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The House That Wax Built: 1939

The House That Wax Built: 1939

October 2, 1939. "Wingspread, Herbert F. Johnson Jr. residence in Racine, Wisconsin. Frank Lloyd Wright, architect. Angle view of terrace." The centerfold in this month's Progressive Patio. Gottscho-Schleisner photo. View full size.

 

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Leaky Wright designs

I've often heard that most of the problem with the leaky roofs in Wright designed buildings had to do with his use of new construction techniques. I know for a fact that flat roofs do not have have to leak if they are done properly -- I pastored a church in the Detroit area that had a flat roof on is sanctuary that passed its fiftieth birthday while I served the church, and had never leaked. A contractor told me the secret was in prepping the tar; the project manager used to show up at 5 a.m. and start heating the tar and stirring it, getting all the bubbles out, so that the tar was thick and with no internal holes. Proof was in the pudding -- 50 years, and no leaks.

I've never seen a bad looking Wright building. He always got the proportions perfect, no matter from what angle the building is viewed it looks good. I've read that living in a Wright house was living in another man's dream, however. He decided every detail, including where the furniture went. Unless the roof leaked, evidently.

Head banger.

Wright was a man of short stature, and he expected the world to conform to his standards. I'd estimate that cantilevered awning is but 63 inches above the patio!

[Give or take 30 inches. It's 8 feet. - Dave]

Well named

From the central living room dome, four wings radiate out, pinwheel-style: master bedroom, children's bedrooms, kitchen and servants' rooms, and guest rooms/carports.

Cheap heating, cheap cooling

My first thought was that I wouldn't want to have to pay the utility bill on a house like that. But then, if somebody can afford that kind of house and that kind of architect, the utility bill probably doesn't matter at all.

And then I saw Michael R's anecdote. Did I mention that I have a rather low opinion of modern architects? There are reasons why flat roofs have traditionally been employed in Mediterranean and arid climates. And why any sort of wet climate used pitched roofs with eaves.

Edit: Looking at GoogleEarth, a _pitched_ roof that leaks? My opinion just got even lower.

"I suggest you move your chair"

I visited this house many years ago together with my father, on the same day that we toured Wright's Johnson Wax Administration Building in Racine (built 1936-1939). The house, which now belongs to an educational foundation, is magnificent - and huge. It is also the setting for one of the very best Frank Lloyd Wright anecdotes of all time. Like so many later works of Wright, this house had a leaky roof. So one day, the owner, Herbert Johnson, called Wright on the telephone and said: "Mr. Wright, I am sitting in my chair in my new dining room in my new house which you designed for me, and as I am sitting here, raindrops keep falling on my head. What do you suggest I do?" To which Wright responded, "I suggest you move your chair."

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