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NEW YORK City’s Museum of Modern Art is celebrating FLW’s sesquicentennial with “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive.”

Frank Lloyd Wright: Unpacking the Archive, by Barry Bergdoll and Jennifer Gray, The Museum of Modern Art, 2017.

Yesterday’s armchair tour here at SimanaitisSays focused on FLW’s works in Japan. Today, essays from the catalog discuss FLW’s American System-Built Homes and his architectural models.

American System-Built Homes Project, 1915–1917. This ad originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune, July 8, 1917.

In 1917, the Richards Company of Milwaukee advertised FLW-designed homes at affordable prices. Michael Osman’s essay, “American System-Built Houses: Authorship and Mass Production” describes this and other ways in which FLW “positioned the machine at the center of architectural design as early as 1901.”

American System-Built Houses, Model C3.

Wright’s American System-Built Homes Project, 1915–1917, used factory-fabricated modules to be assembled on-site. Later, in the 1930s, “Rather than modular systems made in factories, he developed a set of guidelines to direct his many apprentices in producing what he called his Usonian houses.”

The Jacobs House, Madison, Wisconsin, 1936–1937. Pencil and colored pencil on paper, 21 3/4 x 32 in. The Jacobs House is one of FLW’s first Usonian homes.

Osman notes, “Differences between these two approaches [modular fabrication and standard design] show the types of authorship available to architects during the first decades of the twentieth century.”

St. Mark’s Tower: New York Project, 1927–1929. Painted wood and cardboard, 53 x 16 x 16 in., after restoration.

Ellen Moody’s essay “Conserving and Exhibiting the New York Models” discusses architectural modeling as a tool in engineering analysis as well as an object for sales persuasion. Wright believed strongly in the latter, wanting to “conceive the building in the imagination, not on paper but in the mind….”

Moody notes that the proposed St. Mark’s Tower was conceived with “Wright’s ‘taproot’ structure, which internalized all load-bearing elements to a deep-rooted concrete and steel core…. Had it been realized, it would have been the first glass skyscraper in New York (this feat only came to pass twenty years later with the United Nations Secretariat Building).”

Details of the FLW architectural model of St. Mark’s Tower, during restoration.

Moody observes, “In 1929 Wright switched from the traditional model-making medium of plaster to cardboard….” This was to bedevil MoMA curators in 2012 when the St. Mark’s Tower model surfaced in separate pieces with warped components. A restoration followed, including a set of to-scale Wright-designed furniture.

“This painstaking detail of a miniature Wright-designed interior,” Moody writes, “would make it all the easier for a viewer to imagine life in one of the tower’s deluxe apartment units.”

And MoMA’s Franks Lloyd Wright: Unpacking the Archive helps this imagination to soar. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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