Exhibiting the master's works here Home: His buildings may have leaked, but Frank Lloyd Wright is still considered by many to be America's greatest architect. A show at Evergreen House pays tribute.

March 31, 1996|By Charlyne Varkonyi | Charlyne Varkonyi,FORT LAUDERDALE SUN-SENTINEL

Ludd Spivey was delighted when the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright agreed to design the structures on the campus of Florida Southern College. But his mood changed soon after they were built.

As the college president sat in his office, he began to feel drips of water. Horrified, he looked up and saw the skylight was leaking all over his desk. Spivey tried to get it fixed, but the annoying drip, drip, drip continued. Losing his patience, he picked up the phone and called Wright.

"The skylight keeps leaking and I have water all over my desk," Spivey said. "What should we do?"

Wright paused and then replied: "I guess you are going to have to move your desk!"

Similar stories have been told about Wright and at least eight of his other clients. Many of Wright's houses, especially those of an experimental nature, suffered from roof leaks and other maintenance problems. And yet, this creative genius who designed more than 1,000 buildings in 40 states, Canada and Japan, continues to be revered.

"A Lasting Vision: The Legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright," a small exhibition that toured nine cities in 1994 and 1995, will be at the Evergreen House in Baltimore April 12-18. Next stops on the tour are Long Island, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn.

It is co-sponsored by House Beautiful and the Chrysler Corp.

Who was this man many call America's greatest architect? Curmudgeon. Nature lover. Independent. Strong-willed. Terrible businessman. Brilliant. Revolutionary. Some authors even describe Wright as a creative artist in the same league as Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Mozart.

Although he has been dead for 37 years, his legacy continues to build.

He gained immortality through his most memorable buildings: Fallingwater, built in 1935 in Mill Run, Pa.; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, built 1943-1959 in New York City; and Taliesin West, built 1937-1959 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Wrightmania has exploded in the '90s -- in books, CD-ROMs, authorized reproductions of his art-glass windows, furniture, fabric and other decorative objects, as well as in exhibitions of his work in the United States and in Europe.

Wright died just shy of his 92nd birthday, before he saw completion of many of the works that are in the exhibit coming to Evergreen House. His influence is highlighted through photos of his work and the designs of architects he influenced.

Besides authorized reproductions of his furniture, fabric, windows and decorative accessories, the exhibit also reveals Wright's lesser-known works, such as the cars he designed in 1920 and 1958 that still look futuristic.

"I love the part about Wright and the automobile because it is unexpected," says David Hanks, a Wright scholar and New York curatorial consultant. "He saw the automobile as being related to his ideas of freedom. He didn't like cities, and the automobile allowed people to live in suburban areas."

Although Wright's designs were never made into new cars, Mr. Hanks says Wright would buy an automobile, take the top off and paint it Cherokee red, one of his favorite colors.

One of the biggest Wright fans is Bruce Books Pfeiffer, co-author of "Frank Lloyd Wright: The Masterworks" (Rizzoli, $65) and director of the archives for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz. Mr. Pfeiffer has done a lot more than preserve the master architect's designs; he worked with him as an apprentice from 1949 to 1959.

One of Mr. Pfeiffer's stories involves Westhope, a house in Tulsa, Okla., with a flat tar roof that Wright designed for his cousin, Richard Lloyd Jones.

"When the Joneses first moved in, there was a storm and the roof began to leak," Mr. Pfeiffer says. "Mrs. Jones was very stoic and said, 'That's what happens when you leave a work of art out in the rain.' " (The Joneses supposedly dealt with the problem by placing jars and tubs all over the house each time it rained.)

And what was Wright's lasting contribution?

"He felt buildings should make man feel comfortable," Mr. Pfeiffer JTC says. "They should be part of the landscape. Materials should be used honestly -- wood that appears as wood and stone that appears as stone. They should have human scale and not be gigantic."

This is part of what Wright called "Organic Architecture" -- designing that evolves from the setting, the materials and the client's needs. He tore apart the box-within-a-box concept of building and made open floor plans. He sited the building so that it made the most of the setting, like Fallingwater, a house that becomes part of nature's stone cliffs and waterfalls. And he attempted to put good design within the budget of the average person.

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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