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Nice Event for a Nasty Man

August 3, 2009

Scrumptious Gordon House Event for Scandalous Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, 8/02/09

My wife and I went to the Eat at Frank Lloyd Wright’s event in Silverton yesterday. I wrote about the Gordon House on July 17. We had an excellent time and enjoyed the great food. There was a friendly crowd of attendees and cheerful volunteers supported by sponsors and led by a management committee that made for a well run event. The weather was near perfect and the locale was ideal.

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A bit disappointing was the Gordon House itself. It was open for a self guided tour and there were helpful docents to answer questions and add background info. The house itself is modest, designed in the 1930’s for middle-income families.

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It does have many nice features, floor to ceiling windows and doors, and certainly carries the Frank Lloyd Wright imprint. However, the bedrooms were very small with claustrophobicly low ceilings, while the tiny kitchen has a two story high ceiling of unusable space.

I came to realize that when you live in a Wright designed home you may have to sacrifice comfort and functionality for his uncompromising creative vision. The signature flat roofs which look good from the outside obstruct views from the inside.

There were posters, books and documents on FLW there that talked about his architecture and life. There have been many books and articles written on FLW and an interesting Ken Burns video on his work and life.

While we can respect Wright’s genius and innovation in architecture. The Wright way was predominately self-centered. His motivation and the way he treated his family, his nation and his clients were strictly for his satisfaction.

A good example of the Wright attitude comes from John Huston, the talented film writer and director. Huston was also a gifted painter and had designed his own home. Wright had heard about the house while in L.A. and asked if he could come see it. Huston was delighted and trepidatious about a visit from the famous architect, with good cause.

Shortly after walking in Huston’s home, Wright proclaimed disapprovingly. “I don’t like high ceilings. I like the sense of shelter that a low ceiling gives. Why do you like high ceilings, Mr. Huston?”

“I’m tall,” The 6’2″ director explained . “Low ceilings are uncongenial to someone of my height. You never feel you can stand upright. I like the sense of space and freedom that a high ceiling gives.”

“Anyone over five-ten is a weed,” Wright responded. Source “An Open Book” 1980, page 73. Huston autobiography.

As stunning and artful as the FLW designed buildings are I think they are long on genius but short on heart. That may not be so bad for a commercial building like the  Johnson Wax Headquarters or a museum like the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. But for a small home like the Gordon House I don’t think it works.

The Gordon House is fun to visit, but I don’t think I’d want to live there. It would be awkward and uncomfortable, like kissing Ayn Rand or dancing with the mayor of Silverton.

None the less, the house is well worth a visit and the “A Taste of Wright” event was wonderful. My only suggestions for improvement would be a more expansive selection of food and better forks. It’s frustrating to be jabbing at a succulent piece of sizzling lamb and not being able to spear it with the cheapo plastic fork.

Visit the informative web site Gordon House and learn more about the house and the man. See what an innovative job your Willamette Valley neighbors are doing in saving and presenting a unique architecture treasure.

From the web site:

The Gordon House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is the only building in Oregon designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is the only Wright building in the Pacific Northwest open to the public.

“It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Gordon House Conservancy encourages renters to recognize the effort and expenditure that has been undertaken to preserve and continue the restoration of the house while making it available for enjoyment by the public.”

“When the house was saved from demolition in the winter of 2001, and The Oregon Garden in Silverton selected as its new site, the house was moved in sections from Wilsonville, Oregon, in record time by March 11, 2001.

The Oregon Garden is a showcase for the integration of facilities with surroundings, a concept advocated by Frank Lloyd Wright. The wetlands are an environmental model that uses Silverton’s treated wastewater as The Garden’s irrigation source and, in turn, serves as a haven for plants and wildlife.

The Gordon House, built in 1963 for Evelyn and Conrad Gordon, is a prime example of Wright’s “Usonian” architecture which he began designing in the 1930’s. In 1938, Life magazine commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright and several other leading architects to design “Eight Houses for Modern Living.” The homes were featured in the September 26, 1938, issue.

Wright described his home, designed for middle-income families, as a Little Private Club. “Space,” he said, “is characteristic of this free pattern for a freer life than you could possibly live in the conventional house.” Wright called its style “Usonian,” his word for “United States of North America.” These houses were designed with simpler, more economical construction costs, frequently combining living and dining rooms into one area.”


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