June 06, 2005
Frank Lloyd Wright Design Comes to Life on a Remote Island
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor


by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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About this Issue….


Welcome to AECWeekly! What would you do if you were given the task of designing a building that is to be built upon a rock protruding into the water on an island, with only five pencil drawings to go by?


Thomas Heinz, AIA, a renowned Frank Lloyd Wright scholar and authority on Frank Lloyd Wright designs, was the architect chosen by the current Owner, Joe Massaro, to model an island home that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright 50 years ago but never built by him. Read all about it in this week's Industry News.


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Susan Smith, Managing Editor



Industry News

Frank Lloyd Wright Design Comes to Life on a Remote Island

By Susan Smith



What would you do if you were given the task of designing a building that is to be built upon a rock protruding into the water on an island, with only five pencil drawings to go by?


Thomas Heinz, AIA, a renowned Frank Lloyd Wright scholar and authority on Frank Lloyd Wright designs, was the architect chosen to model an island home that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright 50 years ago but never built by the original client.


What Heinz had to start with were five pencil sketches done in 1950: floor plans ,three elevations, a section and a perspective, with no materials, no dimensions--no indications of any kind. Unlike other Wright designs of Usonian residences which followed a rectangular/square grid, this home was triangular, had a 60-foot long rock in the middle of the site, and presented specific challenges to the architect and the contractors.


“When an architect designs his own work, he knows every aspect of it, his job is to get it down on paper so he can distribute it to others,” said Heinz. “In plan this building is based on a unit system grid of equilateral triangle which are five feet on a side.
The site itself which is on an island north of New York City, probably the only privately owned island between New York City and Vermont. Lake Mahopac has two islands, the larger is about 20 acres and Mr. Massaro's island is about 11 acres. In 1950 the owner at the time,
, Mr. Chahroudi Frank Lloyd Wright for a house. Frank Lloyd Wright created a wonderful design but Mr. Chahroudi said, 'it's a wonderful design but I can't afford to build it, can you make it smaller for me,' which Frank Lloyd Wright did for the same location. Mr. Chahroudi said he couldn't afford that either, and requested the guest cottage. He built the Guest Cottage in 1952. The first design Frank Lloyd Wright designed went unbuilt.


Heinz has been working with Frank Lloyd Wright buildings for about 30 years. He was the architect on the reconstruction of a house that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City bought. They dismantled it, crated it up and moved it to New York. Ten years later, they hired Heinz to rebuild it inside the museum.


As the author of about 30 books on Frank Lloyd Wright, Heinz has also photographed every Wright-designed single building. Before starting this project, he needed to see the site. “I went out and found a boat to get me out to the island as there's no public access. I finally talked a fisherman into taking me out to the island. No one wants to go there because there are some unfriendly dogs, and word is they'll swim out and jump into your boat,” he laughed.


There were two other houses built on the island subsequent to the Frank Lloyd Wright building. “The current owner allowed me to take photographs, and he asked me if I knew of the first design. In the middle of the site was a great big rock 12 feet wide, 12 feet high and 60 feet long - Whale Rock . When I got back my Libertyville, Illinois Studio and looked at the design I saw that it formed some of the walls inside and outside the house. The roof comes over and rests on top of it and as you walk into the entry it forms part of the wall on your left as you come through the front door. And then you're squeezed down to a 6 foot entry space coming in to the building. There is a 1500
square foot skylight area above Whale Rock inside.”


At that time Heinz was “somewhat familiar” with CAD products for architects, but “I needed a good survey and I needed something that could render this building in an understandable form in three dimensions. In most buildings built on a rectangular grid, you could show the wall and know where it is in space. But with this rock and this site where the house sits 16-18 feet off the water, and then another 12 feet above that for the big whale rock, it does look like a whale coming out of the water, it's big and gray and has a big hump on it-- I needed to know where all these things were in space so we could fit the building to it. I needed to know where it cantilevers off the
land so we could decide on the footing and foundation.”


With the rock work on this property and the house intended to cantilever off the land 78 feet out over the water, the design had to be rendered in 3D. “After the drawings were done, we interviewed six to eight contractors. I was not sure if what I had printed out was understandable and I didn't want fudge factors coming in blowing this thing up 20-30 million dollars more than budgeted for,” remarked Heinz. “We talked about design and construction and also how we were going to get materials out to this lake. We figured it was going to require 450-500 cubic yards of concrete. We found this contractor who had do a good grasp of what we were trying to do so we hired her to do
this.”


The concrete, which is the floor of the house inside is also the floor of the cantilever. It is two feet thick, 78 feet out and 35 feet across. “That all had to be done in a single pour, 36 hours long,” said Heinz. “We also had walls that were a foot thick with stone on the boht sides.”


In order to understand the building, Heinz needed to use ArchiCAD to create hundreds of views so he could properly draw the building, so there wouldn't be any surprises. Approvals went very quickly as all parties saw what the building would look like, inside and out, using a virtual model. The Virtual Building Model really reflects the building design that Frank Lloyd Wright intended before it goes to construction, according to Heinz. The added bonus, far removed from those original five pencil drawings, is that the Virtual Building Model shows how the building will look and feel in its environment.


Now the home is under construction.



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