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.
It has been six years since I wrote about stepwells, those amazing structures found throughout the Indian subcontinent. Communal water sources, stepwells range from simple community structures to elaborate complexes replete with stunning architectural detail. When I wrote six years ago I described the Adalaj stepwell in Ahmedabad, but I only included a single image, so I am remedying that here. Continue Reading
we could all use some of this
That blog also delved into the 41-year history of World Heritage, which includes both cultural, natural and “mixed” sites. I detailed how we had shifted in heritage conservation from iconic and monumental singular sites to broader cultural landscapes. In recent discussions with conservation foundations, I am sensing a new confluence of heritage conservation and natural conservation as both approaches are moving into the arena of cultural landscapes. Continue Reading
Everywhere you look in the Old City of Tripoli you see banners and flags of the new Libya, red, green and black with the Islamic star and crescent. There is a vibrant market here, perhaps more vibrant because the banking system remains dysfunctional some 20 months after the successful revolution that overthrew Moammar Gaddafi after a 42-year long dictatorship. The market also reveals the manifold diversity of Libyan heritage and identity: people from every part of the world who have come to this southern Mediterranean trading port for perhaps three thousand years: from Phoenicia, Greece, Rome, Sub-Saharan Africa, Arabia, Byzantium, Egypt, Turkey and more. Continue Reading
Last Saturday, Irena Bakova, Director-General of UNESCO, was in Chicago for a meet-and-greet with local heritage conservation professionals, and last night ICOMOS Director Gustavo Araoz spoke as part of the Chicago Modern: More Than Mies series, presented by the Save Prentice Coalition of AIA Chicago, docomomo Midwest, Landmarks Illinois, The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Chicago. Both talked about Chicago’s singular architectural legacy and suggested that Chicago would be an ideal World Heritage city. Continue Reading
Day 3 in Lima was quite exhausting because we started by getting up at 5 AM to go to the farthest side of town (Comas) to join the Mayor as she started a project to plant 40,000 trees in the city. Here is SAIC’s Frances Whitehead, the leader of our Peru project, talking with Mayor Susanna Villaran. You can also see our main partners, Gunther Merzthal to the left and Anna Zuchetti to the right.
We got a chance to introduce the Mayor to our proposed collaboration, helping bring urban agriculture into the center of the city, the World Heritage area, while also supporting local community development. The ceremony included of course schoolchildren and the tree planting itself. Continue Reading
Today we met with Arquitecto José Rodriguez Cárdenas, who is in charge of the Historic Center of Lima, to discuss possible projects in the World Heritage center of Lima. Now, most tourists see only the historic center, which includes the Cathedral and those lovely old buildings surrounding the Plaza de Armas
Turns out, most of the square was actually built in the 20th century, as we learned, although the feeling is of course from an earlier era. I was also surprised to find that many of the older buildings we saw within the World Heritage district were actually from the 1920s despite their obvious Baroque Colonial influences.