Sunday, August 21, 2005

Frank Lloyd Wright's Marden House

One of the most-viewed articles in today's Washington Post is The Wright Way, an article about the house Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Luis and Ethel Marden's land on a cliff overlooking the Potomac River in the late 1950s.

The house, which the Mardens never allowed on public view, was purchased in 2000 by the multi-millionaire property owner next door to preserve his own view of the river. Like many notoriously difficult-to-maintain Wright houses, it was in shabby condition. The Marden's representative carefully brokered an arrangement that encouraged the new owner to restore rather than remodel the house, and the Post covers the heartening story of how that deal came about.

Ethel Marden was my mother's boss (they were mathemeticians at the National Bureau of Standards) and my visits to the Mardens' house as a child had a profound impact on me. I came away with the belief that it was possible, and common, to have a house with curved banks of floor-to-ceiling walls, painted concrete floors, and a tree stump that came up through the floor to serve as a coffee table.

Of course, I never saw another house like Ethel and Luis's until I visited Wright's Phoenix studio, Taliesin West, this past summer, and felt immediately at home. In the Wright scheme of design, each house was supposed to embody particular principles of livability (regarding light, air circulation, and materials) but was customized to fit the way the homeowner lived. I listened to all this being explained at Taliesin and thought to myself "this sounds like a Mac!"

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