Wright & Like 2009: Madison was absolutely fantastic! Even though the sky was a bit gray and we dodged rain drops from time to time, it could not dampen the extraordinary tours that Wright in Wisconsin put together for this year's event. Read more after the jump...
We drove up early yesterday morning from Chicago to Madison. We were a little concerned about the weather (especially after last year's brutal storms) but traffic was light and the day ended up being just gray and "drizzely".
Our first stop was one of the most anticipated by the PrairieMod Squad: the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Herbert & Katherine Jacobs House II. None of us have had the opportunity to see this house before today, so we were very excited to see Wright's first "Solar Hemicycle" residence design. Conceived in 1944 and built in 1946-1948, this house was the second revolutionary architectural designs that Wright gave to the Jacobs'. (we also got to see the first, but more on that later). Jacobs II is a truly amazing space to behold. Set up in a semi-circular configuration, the house was designed to capture the Sun's potential in the winter to warm it and deflect that same solar heat in the blazing summer. A wall of glass let's in those rays, while the broad eaves deflect in summer. Finally, Wright utilized an earthen berm on the north side of the house, radiant floor heat and thick stone walls to help insulate in winter. Ingenious! Another aspect that made this house experience special was the fact that our tour guides were the current home's owners of about 20 years. They told us stories of what life is like in such a unique house and we could really tell how much their hemicycle means to them.
Next we moved onto Tour Headquarters: The First Unitarian Meeting House. Built in 1951, the original church represents another of Wright's important church designs. Its dramatic roof design emulates hands tented in prayer, while the building's diamond-modual grid permeates all aspects of its design, including furniture. We also got to tour the church's new LEED-certified addition, complete with a living roof and use throughout of sustainable building materials. In between admiring all of the architecture, we also got to peruse the offerings of the events special vendors and supporters: Ephraim Pottery, Shining Brow Books, Monona Terrace Gift Shop and Archive Edition Textiles. Too much great stuff to take in at once!
It was time to move on to our next tour stop: The John & Ruth Pew House, built in 1938-1940. This remarkable small house design by Wright was a very special treat. It has only been rarely open to the public, so there were long waiting lines outside. The house was worth the wait! Compact in design, but architectural details abound: unique shelves, built-ins and original Wright-designed furniture. Dramatic cantilevered balconies and the way in which the house straddles a little creek, it has been compared to another of Frank Lloyd Wright's house designs: Fallingwater (of course on a much smaller scale). Experiencing this house was one of the other unforgettable moments of the day and I came away with several new ideas for how to handle the shelving and storage challenges in my own little house.
We next went to the Stewart & Jacqueline Macaulay House. Conceived by Taliesin apprentice John H. Howe in 1963, this unique house was designed using a parallelogram grid unit, creating all sorts of cool, angled spaces in this "little-big" residence. We also got to meet the home's original owner, Stewart Macaulay and hear some of his stories about his good friends, architect John Howe and wife Lu Howe.
Jacobs House I was next on the list, and although the PrairieMod Squad has toured this special home before, I would never miss an opportunity to see this house. Designed for Herbert & Katherine Jacobs in 1936, the house was the first of Wright's Usonian designs: simplified construction techniques, use of natural materials and lack of basement, garage and other unnecessary "extras". What's left is a design tour de force, a symphony of wood, brick and glass. This one house helped change the face of residential architecture and it's impact still resonates 73 years later.
As the Tour's hours started running low, we decided to make our way to the two remaining stops we felt we would be able to squeeze in. We first toured the Louis Sullivan-designed Harold & Josephine Bradley House. Built in 1909, this rare Sullivan residence design also exhibits much decorative input by lead draftsman, George G. Elmslie. Saved from demoliton after a devastating fire in the 1970s, the amazingly ornamented Prairie House is well taken care of by the Fraternity members of Sigma Phi. That's right--frat guys are taking fantastic care of an architectural masterpiece! It helps prove that great design can be appreciated and valued by everyone.
The day's events ended for us at Monona Terrace, the spectacular municipal building Frank Lloyd Wright designed and redesigned for over 21 years. While he never saw it built in his lifetime, Taliesin Architect Tony Puttman brought it to life in the late 1990s. The dramatic views of Lake Monona as seen through the building's many circular windows make this a very special space to experience. I especially enjoy the arched interiors with its indirect lighting forming a tapestry of shadows on the walls and ceiling.
It was definitely a full day of experiences that will be cherished for a long time to come. We'd like to thank Wright in Wisconsin for letting us participate in another wildly successful event. If you missed this year, then mark your calendars for next June, when the unforgettable Wright & Like Tour experience will take place in Racine, Wisconsin. We can't wait!
All Photos copyright PrairieMod