him in touch with the architect, and Wright accepted the challenge of designing a home for under $15,000.  After all, wasn’t this perfectly aligned with his goal of affordable architecture for the masses?  (Like many of his projects, the final costs were well above the initial $15,000, but were still modest in comparison to projects done by world-renowned architects like Wright.)

The house was designed around a core structure of limestone that juts above the main roofline.  This central structure contained the kitchen, laundry and a small bath.  To the east of this core was the master bedroom and a carport.  (The carport was later turned into more living space using a design by a Wright apprentice.  The addition blends seamlessly with Wright’s original design.)  Projecting out to the north from the core limestone tower is a hexagonal living space adorned with lots of of windows.  There is also a patio area with a partial low rock wall adjoining this portion of the house.   The bedroom wing stretches south from the hexagonal living area, and is also heavily adorned with windows on its west side.   A flower garden flows alongside the bedroom wing culminating in a man-made rock glen patio at the south end.

The stonework in the walls of the home is beautiful and intricate.  Although Usonian homes were supposed to be lacking external adornment, the walls of this house feature individual pieces of limestone that jut out creating interesting patterns and shadows, as well as lending a sense of organic construction.  Much of this limestone was actually quarried by the owner and then hauled to the building site early each day before he went to his office.

The home is a treasure, and I feel fortunate to have spent some time with it.  It blends naturally with the surroundings, and is easily missed from the street.  When first built, it had an open view overlooking a valley to the north-northwest.  Sixty years later, Nature has reclaimed much of the hilltop, but you can still see the valley through a small opening.  Wright said, “I would like to have a free architecture.  Architecture that belonged where you see it standing—and is a grace to the landscape instead of a disgrace.”  I think he and the owner succeeded here!

*The slideshow below was organized as a counter-clockwise walk around the property, beginning in the paved parking area at the front entry.  The walk goes towards the east, around the original master bedroom area, then around the family-main living area, along the bedroom wing then through the flower garden and back to the paved area in front of the house.

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Restored Frank Lloyd Wright Park Inn Hotel Opens

101 years after it first opened, Wright’s Park Inn Hotel is back in the lodging business.  While work is still taking place, guests can once again make reservations to stay at the renovated hotel, and a Grand Opening is planned for September 5-11.

I spent some time last week walking around the hotel and adjoining bank building, and the architectural detailing is amazing.  Spend a little time around this structure and you will begin to realize why it was worth the nearly $20 million that was spent restoring it.  Words cannot do justice to the mix of stained glass, rich woods, brass, copper and brick that have been blended together by Wright’s masterful touch into an architectural symphony.  I have included some recent photos below to help tell the tale, and more are available on our Facebook page.

The original bank and adjoining hotel were designed for James E. Blythe and J. E. E. Markley, two Mason City attorneys.  They wanted a building that could compete with the new, eight story bank that was being constructed across the street.  Markley was familiar with Wright because his daughters attended a school in Spring Green, Wisconsin, that Wright had designed.  The original Blythe and Markley structure contained a bank, the law offices of Blythe and Markley, and the 42 room hotel.  It opened in 1910.  It remained the area’s premiere hotel until 1922 when a more modern, upscale eight story hotel opened nearby.  From that point on, the story of the Park Inn was one of decline.

The Wright on the Park organization has overcome many obstacles to bring the Park Inn Hotel back to life.  Their website, wrightonthepark.org, has numerous photos covering the renovation process as well as background information on the building, the community and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Anyone with an interest in Wright should make a visit to see his only remaining hotel as well as the Stockman House, a private residence designed by Wright.  There are also several other homes designed by Prairie School architects in Mason City.   If you enjoy Prairie School architecture and the Arts and Crafts period, a trip to Mason City is well worth your time; and now you have a place to stay that epitomizes these styles.

Saving the Environment – One Digital Business Practice at a Time!

Although digital meeting and digital publication options for business have been around for some time, many businesses don’t take full advantage of them.  At MTI we realized several years ago that the old ways of doing business weren’t sustainable.  We also realized that if we were touting products that made buildings more sustainable and more environmentally friendly, we should probably be doing business the same way.

Technology is not going away.  While it certainly has negatives, the communication possibilities are so great, it needs to be embraced by businesses of all sizes.  The digital communication practices that follow are sustainable business practices we firmly recommend.

Minimize print matter.  There is no reason to maintain a binder full of product catalogs in the 21st Century.  PDF versions of product catalogs and product flyers are easy to search and easy to store, and they are much more environmentally friendly.  We have all been to major tradeshows and conferences where we’ve witnessed volumes of discarded catalogs, brochures, etc. packed into overflowing trash receptacles.  If we feel compelled to hand out some print matter, why not a business card with our URL?  Or better yet, let’s just put our QR code on a sign and let interested parties take a digital image.  The QR code reader on their smart phone can take them to our electronic media when they have time to look at it.

Digital media can do so much more than print media.  PDFs aren’t just about sending print and images.  They can also contain video and audio.  My document written in English can contain links to translations in other languages or explanatory movies with narrations in other languages.  The possibilities are endless, and they can be delivered in seconds around the world at little cost and on demand.  Utilizing email for product updates and company newsletters is also much quicker, much more economical and much more environmentally responsible than the postcards and brochures we used to rely on for getting the message out.

Rethink business travel and training.  Web meetings can and should supplant sales calls and business meetings.  Most of us complain about the cost of gas, the hassle of airport security checks, the threat of bedbugs, etc., but are we still heading off to a meeting in some other state or some other country?  Sure there are times when we have to be there in person, but many times we don’t; and the savings to the bottom-line and to the environment are huge!   There are many ways we can do meetings online, and the costs have come down tremendously because of the number of services competing for your business.   Not only can you hear and see each other, you can even work on the same documents online, and the down time involved with travel can now be used more productively.

Web conferencing can also be used effectively for training.  Most web conferencing software has a record function built in so that people who are unable to attend can get a rebroadcast of the session.  This saves on the instructor’s time and expense, and it makes the content available in the same format so you’re confident everyone received the same message.

Old habits die hard, but businesses large and small can benefit greatly from adopting 21st Century digital communication practices.  They are sustainable, economical and effective.

Creating Sustainable Rainscreen Building Envelopes: It’s Like Motorcycles and Rain Suits!

Sustainable building isn’t possible without moisture management.  And for those forced to live or work in a building without moisture management, life becomes a health and safety nightmare.  Bold statements, but totally supportable.

According to the HUD’s Path Project, “Moisture, in all of its physical forms, is commonly regarded as the single greatest threat to durability and the long-term performance of the housing stock.  Excessive exposure to moisture is not only a common cause of significant damage to many types of building components and materials, it also can lead to unhealthy indoor living environments.  A long list of serious adverse effects can result from moisture problems in houses.  There is wide agreement that successful management of moisture in its various forms is essential for houses (buildings) to be durable, safe and energy efficient.”  In its 2004 report, the Path Projected listed the following outcomes of uncontrolled moisture in the building envelope:

  • Decay of wood and corrosion of metals
  • Infestation by termites and other destructive insects
  • Negative impacts on indoor air quality
  • Growth of mold, mildew and other biological contaminants
  • Reduced building material strength
  • Expansion/contraction damage to materials
  • Reduced thermal resistance of wet insulation
  • Premature failures of paints and coatings
  • Damage to building contents
  • Negative effects on building aesthetics

Enter the key phrase sustainable rainscreen building envelope into Google and you will get more than 18,000 results, including MTI’s “Drainable is Sustainable” presentation delivered at last fall’s technical meeting of the Sealant Waterproofing and Restoration Institute.  A key point of the presentation is that a moisture management solution for the rainscreen building envelope requires a systemic/holistic approach.  There is no single magic bullet; it takes a well-thought-out, coordinated system of products and processes designed and implemented by a team of professionals working collaboratively at every stage of the project to reach a successful outcome.

To illustrate the importance of a coordinated system in moisture management, I used the analogy of a motorcyclist riding towards an approaching storm in that presentation.

“It’s a nice sunny day, so I decide to go for a motorcycle ride.  Being an experienced motorcyclist, I always have raingear in my saddlebags because it’s summer and anything is possible!  As I move through the countryside, I notice that the sky is darkening and a storm is imminent so I pull over and put on my rain suit.

In a matter of minutes, the rain starts.  It’s light at first but soon becomes heavy, and it’s coupled with a driving wind.  Rain is forced around my windshield and into my eyes greatly limiting my ability to see the road.  Water cascades off my helmet and runs down the back of my neck soaking my shirt.  The water on the highway flies upward leaking into my boots through the seams and around the tongue.  To make matters even worse, it’s a hot, humid day so beads of condensation start to form on the inside of my rain suit making for an increasingly miserable ride!  Obviously, even though I thought I was prepared for rain, I hadn’t looked at all possibilities.”

Even though I had a collection of items designed to keep me dry, I hadn’t thought out the outcome fully, and I hadn’t properly combined the items into a functioning system.  If I had used goggles or a helmet with a visor, I could have seen the road better.  If I had used the hood on my jacket and worn it under the helmet, I wouldn’t have gotten rain down my back.  If I had used a rain jacket with vents, air could have moved around inside the system and reduced the condensation. Finally, had I worn rain boots with my rain pants lapped over the top of the boots and fastened snugly, I wouldn’t have got wet from the water spraying up from the road.

So what can be learned from this analogy about the importance of a system in solving the building envelope moisture management problem?  It takes many products, put on in the right order and at the right time, to create a positive result. We need to look at how many factors are in play and then employ several moisture management solutions as part of a system to solve the problem.

This same idea of a coordinated, multi-component solution can be applied to the people designing, specifying and constructing a building.  Gone are the days when designers, specifiers and contractors could successfully do their jobs in a vacuum.  There are just too many new products, processes and complex codes for the “Lone Ranger” approach to work.  Everyone must collaborate and communicate if a sustainable, healthy building is the goal.

Those are my thoughts; I welcome yours!

HD Big Twin