Monday, March 19, 2012

The Wright garden for you

Not every house gets a conservatory designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Matter of fact, very few Wright houses even have conservatories. And none have a pergola/conservatory combo like the one at the Martin House Complex in Buffalo, NY.

The view down the pergola.
Now, photos are not allowed on the tours. I know this because my 13-year-old daughter is a Martin House tour chaperone. She's the one that follows the group, being led by a tour guide, asking that people move along;not lean on, or touch things; and asks them to put away their cameras. I'm told the no-photo rule, which only applies inside the house, is not as much because they don't want images of the house out in the world. It's more because it is a total distraction on the tour for the guides, other tour-takers, and even the people taking pictures. I have no issues with experiencing a house or garden without looking at it through a lens.


But, a few years back, my daughter was at the Martin House's Architecture Summer Camp for kids. One of their projects was to go on a photo scavenger hunt through the house looking for architectural features of which they were given a list. She took many shots of the conservatory, shown here. So these photos are taken by a then ten-year old. Bear that in mind.

Wright's use of stained glass
in this house is unparallelled.
The conservatory was added to the house (c. 1904-5) after Martin wrote to Wright requesting a greenhouse to grow the annuals that would be on display throughout the house year-round. Wright, being Wright, designed this grand "cathedral to plants," in a cruciform shape, with a nave,  complete with a statue on an alter (Nike, the Winged Victory of Samothrace), and at the end of a long pergola off the house. It was a bit more than Martin had requested -- Martin ended up having built a small greenhouse on the property that was much more utilitarian.

Sadly, the original structure was torn down to make room for some really cheap, ugly, rental apartments that were built on the site. The upside was that the income from the apartments helped the, then, owner of the Martin House afford the main house and keep it from being demolished. Martin had abandoned the house decades earlier and it had many owners in the intervening years. Long story -- take the tour.

The good part? The original plans, and all the revisions made in its construction are well documented - in original drawings and in letters between Darwin Martin and Wright. So the entire structure's been rebuilt with as close to the original instructions and materials as can be had.

One of the unique and defining details of the house (and there are many) is the view as you enter the front door of the home -- you look straight down this 80-foot pergola to the Conservatory. It's about 100 feet of view to the greenery surrounding the statue. It is one of the best views to be had in Buffalo (and there are many). The pergola is open to the elements along its length, so the view is a mash-up of interior and exterior spaces. Underneath the pergola is an enclosed walkway for winter use.

This coming year will see many more of the original gardens restored to their 1904 state. I'll be sure to post about those as they happen. So much time money and effort has been poured into the refurbishing of the structure, the gardens obviously were not the priority.

Next time you're in Buffalo, or if you're a local, come visit the house and take the tour. If there's a 13-24 year old girl as the tour chaperone, tell her you know her dad. And don't take it personally if she yells at you for taking pictures.

The lady up close. This is a recreation of the original.
The original, which was a recreation of THE original in the Louvre, was lost over time.







The ceiling window pane pattern is characteristically Wrightian as well.


As a bonus, here's a shot of the Blue Sky Mausoleum in Forest Lawn Cemetery here in Buffalo.
It's the only mausoleum Wright deigned. And it was designed for the Darwin Martin family in 1928,
but was never built. With the support and help of Wright scholars and an architect that trained with Wright,
it was built in 2004. Darwin Martin's family are buried in Forest Lawn, but not here. You can be
buried here, in the only Wright-designed mausoleum if you'd like, visit here to find out more.

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