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Enjoy Free Video Tours of Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings Across America

The 20th-century architect defined a uniquely American style that used nature-inspired motifs and horizontal lines

Follow the #WrightVirtualVisits hashtag to see tours of historic sites like Fallingwater, a Pennsylvania home originally built as a private weekend residence. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
smithsonianmag.com

Every Thursday afternoon, architecture fans can tune in to the #WrightVirtualVisits hashtag to watch experts lead short video tours of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous and lesser-known buildings.

Per a press release, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and Unity Temple Restoration Foundation teamed up to launch the initiative, dubbed Wright Virtual Visits, at the beginning of April.

Participating sites record videos of their own buildings to send on to other Wright properties, essentially becoming architectural pen pals. At 1 p.m. Eastern time each Thursday, select sites post a video created by a partner property. The clips vary in scope, with some highlighting specific renovations or architectural features and others offering full tours of buildings’ interiors.

“It is precisely at this time, when so many are shut inside, that we need to experience beauty and inspiration,” says Barbara Gordon, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, in the statement. “Wright’s works bring people together in harmony with the natural world, reminding us that we are all connected, even when we’re apart.”

As Matt Hickman explains for the Architect’s Newspaper, the idea behind the project is that each Wright site has already cultivated its own unique social media following. By sharing virtual tours of other buildings, participants will hopefully expose “Wright buffs and more casual admirers alike” to previously unknown properties.

The program kicked off with a drive around the recently sold 1901 Henderson House in Elmhurt, Illinois, and a behind-the-scenes look at the Malcolm Willey House, built in Minneapolis in 1934. In a short video posted by the conservancy, Steve Sikora, owner of the Willey House, shows how the space was updated to include air conditioning without compromising the original design. The Willey house was Wright’s first Usonian home—a term the architect used to describe a distinctly “United States of North America” style.

Seventeen properties, including five of the eight Wright sites designated as Unesco World Heritage Sites, have signed up to take part in the six-week initiative. Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, gave a behind-the-scenes look at its recently renovated kitchen, while Taliesin West, Wright’s Arizona winter home, studio and school, offered a detailed look at the property’s original entryway. Like many of Wright’s designs, the gate was inspired by local flora, in this case the Ocotea cactus. A geometric motif based on the plant—a long stem with a triangular “flower” at the end—appears throughout the property.

Wright’s work is defined by long, horizontal lines and incorporation of the natural landscape. One of the most admired examples of this style is Fallingwater, a Pennsylvania home built over a waterfall in 1937. The site, which opened as a museum in 1964, is closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but thanks to a video shared by Fallingwater director Justin Gunther, virtual visitors can still enjoy the view from the building’s terrace.

Some properties, like the Willey House, have participated in the campaign multiple times. In a video posted by the Seth Peterson Cottage, Sikora highlights similarities between the Willey and the Wisconsin site. Ostensibly very different properties, the two share the same internal shape—a wedge merged with a rectangular prism—though the buildings’ front and back are swapped.

Over the course of his lengthy career, Wright designed more than 1,100 “things,” according to Smithsonian magazine’s Paul Hendrickson. Not all of these were realized, and today, just over 400 Wright buildings remain standing. The videos, alongside virtual tours already offered by sites such as the Hollyhock House, constitute a crash course in Wright’s architectural work that the conservancy hopes will inspire future visits.

“We hope that taking a virtual visit to any of these Wright designs around the country will bring a little joy to their day,” says Jeff Goodman, vice president of communication and partnerships at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, in the statement, “and bring them into our community that remains connected around our shared passion for beauty, architecture, nature and design.”

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