His younger contemporaries Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier got there first, but Frank Lloyd Wright, the most influential American architect in history, finally made the UNESCO World Heritage List. As a Board Member of the Frank Lloyd Wright .Building Conservancy, I am very pleased that the long-awaiting recognition came today in Baku, Azerbaijan. A total of eight works were included, including Unity Temple in Oak Park and Robie House in Chicago.
The inscription of Wright’s work took almost 20 years, twice as long as the effort that saw the San Antonio Missions inscribed four years ago. Two buildings originally proposed, the Price Tower in Bartlesville, OK and the Marin County Courthouse in California were dropped as the nomination was extensively revised.
The selected sites do reflect Wright’s genius, from his pre-World War I Prairie period that gave us the incomparable Unity Temple and Robie House, through his California textile block houses (represented by the Hollyhock or Barnsdale House) and his mid-century Usonian style that began with the Jacobs I house in Madison Wisconsin.
The inscription also includes both of Wright’s sprawling “schools” – Taliesin in Wisconsin and Taliesin West in Arizona, where his apprentices learned for over 20 years.
And of course, Wright’s famous “comeback” building, Fallingwater, is included, where he ditched the idea that he was a 19th century architect and cemented his reputation with a building that not only balances above a waterfall and integrates with the landscape, but becomes a landscape. Wright loved nature and his gift was not simple integrating buildings with nature, but allowing buildings to be inspired by nature, designed by nature, so that they elevated and improved the landscapes they occupied.
Wright’s early apprentice Barry Byrne said Wright only needed to sketch plans and elevations, because he could think in three dimensions. When Ken Burns did that documentary on Wright, even his needling adversary Philip Johnson admitted that Wright could imagine space in a way few mortals can.
The recognition is long overdue, but well deserved. For decades I have said that Unity Temple is one of the best buildings in the world. I lived less than a block from it for a dozen years and my children grew up with it. There is no question in my mind that it belongs in the company of the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat.
So, more favorite World Heritage sites I have visited. And before you get too jealous, look at some of the places I have NEVER been and think how many World Heritage sites are there:
Almost all of Africa and the Middle East
I still kick myself that I didn’t make it to Borobodur in ’86, and I was only 90 minutes (but no car) away from the most excellently named World Heritage Site of all in 2015:
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. That’s in Alberta, Canada and it was inscribed way back in 1981.
Last weekend was the first annual World Heritage Festival here in San Antonio, celebrating one year since the inscription of the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage Site. Having spent my career in heritage, this is exciting for me because now I live, work and play in a World Heritage site for the first time in my life. Continue Reading
Ten years ago this November. My blog covered the event.
That is Vasyl Rozhko at the end of the table with me to his right. I was in the Ukraine at the invitation of Myron Stachkiw (pointing at left) and other heritage experts, including Henry and Chris Cleere and Taissa Bushnell. Rozhko’s father had spent his life documenting over 4000 post holes carved into 55-million year old rock outcroppings along a river in the Carpathian mountains. Continue Reading
Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria. BEFORE.
I was going to write this blog on Saturday when I heard the legendary Harold Kalman speak at the National Trust for Canada conference in Calgary. I had the honor of being the opening keynote speaker on Thursday night, and Harold won at least two awards on Friday night, including one for lifetime achievement. Notwithstanding his elder statesman role, he had some keen insights into where heritage is in 2015, and the keenest came when he answered the inevitable question. Continue Reading
Aaugh HELP they are tearing it down!!! NOW!!
One of the many benefits of my three years in Silicon Valley, buttressed by 30 years of serving on non-profit Boards of Directors (I whittled it down to four recently. Well, five.) is that I have been steeped in strategic thinking and strategic planning. While this may seem like a normal exercise to the MBA crowd, it is something that tends to be lacking in the historic preservation/heritage conservation field. Continue Reading