Historic preservation affects everyone in a community. And Frank Lloyd Wright’s contributions to architecture are among the most worthy of the 20th century. But something interesting happens when restoration and preservation broaden their footprint to reach into commercial motives. If architecture is for the community, some limits on how the property is used might be in order.
One of the last homes that Wright designed awaits its fate in Arizona. And the result could affect the whole community that has sprung up around it.
Wright’s Son’s Home Hangs in the Balance
In 1952, Wright designed a home in Arcadia, Arizona, for his son and daughter-in-law, David and Gladys. This cylindrical structure survived as their primary residence until Gladys died in 2008. David preceded her in death in 1997. The home was willed to their granddaughters, says Architect Magazine, but they sold it to a new owner, who then sold it to a developer.
The home now sits vacant and in need of major restoration attention. Former local resident, Zach Rawling, learned about the state of the home and the city’s plans to demolish it. So to prevent that from happening, he stepped in with a plan to restore it. And if the story ended there, most everyone would likely be happy.
Proposed Changes Could Affect the Community
Residents of the wealthy Arcadia area are on board with the idea of preserving the Wright structure to its former beauty and usefulness. But Rawling’s plans go a bit further. He intends to expand the work to include underground education center, archives, a cafe, and a bookstore, organized as a non-profit.
This proposal causes concern among residents, since commercialization and the accompanying tourist traffic would alter the nature of their neighborhood. They also worry that it sets the tone for more commercialization in other neighborhoods in the area.
Wright’s Career Makes His Designs Legendary
Wright was arguably the most famous architect of the last century. His structures, which he called “organic architecture,” were intended to complement the people who lived or worked in them and blend with the environment where they stood. And the curving lines of the Arcadia home are no exception to his creative method.
His career reached a peak 1935 with Fallingwater, which many say is not only his premier work, but an AIA 1991 survey also calls the “best all-time work of American architecture.” His contributions make him an icon. And although the Arcadia home isn’t as revered as Fallingwater, most people agree that it is worthy of preservation.
The Community and Owner Do Agree on One Thing
The community of Arcadia and the owner of the David and Gladys Wright home have some opposing views, but they do agree that the house should survive. And to as great a degree possible, it should survive as it was built. The division happens with how the house should be used.
By housing a non-profit, the house could, at least theoretically, sustain itself. Future maintenance and care could be funded by any proceeds brought in by the programs and shops. And because they would be situated underground, the home itself would look the way Wright intended it to against the Arizona landscape. But the community of Arcadia might face a permanent change that it’s not as happy about, and that’s becoming a tourist attraction.
One of architecture’s primary functions is to design with the community in mind. How will a building serve its users? How will it serve the community? In the Arcadia case, the house does neither, at least not right now. It sits empty, waiting for someone decide its fate.
Architecture has a duty to create and preserve in a way that works now and in years to come. The decisions are never easy, nor are they cut and dried. Professional development hours are important because architecture affects everyone, and PDH Academy makes them easy to fulfill. Check out our courses when your next credit hours are due.
elisabeth / Flickr Creative Commons license
david crummey / Flickr Creative Commons license
public domain FLW portrait
By New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Al Ravenna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons