Taliesin

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

Frank Lloyd Wright’s first commission was a windmill in 1896 for his two aunts located on his family’s farm near Spring Green Wisconsin. This was followed by a school for them. Later in his life, he moved on an adjacent plot with his mistress (later wife #2) where he used the building built for his aunts as the school for his students and built a house for himself and his mistress. He named his compound Taliesin as a nod to his Welsh heritage. It means Shining Brow.

Below are pictures of the school, which was built in the early 1900s.

The school includes a theater added later. All of these and the studio are still in use by architecture students.

Nearby is the house and office where FLW lived and worked. The title photo of this post is from the balcony outside the bedroom wing. The structure in the foreground was built for birdwatching. As with most of his houses, it included carports which were a new invention.

Between the house itself and the wing which housed Mr Wright’s office (and his secretary’s apartment) is the beautiful courtyard shown below.

As with all of his work, (and of all great Architects) it is the attention to detail that astounds me. The gold leaf on the ceiling to reflect light and warm the space or the beautiful stone work made to resemble the natural way the rock is found in nature. Just incredible…especially given how innovative it was for the time.

Our last stop (and our first) was of course at the gift shop. The foundation uses what was FLW’s last design as the tour’s visitor’s center. The building was originally built as a restaurant and was completed after his death. Today it has a small cafe as well as the ticket desk and gift shop.

We did a drive by of Spring Green and it is easy to see FLW’s influence in a number of buildings including this bank and it’s drive through.

So ends (at least for now) our FLW tour. We leave Spring Green headed to Condon Montana to visit s long time friend from Raleigh, Gail and to meet her new hubby. Hope you’ll join us for the drive which will include corn (some people call it maize), bears, waterfalls and SNOW!

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Racine

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

On the 5th of July we left D&L’s early headed towards Racine Wisconsin. Doug had work commitments but Larry took a post holiday and followed us up the road.

Racine is the world headquarters of SC Johnson and the site if Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings designed for both the company and the family. It is the only FLW corporate headquarters still in use (unfortunately the FLW buildings are underutilized but given they are

SC Johnson offers free tours three days a week, one just has to reserve in advance. The tours start at their Visitor’s Center which is housed in the Golden Rondelle Theater Which was designed for the 1964 World’s Fair and showed a film sponsored by SC Johnson. After the fair it was dismantled and moved to Racine. It is currently having some exterior work done. Below my picture is how it looked in New York in 1964. I’m not sure why the sculptural elements along the top were removed.

The visual focus of the campus is the Research Tower. Imagine this modern looking Tower was built in the mid 1930s. The glass is actually Pyrex tubes which let in light but obstructed the view since the Scientists needed to be working rather than looking out! You can see some of the original tubes wrapping behind one of the columns in the third picture below.

FLW realized the importance of the car to the future so the tower and the headquarters behind it were raised above the ground and one entered through a set of FLW gates into the car park. This area wasn’t just for cars though, it is a pleasant space with sculptural columns and water features to walk through. Even the water drainage system have a FLW touch!

Pictures aren’t allowed in the Great Hall of the headquarters but below are some I found online. This was likely one of the first open plan offices. Remember this was built before WWII.

After touring the Great Hall, we were allowed to climb up into the Research Tower. The Tower was built before current fire codes as it only has one door in and out. Apparently it proved impossible to make it safe, functional to maintain the architectural purity so the building is sadly only used for storage.

The building was built in 1950. It had a floor and a mezzanine for each of SC Johnson’s different research departments- wax, cleaning products, OFF, etc. As you can see in the diagram and construction photos below it was supported by a central core-this allowed the exterior to be transparent.

The core also housed an elevator of sorts-more like a dumb waiter. The core also had one toilet per floor-men only, guess their weren’t any women scientists.

The space seemed tight to me and we were told that scientists working there complained about the bright light (but no views) and heat gain. So while interesting from an architectural point of view perhaps it wasn’t just the lack of exit stairs that made them stop using the building.

Shhh, I forgot and took these illegal pictures inside.

Despite all of it’s issues, it is still an impressive looking building.

Later generations of the Johnson family have kept up the tradition of hiring famous architects. The latest building on the campus is by Norman Foster and Partners. They recently designed Apple’s new campus as well as a number of Apple stores (including the one in Chicago where We bought my new phone).

The building here is used for receptions, conference & training and employee services (cafeteria, gym, etc.). It also houses several galleries which explore both SC Johnson’s history (including the plane which one of the SC’s used to fly to the location in South American where canuba (as in wax) comes from) and Mr. Wright’s. And of course a gift shop…anyone need a ziploc bag?

After finishing our tour of the headquarters, the three of us headed along the lake and found a great spot to have a picnic lunch made up of leftovers from the 4th of July spread and pizza from our dinner the night before. It was a beautiful day and sitting by the Lake (Michigan-dang it we didn’t make it to Huron so still have one more to visit someday) was wonderful. From there we drove a few more minutes to visit the house FLW designed for Mr. Johnson, “Wingspan.”

The house was designed for a family which included a young son ( hence the crow’s nest at the top) and a daughter (she got a Juliet balcony in her bedroom at the end of the prowlike end of the house)

The house’s first floor is open plan around a central core of fireplaces. All of which is beautifully lit from above by skylights (and yes they apparently leaked😢). The fireplace on the upper level was a vertical fireplace but was only used once. Apparently after lighting the fire, the logs burned beautifully but when the bottoms were turning to ash, the remainder of the logs fell forward into the room almost causing a major fire.

Today, the house is owned by the SC Johnson Foundation and is used for corporate retreats and conferences.

Both the headquarters and the house are well worth a visit (especially since they are free) if you happen to be anywhere close to Racine.

After saying goodbye to Larry who headed back to Mundelein, Mike and I set off towards Spring Green Wisconsin for the finale of our FLW tour, his home and school-Talesin.

So stay tuned!

Mundelein

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

After collecting our Visas from the DMV, ahem Chinese Embassy on Monday morning, we headed north from Chicago towards Mundelein Illinois to spend a few days with our friends Doug and Larry. Long time readers will remember that we all cruised together on our Athens to Istanbul (via Alexandria and Santorini) in 2008. Since then we have cruised with them to the Caribbean and they visited us in Raleigh.

Since they are both still working (poor things) they suggested we arrive late afternoon and mentioned that stopping to see the Bahá’í Temple in Wilmette.

Wow! I had never really heard of this faith nor of this building. It is one of 10 temples in the World and was built from 1921-1953 entirely by donations of the faithful. In fact today, one can only donate if one is a believer. The tenements of the religion are based on the unity of humanity. They believe all religions are worthwhile and support them all. In fact some of the symbology in the temple represents Christian, Muslim and Judaism. No sermons are allowed in the temple, rather only the reading of various scriptures and quiet contemplation. Similarly, it is a requirement that their temples be surrounded by gardens to assist in having the right mindset.

We were both impressed by not only the building but their humanistic beliefs. We were welcomed to visit and explore the temple, it’s grounds and even invited to participate in one of the regular discussion groups which take place. All free of charge. As Mike put it, “now this is a religion I can get behind.

After our time at the temple we headed on to Mundelein. We dropped our luggage at Doug & Larry’s house (hereafter D&L) and Larry drove us to a local distillery where Doug met us on his way home from work. (Larry works from home). This was to be the first of many drinks during our four days (hence the title picture which was of a bar towel for sale at the distillery…I think I’m remembering that right!

This is Doug “cheers-ing” below while that is Larry driving further below. Those pictures are followed by some of the delicious drinks we all enjoyed before leaving there and going out for dinner.

The next morning, we all got up relatively early and went for a delicious breakfast in Kenosha, Wisconsin at Frank’s Diner. This is one of the original wooden diners and as you can see still does a big business. They are known for their “Garbage” plates-hash browns, eggs, cheese and your choice of meat all cooked together on the flat top and served with their restaurant made bread. So so good! And the huge cinnamon roll wasn’t too bad either! We each got a half garbage plate (can you imagine how big a full one must be? I only ate half of mine so I could fit some of the cinnamon roll in. The leftovers were quite tasty the next morning.

From Kenosha, we headed on to Milwaukee to visit the Museum of Art there. This building is highlighted by the entrance pavilion designed by Calatrava. You remember him, the same Spanish architect who designed many of the buildings in Valencia as well as the new transit center at Ground Zero in New York.

As with many of his buildings, this one moves-the “wings” open and close to shade the interior. While it is quite impressive, I was disappointed when I realized that they only shade the entry lobby, not the actual art.

Below is a time lapse of the wings closing- it actually took about 3 minutes.

After the museum we went to Milwaukee’s historic hotel the Pfister for, you quested it, a drink. From there we visited the Domes, Milwaukee’s botanical park. This facility was built in the 50s and included three Domes-one tropical, one desert, and one that is seasonal. All we’re interesting but we all agreed we enjoyed the tropical plants the best. Though I was equally enamored with the mid century architecture and lighting.

After a stop for a bite of late lunch, D&L took us to Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge. This tiny place on a residential street was originally a speakeasy during prohibition. Today, they continue to make custom cocktails using a Rolodex (anyone reading under the age of thirty can look it up) of over 400 recipes. While you can order a beer or a pina colada, the fun thing to do (since they have no menu) is to answer the bartender’s questions-bitter, sweet? Rum or vodka? Frozen or on the rocks? And then let him make you a drink from one of their 400 recipes. We had several. (Surprise!)

As you can tell from the looks on the boys faces, we all enjoyed ourselves.

On the way back to Mundelein, we stopped at the supermarket. One could tell we were in cheese country, the cheese aisle seemed almost endless!

D&L hosted a 4th of July bbq the next day. We had entirely too much food (and drink – another surprise). We shared the delicious pineapple liquor that Rebecca and Karol had brought us from their recent trip to the Azores with everyone as we toasted the USA.

We had a great four days in Mundelein with Larry and Doug and hope it won’t be so long before we see them again. They are discussing visiting Germany and Poland next year so fingers crossed we get to see them there.

Next up, more Frank Lloyd Wright!

Grand Rapids

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

After a painful crossing of the border into the United States (Apparently one of the great leader’s minions was working the lane we happened to so select and decided he needed to look in every one of our bins and suitcases for contraband. It felt like these two US citizens were not really welcomed home.😢)we drove to Grand Rapids to spend the night.

Some of you may be wondering why we cover such a small distance each day. We have discovered that after four or five hours a day in a car that we are pretty miserable. Therefore we try to plan for about four hours of road time each day. That allows us to not rush to leave wherever we are in the morning stop and have lunch and arrive well before suppertime so we can explore wherever it is we are spending the next night.

In Grand Rapids we visited the Gerald Ford presidential museum making this the third presidential facility we have visited. In each case one learns or is it least reminded about each of our presidents.

Mike enjoyed a quick dance with Betty.

The museum in Grand Rapids is located on the river across from downtown and the Ford’sburial plot has a lovely view to the City

After a nice stay at the Drury Inn (love their supper and breakfast but most of all their staff), we made a quick stop at the Meyer May House near downtown. This was a house Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the owner of a clothing store. It is one of the best restored and maintained if his works we have visited. This is mostly due Steelcase (office furniture) who are headquartered in Grand Rapids. The tours are free and we highly recommend trying to visit this house. Our original plan was to do a drive by as we had to get to chicago in time to apply for our Chinese visas. But we asked and were lucky that one of the docents agreed to take us on an abbreviated tour.

I loved the bit of gold or bronze which made the fireplace sparkle.

The skylights that lit (along with the windows) the living room were beautiful.

The house is now used by Steelcase for customer entertainment…would love to be invited to a dinner here. The intimacy created by the four builtin lights at the corners of the table is just Wow!

Happy Independence Day!

Sorry my post about our three weeks in Canada isn’t written yet nor about our four days in Chicago for Mike’s Birthday but will try to get them done soon. But we have been going pretty hard so no time to stop and write.

We are currently in Mundelein Illinois, a chicago burb almost in Wisconsin at our friend’s Larry & Doug’s. They are hosting a bbq for the fourth later this afternoon so we have all just finishing prepping so we can all relax! Mike and I made insalada caprese on a stick (yes I know it’s Italian but…) and broccoli salad. Larry has made guacamole and Doug just finished a red, white and blue trifle. He also has made a fruit salad (Mike and I pitted the cherries) and roasted veggies and potatoes. The brats and burgers are all that are left to do….oh yeah and the signature cocktail. He is getting that ready now.

Yesterday we left Mundelein and had breakfast at Frank’s Diner in Kenosha. Their specialty is a garbage plate- potatoes, eggs, meat and cheese all griddled together. It was yummy! We each ordered a half size but I also ordered a cinnamon roll so I brought half home and had for breakfast this morning.

After breakfast we drive another 30 minutes to Milwaukee and spent some time at the Art Museum designed by Calatrava the Spanish architect who designed the City of Arts & Sciences in Valencia. It was hazy but that only added to the mystique of the sculpture like museum. We were there at noon when the wings flapped. The time lapse video compressed in 12 seconds what took 3-5 minutes. The sunscreen helps shade the large pavilion that serves as the main entry for the museum.

After a stop at the historic Pfister Hotel for a cooling beverage, we headed to The Domes-a botanical garden built in the late 50s/early 60s. One dome is tropical, one the desert and the third is season. We all loved the tropical one except for the humidity!

After the domes, our hosts took us to a speakeasy that opened during prohibition. There is no cocktail menu, if you don’t have something already in mind you tell them what you like and they make a cocktail from their Rolodex of over 450 recipes. Both of mine were gin based and very tasty!

Aviation cocktail

The Last Word cocktail

We leave here tomorrow headed for Racine, Wisconsin to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s SC Johnson office complex and then on towards Talesin, his homestead. After that we head to Mount Rushmore and will visit Yellowstone before we get to our friend Gail’s in Montana on July 12th where we will stay a while.

Hope everyone has a great Holiday and remember my new motto:

The Miller House (Columbus Indiana part 2)

Yes, yes, I know I’m behind but I’m finally writing this post from Leamington Canada (north side of Lake Erie across from Clevelandish) about our visit to The Miller House (for the CEO of Cummins, his wife and five kids) designed by Eero Saarinen with interiors by Alexander Girard and landscape by Dan Kiley.

The house was finished in 1957 and influenced so much modern residential architecture that was to come.

The three designers were all at the top of their game and had two clients who understood and wanted good design and had money to get it. As Mike wrote on this Facebook post, it was the perfect storm. The openness of the living spaces to each other in particular survives to this day. The stark architecture is enhanced by the mixture of contemporary and antique furnishings and the geometric plantings and allees of trees were a far cry from the romantic gardens most popular at the time.

The Millers were friends with all three of the designers and apparently Mrs. Miller and Mr. Girard were particularly close. He even designed special patterns for the upholstered cushions for the dining room chairs which included the Miller’s monograms. Mrs. Miller and her bridge club then needlepointed these. (quite a difference from the needlepoint my mother did for her dining room chairs!)

The Miller House is often considered the first modern mansion. It is said it cost around $500,000 to build ($4.5 million today) and at least that much in furnishings and art. But unlike other mansions of its time, the house isn’t full of crown mold and gold leaf. Rather, it is full of expensive materials and details.

Book-matched slate (according to the guide but looked like bluestone to me) on the exterior and book-matched sand finished marble slabs for some of the interior.

Skylights through-out the house emphasize the structural grid and more importantly bring diffused light to even the most interior rooms. These skylights along with the exterior plantings give the whole interior of the feeling of being under a huge canopy of trees. Through the huge windows you can see out and the skylights make the interior bright but not too bright.

The granite topped dining room table has built in lighting in the base and the center was a fountain where Mrs Miller often floated flowers for fancy dinners.

This is the view from the entry, it’s not a true entry hall but the screen serves to provide privacy for the living room.

The free standing fireplace with segmented glass firescreen also helps delineate the living space

Unfortunately we were only allowed to take photos of the exterior and of the entry/living/dining room but below are some photos I found online that may help explain just how wonderful a house this is.

The Miller’s bedroom which has a view across the huge meadow to the woodlands along the river.

The modern kitchen and breakfast room. Note the builtin Nutone blender/mixer/food processor on the counter. I was the only one on the tour (other than the guide) who knew what it was-Clara always wanted one! Who knew that Joanna Gaines didn’t invent the huge kitchen island?

The family room is just off the huge living room. There is a tv behind the cabinet doors and the pool is outside that sliding door and behind the hedge.

The children’s common space. Each of the girls had there own dorm like bedroom with a twin bed and the two boys shared a similar room with a bunk bed. The space above was in between them all.

Unlike some of the other iconic modern houses like the Farnsworth House by Mies or Phillip Johnson’s Glass House, this was a house built for a family and it served that purpose for over 50 years. The children grew up here, it was used to entertain and house Cummins’ international guests when Columbus didn’t have any appropriate hotels or restaurants and finally was where both Mr and Mrs Miller lived until their deaths in the 2000s. I wish I could live in such a great house but just imagine doing so after it was made a National Historic Landmark like both of them did!

The house was given to the Indianapolis Museum of Art after Mrs Irwin died in 2008 and is open for tours through the Columbus Visitor Center. If you make it to Columbus be sure and take this tour!

Columbus.

Indiana this time-long post ahead, you’ve been warned!

We left the Ohio version of Columbus on Memorial Day morning headed for Indiana’s Columbus which was abut 2 hours away. We stopped for lunch outside of Cincinnati and for lunch we tried Cincinnati Chili at a local chain Skyline Chili. Here they put their chili over spaghetti with cheese on top-that’s called chili three way, which is what Mike had. I had mine five ways, adding onions and beans. It was very tasty but after seeing the picture my friend claudia asked-have you taken your Lipitor?

They also serve hot dogs or coneys as they called them in a similar fashion. You can see some loaded on the coney rack the guy is holding in the picture below.

I wondered if it’s someone’s job just to grate cheese all day!

After lunch and a little more time on the road, we arrived in the other Columbus.

Lots of folks have asked why we were going out of our way to visit this small town of less than 50,000. Coming to Columbus is part of any architectural pilgrimage. The city has an incredible collection of modern buildings designed by many of the most influential architects.

This collection was brought about due to the influence and money of Irwin Miller, the longtime CEO of Cummins (Engine), Inc.

The first project that started the push for great architecture was the First Christian Church (designed by Eliel Saarinen, a Finnish Architect. He initially declined the congregation’s request but after Mr. Miller met with him and noted that the congregation wanted a building that reflected their values and community, Eliel agreed.

This church was built in 1942 so imagine how different it was from other churches at the time. It’s lack of decoration, asymmetry, lack of stained glass are just a few things that set it apart from other churches being built at that time.

The interior is all about light. The ceiling soars especially after the relatively dark and low vestibule (though thankfully Eliel didn’t go as low as Frank Lloyd Wright!).

What decoration that exists is typically achieved by revealing attachment methods or by simple manipulation of materials as with the doors below.

Eliel was the father of Eero Saarinen, who later designed the St. Louis Arch, the TWA terminal at JFK among others. He had a small hand at 1st Christian while an intern at his dad’s practice. The light fixtures are attributed to him.

More (lots more of his work to come). For me, it was so great to experience in person a building that I had seen since starting college. While I understood it had greatly influenced churches to come, standing in it let me see how parts of it had evolved into similar pieces of my Mother’s church in Charleston. I had similar thoughts in many of the buildings we visited during our time in Columbus.

After WWII ended, the city was growing and a new school was needed. Cummins Foundation (Mr. Miller really) offered to pay the design fees for the school if the School Board would select their architect from a list of 5 architects recommended by the foundation. This was the beginning of the Cummins Foundation Architectural Program.

Lillian Schmidt Elementary school by Harry Weese was the result of this first effort. It is easy to see the impact this school had on future schools. The classrooms with high ceilings and lots of windows greatly reminds me of one we recently worked on in Houston-

The architectural program continues today though the guide said the last building built under it was finished in 2008. The Cummins Foundation will pat the design fees for any non profit or government building. So lots of churches and such…and of course Cummins’s buildings.

A mental health building by James Polshek which spans a creek. He also designed the Clinton Library we visited in Little Rock last year on our Christmas trip.

The library designed by I.M. Pei who designed the glass pyramid at the Louvre, the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame which we will visit a few days after being here. Mr. Pei died a month or so ago at the age of 103.

The ice skating warming house by Harry Weese

Cummins Engine Plant #1 which was clad in a design by Harry Weese to consolidate the disparate buildings.

Weese used a similar design on the research building he designed nearby.

An addition to Engine Plant #1 by Kevin Roche.

Roche also designed the international headquarters for Cummins. This huge 200,000 square foot building covers two or three city blocks adjacent to downtown but is barely noticeable as it has setbacks and is covered in many places by plants.

AT&T switching station recladding by CRS. The first picture below is how it looked originally. Unfortunately, the plantings proved problematic and were removed.

Newspaper building by Myron Goldsmith. The glass windows allowed all who passed by to be able to see the presses (which were of course painted Columbus (Cummins?) red.

Eliel Saarinen’s son, Eero also left his mark on Columbus. In 1954 he designed the first modern bank. While other banks looked like Greek temples, his was at ground level and all glass. The tellers were not behind cages but open and available to customers…and there were drive up windows!

Today, it is used as a conference center by Cummins.

Eero also designed North Christian Church for an offshoot group from First Christian (designed by his father you’ll remember). It is said that this building is the one he most wanted to be remembered for. He told Mrs. Miller that he hoped when he got to the pearly gates that he would be welcomed with, “oh you’re the guy who designed that great church” Certainly one can see the influence this church made on many others across the country-none of which are as powerful on the exterior.

The Church is much more intimate than First Christian and while joy as light filled, is still brighter than my pictures show. It’s my opinion that St. Peter might have said to Eero, that you’re the guy who designed that church that isn’t quite as good as your Dad’s!

The Church is basically all steeple. I was surprised to learn that the entire roof is supported by just six huge steel members:

Eero’s most impressive building in Columbus was the house he designed for the Millers. Here is a taste as it deserves (and will receive) a whole post!

Mr. and Mrs. Miller were also great supporters of the arts. When I.M. Pei was designing the library he told them that the plaza out front needed a Henry Moore sculpture, so they bought one and donated it. Of course it also does a great job of framing the First Christian Church.

They also became great supporters of Dale Chihuly and provided the chandelier and adjacent art for the Columbus Visitor’s Center’s stair.

The city has held a temporary sculpture exhibition a few years ago and due to the popularity of one work, the city purchased it.

There is also some fine historical architecture in Columbus including the County Courthouse.

Immediately behind the courthouse is the county’s veterans memorial. We were lucky enough to visit on Memorial Day and were both greatly moved by it. On the columns are engraved letters typically from service men and women written to family just days before they gave their lives for our country.

Columbus is also home to one of the few remaining ice cream parlors so of course we had to visit! One side of the parlor is the working restaurant while the other half is devoted to old ice cream fountains and other historic pieces including music devices. Oh and the ice cream was delish!

Mike and I both felt like none of the buildings well except for the First Christian Church and the Miller’s House (to which I will devote a whole post) are the best example of the architect’s work, rather it is the concentration of work by these leaders of architecture that makes a visit to Columbus so worthwhile. We highly recommend that you go out of your way if necessary to spend some time in this great little town.