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For his first show during the fall pledge drive, Stu Levitan welcomes Nicholas D. Hayes, author of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Forgotten House: How An Omission Transformed The Architect’s Legacy from our very good friends at the University of Wisconsin Press.
If you ask someone who knows even a little bit about architecture about Frank Lloyd Wright, they’ll probably mention the breathtaking design of Fallingwater, or the glorious Guggenheim Museum or maybe Taliesin. Those in Northern California no doubt think about the Marin County Government Complex, while here in Madison it’s Monona Terrace, and maybe the Lamp House and the Jacobs House.
But before all that, before he became known as the world’s greatest architect, Wright had a vision that was truly transformative – to design beautiful houses with organic integrity which would be affordable to ordinary people. He called it the American System-Built Houses (Ready-Cut), and starting in 1912 devoted an extraordinary amount of time and energy to the project, churning out more than 950 drawings encompassing more than a hundred unique iterations.
Unfortunately, W’s partner, Milwaukee businessman Arthur Richards, was someone with whom he already had a troubled relationship – their Lake Geneva Hotel suffered serious financial difficulties, and the 8-story hotel they planned for the corner of East Doty and Monona Avenue in Madison was never built. And so, between the transformative idea and the resultant reality fell numerous shadows – bad planning, bad execution, and then a world war. Finally, in 1917 Wright ended the program precipitously, sued Richards, and never spoke of it again. And Wright’s assistant on the project, Russell Barr Williamson, was even more damaged by the experience – both personally and professionally.
The rise and fall of American System-Built Houses – and one small ASB house in particular, the Elizabeth Murphy House, a bastardized version of model A203 located at 2106 East Newton Avenue in the Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood – is the business that occupies Nick Hayes in this illuminating and engaging account that’s part architectural analysis, part business lesson, part mystery story. It is an account he is uniquely qualified to write – because he and his wife Angela are now the owner-stewards of that house. He is also cofounder and CTO of the water stewardship company Wellntell, columnist for Sailing magazine, and author of the award-winning book Saving Sailing – The Story of Choices, Families, Time Commitments, and How We Can Create a Better Future.
It’s a pleasure to welcome to Madison BookBeat Nick Hayes.