By Lisa Waterman Gray
Iconic architecture abounds along the recently created Wisconsin’s Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, offering glimpses of the architect’s design genius across nine counties and a timely and appealing tour itinerary. A Wisconsin native, his 150th birthday was on June 8, 2017.
Wright hated Victorian architecture and incorporated natural light in all his designs. He considered landscape and furniture design, and ‘Cherokee Red’ paint essential complements to his architecture. Ten percent of his structures feature red signature tiles on outside walls, too.
Taliesen Estate and Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center, Spring Green, Wis.
At Taliesen Estate, Wright spent much of his childhood absorbing nature and there developed many of his architectural concepts. At the 600-acre estate, passengers will tour his personal residence, see Midway Barns and the Romeo & Juliet Windmill – the oldest structure at Taliesen – and visit his sister’s home, Tan-y-Deri. Groups can also experience the triangular stage and wonderful acoustics at the Hillside Studio and Theater.
Today the property hosts concerts and special events, plus 20-25 students from across the globe who attend the architectural school at any one time. Tours depart from the visitor center 9 a.m. -6 p.m., 7 days a week, May 1 – October 31; longer tours are also available.
Wright builds a school
Known today as Wyoming Valley School Cultural Arts Center, Wright donated two acres and his design in honor of his mother, a kindergarten teacher, when the schoolhouse was built. Approximately three miles from Taliesen, the cement block building with Cherokee Red accents appears on the National Historic Register and the Wisconsin State Register of Historic Places. Free 30-minute tours are on Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., April 15 to November 15. Reservations are not required, but donations are requested.
Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center
Located beside Lake Monona, this structure combines lake views with a Wright design that was created just prior to his death in 1959. Eventually built in 1992, the lovely building features interior redesign full of curves and light by Wright apprentice and Taliesen architect, Tony Puttnam. Public tours are at 1 p.m. daily, May 1 thru October 31, and at 1 p.m. Friday-Monday, November 1 thru April 30. Groups of 10 or more should make reservations at 608-261-4015.
First Unitarian Society Meeting House
Lacking a steeple and the typical box shape of churches in that time period, Wright considered this triangular shaped building ‘a symbol of aspiration.’ The American Institute of Architects also named his structure one of 17 buildings worth maintaining for all time.
Long, horizontal lines, bands of tall, clerestory windows, a large fireplace, a hidden front door and open vistas are evident throughout the space, while Wright’s stonework mimics Wisconsin stone outcroppings. Year-round Sunday tours follow 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services. Make reservations for groups of 10 or more.
SC Johnson Headquarters
Built during the 1930s, the administration building at SC Johnson headquarters was named among the world’s top 25 architectural buildings of the 20th century. The Usonian architecture style features fabulous acoustics and air-conditioning that was rare among commercial U.S. buildings.
Large ceiling-level discs sit atop dozens of indoor columns. Curves mark some brick-faced balconies and Wright-designed furnishings. Your group will marvel over the 47 miles of Pyrex glass tubes along the ceiling and the curved metal elevator ‘door.’
Glass wall inserts flood the 153-foot research tower with natural light while two massive outdoor sculptures honor Wisconsin’s Winnebago tribe. Book tours of the headquarters for groups of more than 20 people.
The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread
The Johnson family occupied Wingspread from 1939 to 1959. Set amid 30 rural acres, the 14,000-square-foot home featured a core living space with a 30-foot-high chimney, plus dozens of windows and skylights. Four ‘wings’ spread out from its center. Wingspread’s gargantuan footprint also made it the largest of Wright’s “Prairie-style” structures.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989, Wingspread later became an international conference center. Schedule free one-hour tours Wednesday-Sunday (and when no meetings are taking place) at 262-639-3211.