On the road to the Summer Conference in Buffalo - Day two

Email by E Steinebach on July 28, 2009

On the road to the Summer Conference in Buffalo - Day two Image

I think Canadians, in general, are more fascinated with Frank Lloyd Wright, than our American neighbors. Last year when asked by the AGG executive/directors about what could be included in the various tours, I immediately said the Darwin D, Martin house. Yes, Buffalo is rich with many architectural beauties and filled with great stained glass form a diverse range of studios, however as a Canadian with an appreciation for contemporary glass, seeing Wright's glass work, up close and personal, would be a real education and joy. So when the idea was bypassed, Michael and I decided to go on our own.

If you are organized and don't mind a bit of a rush, you can save money by purchasing the combination ticket, where you tour both the Darwin D Martin house complex and drive yourself to the summer residence on the lake, Graycliff. Both sites have docent lead tours at various times during the day, during the summer.

I was totally overcome with seeing the Complex ten years later. It has grown, is far less a construction site and is the largest Wright, open to the public, collection of structures in America, boasting the Martin House with the newly added pergola and green house, the Barton House and the recently acquired Gardeners cottage, which was a nearby private residence.

We arrived early and had opportunity to walk some of the tree lined street that is the complex's neighborhood. We enjoyed the beautiful Episcopal church kitty corner to the Martin House, which gave us a very sweet view. The exterior images are still devoid of plantings, which allows for excellent construction views, however is somewhat stark. There are plans to recreate the gardens, which were very extensive – requiring both a green house and full time gardener. However with much still to accomplish in the interiors, the exterior gardens will likely be last on the list.

The new, all glass welcoming pavilion is one of those really different looking structures, so you can't confuse it with Wright's work. I found it a bit intense, a bit like being in a gold fish bowl where the air conditioning costs in summer, must go through the roof. It is one of those architectural statements that says, we are modern and forward thinking and not anything like Wright. I don't know if it is a good thing, but certainly feel for the neighboring properties. It is one thing to live next door to a popular tourist destination due to extraordinary architecture, it is another to have had this glass house pop up. It did however offer a slide presentation, various static displays and three of those totally cool, touch screen interactive monitors. I'm not any kind of computer geek, but these were fun!

The tour itself includes both the exteriors and interiors of all the structures. Yes, there are areas that are still under construction, but the need of hard hats and safety glasses are not required. Wright was a magician of space, if you give yourself over to the experience, with a little imagination you are transported back into a time and can fully appreciate Wright's use of the three dimensional space.

Starting at the Barton House, the middle class residence, all of Wright's favorite ploys are in play. The slightly obscured front entrance, the massive hearth, playing with open and private space by using wood trim, balanced symmetry in window placement and floor plans, large over hangs, storage kept to a minimum. Then onto the Martin House. First, the sweeping walk from the Barton House, taking in all the side yard and views of the pergola and covered terrace, around the corner to the drive. Again the circuitous route to the front door, an interesting combination of inviting overhang, comforting and protecting from the elements and also a bit intimidating as the adjacent wall immediately rises up to the second floor, reminding you that you are entering a home of an important business man.

The interiors are still a long way away from being complete. Like walking through a house prior to moving in day, you get a sense of all the potential. Yes there are still some messy bits and an occasional room off limits for repairs, however when you realize that twenty or so people are standing in the living room, with room to spare, you start getting a sense of scale. The commonly referred to "Tree of Life" window pattern actually has no such designation, but was rather simply noted as the second floor windows. There are nearly 400 windows in the Darwin D Martin House. With still more than half in museums and private collections around the world. The trustees are trying to negotiate for some of there return, but will likely have replacements built. Currently there are printed films in many of the windows, so you can get an idea of how the windows integrated with the space.

The tour wraps up with the recently acquired Gardeners cottage. After the first year of starting the gardens, Darwin realize he needed assistance and a full time gardener was hired. Wright design this little cottage in his utilitarian scale. Small, compact and yet still full of Wrightisms. Everyone deserved to live in good architecture.

I encourage everyone to visit the site. It is a work in progress, and it is the everyday tourist that helps keep the dream alive. The docents knowledge of the architecture of the lives involved and what the future holds, is impressive. Many letters of correspondence still exist and helps them bring the story to life. My short ramblings do not do the site justice, but hope it encourage you to see for yourself.