Building A Frank Lloyd Wright House-Completion

I have been writing about the process of building one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last designs. A hemicycle, it was designed in 1954 for a Pennsylvania family but never realized. In 1992 construction started on the island of Hawaii and almost four years later it was finished. John Rattenbury, the supervising architect, said that the quality of work was “A plus.” My hat went off to all of the people who worked on it. It was a very special project. People gave their very best and it showed. During the course of construction we had several earthquakes in the five range on the Richter scale. After the home was completed, there was one biggie: it measured 6.9. The house had been built on compacted gravel so the entire structure moved as a unit. Earthquake damage is usually severe because structures are designed to take vertical loads and not horizontal stress. I was in this last earthquake taking a shower in a small cottage. It felt like King Kong had picked up the cottage and was shaking it for all it was worth. Seventeen seconds felt like seventeen years. The Wright house did not suffer  any damage. Of course there were two four inch slabs of concrete with a rubber membrane between  the slabs as well as expansion joints installed on the top layer. This enabled the shock to be absorbed and disbursed with no deleterious effects.

One of the great things about this house is that the three sets of double front doors could be opened up and gatherings of 200 or more could easily be accommodated as the front yard and house became one.  We greeted the year 2000 with a spectacular party here. Terence Mckenna from the balcony of the bedroom at midnight addressing, the party on the lawn below said that he had had the some of the best and most creative moments of his life  while in this house. Frank Lloyd Wright was considered  a mystic. I was extremely curious about what it would be like to live in a house designed by both a mystic and a genius. I had once attended a lecture given by Jean Houston in Honolulu. She had talked about and demonstrated the process of visiting the essence of an artistic form, music being the example. We were treated to a person being able to play a Mozart piece, written, but never published. It was impressive. From that moment on I became even more curious about what it would be like to live inside the hologram, so to speak, of a  house design done by a mystical genius, especially one of his last designs.  I found out and wrote about it in my upcoming book, “How Frank Lloyd Wright Got Into My Head Under My Skin And Changed The Way I Think About Thinking, a Creative Thinking Blueprint for the 21st Century.” The entire adventure was exhilarating. It was a chance to be in another “essence,” the essence of architecture.

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  1. susan campbell says:

    hey sandy–

    This sounds interesting! Even more so as the sample above reveals that I have more learn about a few things I thought I already knew about: the house, and you, and FLW. I look forward to seeing the book (or the manuscript, as reading manuscripts is all I do these hot summer days).
    Have a great summer! Susan

  2. Dotty Crawn says:

    Everybody pities the weak; jealousy you have to earn. Arnold Schwarzenegger (1947-)

  3. Sal Hyers says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m always looking for great resources to send to clients and my coworkers, and this article is certainly worth sharing!

  4. This is a great post about web design. I’m a college student just trying to learn more about trends and I really enjoyed it. Keep up the great job!

  5. Awesome post peter, it’s been a long-time since I’ve been on here. I see that nobody has lost their passion. Good to be back.

  6. Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

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  9. Jeffry Borror says:

    Sandy:

    I happened on your delightful blog while searching for information on the FLW design whose construction you’ve chronicled here. As you must know, the property is on the market at a remarkable price. I am seriously considering placing an offer on it and would welcome any further insights you have to offer. You can reach me at the email address I provided with this reply.

    Thanks in advance.

    Jeff

  10. …was the gravel bed of the hemi-cycle part of flw’s plan? must have been. his imperial hotel
    was the marvel of tokyo after an especially fierce pre-war quake, the only building standing
    across from the palace. falling water had no such quake-proofing but was on a creek of
    pennsylvania chimney rock used in the building. the staircase multi-level library shelves
    were pure genius, so was a butterfly window on the corner of the study, but he did the
    bathroom in cork, which seemed more like revenge than design.
    when my uncle started his family, he had a modern house of pure thermopane glass floor
    to ceiling, redwood frame, even the rafter windows. one day sitting in the pit reading a book,
    an explosion took place, sprinkled me with glass, and a pheasant, rather large, was twitching its last a few feet from where i sat. the poor babe had seen through the house and thought it was
    a fly-through.
    the house had floor heating, the first tiles were cork, hot water pipes set in concrete underneath. the cork began to curl like buffalo chips, and had to be replaced with heat-
    resistant linoleum. in that case, too, i wondered if cost overrun was in play,
    i lived in the house 20 yrs after it was built, and by that time the floor had developed
    hot spots here and there, but in a northern clime i would prefer floor heating, especially
    for old folks, if you fall or slip you’ll still be warm. the roof was tar pudding-stone with pebbles,
    like gunpowder on a candle wick. the furnace room was just off the kitchen, we’re only
    talking 2-levels here, grandfather almost set the entire place on fire burning trash in the
    furnace, but i happened to be there, the room had fire-proof aluminium quilting which gave
    us the precious minutes to put it out.
    that’s 2 for cork, it must have an affinity for genius and young architects, or it may be a
    synchroncity telling me to read proust at least once before i curl up.

    • Sandy says:

      Hi Carlos,

      No in this case, actually and interesting thing happened: Our surveyor had made a mistake, calling for a depth of five feet of blue rock to be jack hammered up. Once the mistake had been appraised we needed to bring back fill. The fill was a compacted gravel. In the scheme of things this mistake worked out perfectly because the house being like one solid unit, with eight inches of concrete in the floor pads tied to all of the walls was able to move as a unit horizontally. In earthquakes it is the lack of horizontal support that results in so much building damage. This house has gone through numerous quakes measuring over 5 and one at 6.9 on the Richter scale. The fabulous Imperial hotel in Tokyo, was built on a mud bed with pylons driven through so as to form and inverted pin cushion. The hotel rode on top of the pin cushion. It had not as much as a pane of glass broken in the terrible quake of 1923. The not too well known fact about the Imperial Hotel, that made it such a loss when torn down for economic reasons was that it was made not of fabricated concrete blocks, but stone. What a job.

      Leaking roofs were of course part of the Wright legacy. I am happy to say that such was not the case with this house. The famous story was of when Johnson( Johnson Wax) called from “Wingspread”, the stupendous home Wright had designed for him. Water was dripping on Johnson as he sat at the dinner table hosting some gala event. Furious, Johnson called Wright to ask him what to do, to which Wright dryly replied, “Move your chair.”

  11. Seasons says:

    You you should make changes to the webpage subject title Building A Frank Lloyd Wright House-Completion | Creative Thinking Book to something more better for your blog post you write. I enjoyed the post even sononetheless.

    • Sandy says:

      Yes, you are right in one sense and I shall no doubt change it in the futrue, but the blog site is about supporting an upcoming book which of course gives the story of how this house came into existence. Thanks for your comment.

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