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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Briefs #31: A Trio of Wright

"Book Briefs" are an ongoing series of posts with short first-hand descriptions of some of the numerous books that make their way into my library. These briefs are not full-blown reviews, but they are a way to share more books worthy of attention than can find their way into reviews on this blog.

This year's 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright's birth (1867-1959) has generated much in the way of content: exhibitions, publications, and articles galore. I've done my share on this blog – So You Want to Learn About Frank Lloyd Wright, a book review of An Organic Architecture, and Wright at Columbia – and here I wrap up my coverage with some takes on three publications devoted to an architect we're sure to be celebrating again in another fifty years.



Frank Lloyd Wright in New York: The Plaza Years 1954-1959 by Jane King Hession and Debra Pickrel | Gibbs Smith | 2017, 10th anniversary paperback edition | Amazon
In the ten years since this book was first published, Frank Lloyd Wright's legacy in New York City has seen both the good and the bad. In the former camp, his iconic Guggenheim Museum underwent a major structural restoration that wrapped up in 2008; and with the latter, his relatively unknown Hoffman Automobile Showroom on Park Avenue was demolished in 2013 before the interior could be landmarked. In that time the city also gained, through Columbia University and the Museum of Modern Art, the Frank Lloyd Wright archive, a treasure trove of drawings, models, and other documents that have been tapped already for two exhibitions this year: Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive at MoMA and Living in America: Frank Lloyd Wright, Harlem & Modern Housing at Columbia's Wallach Art Gallery.

Although the postscript in Frank Lloyd Wright in New York mentions these and other impacts to Wright's legacy in the last ten years, the book is otherwise the same as its 2007 incarnation. With so many books about Wright, this one hones in on an interesting time and aspect of his life: his last half-decade in a city he vocally abhorred but nevertheless treated like a "Taliesin East," to use the title of the first chapter. Not every part of the book limits itself to the years 1954-1959, but the projects, exhibitions, and relationships taking place in these years fittingly get the most attention. Wright anchored himself in a corner Plaza suite (223-225) overlooking Fifth Avenue and Central Park in the years before the Guggenheim wrapped up construction in 1959  (he did not live for opening day). The suite was gutted and renovated most recently about five years ago, nary carrying over the hand of its namesake occupant. Last year the Frank Lloyd Wright suite was asking $26 million – evidence that, in many cases, the famous architect's name has more longevity than the spaces he shaped.

Metropolis 150 FLW: Wright for Our Times edited by Samuel Medina | Metropolis Magazine | 2017
When visiting family in Missouri this summer I finally visited the house Wright designed for Russell and Ruth Kraus, now known as the The Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park (my photos). The house, built in the 1950s, is located on 10.5 acres in Kirkwood, a suburb of St. Louis. Like other Usonian houses by Wright, it features a carport rather than a garage. Next to it is a detached tool shed that is now used as an orientation spot for house tours and a gift shop (the foundation that runs the house is planning on a new visitor center to be built by the parking lot). There I found this special supplement to Metropolis. At only 70 pages it is slim, but the heavyweight paper makes it thicker than a monthly issue of the magazine. Although I don't see a section on Metropolis's website where copies of the special issue can be bought, most of the ten articles, which touch upon the myriad aspects of Wright's work and its continued influence today, can be found online via the link above.

Travels with Frank Lloyd Wright: The First Global Architect by Gwyn Lloyd Jones | Lund Humphries | 2017 | Amazon
With so many books on Frank Lloyd Wright (Amazon lists 439 in a category devoted to him), any new book needs to find a niche, such as Frank Lloyd Wright in New York, that has not been explored too much already. Gwyn Lloyd Jones, an architect and educator based in London and Wales, found one, by building upon both his architectural diploma dissertation, which followed Wright's yearly migration between Taliesin and Taliesin West, and his doctoral dissertation, "Frank Lloyd Wright beyond America." His new book takes readers to six places outside of the United States, places where Wright traveled and/or had a strong influence: Japan, Germany, Russia, the UK, Italy, and the Middle East. The author's treatment of the journeys is rooted in his belief that "underlying Wright's concept of ... 'organic' architecture was an early and long-lasting engagement with globalization." The most famous instance of this was Wright's travels to Japan and his incorporation of the country's art and architecture into his own creations. But Lloyd Jones's own retracing of Wright's travels extends that knowledge to places we don't normally associate the architect with.

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