'Every great architect is - necessarily - a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.' - Frank Lloyd Wright
The house was originally designed in 1939 and constructed in 1940 for Clarence Sondern in the "classic" usonion grammar. (Frank Lloyd Wright coined the term "usonion" to describe his effort to design a low-cost standardized construction method indigenous to America.) It sported flat roofs, deep cantilevers for carport and shade, multiple French doors for light and a sense of outdoors. Raked horizontal mortar joints in the masonry reflect the horizontality of the house. Built of Cypress, it was small at just over 900 square feet. Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts should note this was Jack Howe's first supervision of construction. Wright typically sent apprentices to oversee construction of his residential designs. Howe because a very important part of Wright's practice due to his skill at drawing/drafting.
A subsequent owner, Arnold Adler engaged Wright to design an addition to the original structure in 1948. The result is what you see today (except for a kitchen modification in the early 60's). The house was greatly expanded to include a new entry, additional carports, a large room with "dining terrace" and living area with a fireplace fronted by steps (unique for Wright) and lots of glass. Again, Cypress was used throughout with the light tan brick. The richness of the wood ceilings and walls give the effect of being on a fine yacht. The North terrace was enlarged and a south terrace created with a circular wading pool. Bedroom and baths were added sizing the house around 2.916 square feet. The drop of the hillside allowed for the step down living area creating a clerestory, enabling better manipulation of light. Wright apprentice, John deKoven Hill drew the plans for the expansions. Hill later became architectural editor for House Beautiful spreading Wright's design doctrine.
The house was built on a 4-ft. square module. It can be seen incised on the concrete floor. Originally heated only with in-floor hot water-loop radiant heating (some of which is inoperable), it is now supplemented by a forced air gas furnace. The tidewater cypress walls are the standard usonion construction composed of "sandwiching" wood materials and screwed together. Screws stopped on the horizontal. The majority of the windows and doors have double-pane glass. Wright did not design the swimming pool area. There is no remaining original furniture. (One dining chair from the original house was displayed at Dominos Pizza/Wright Museum.) The house sits on 1.4 lush acres. The tall fireplaces were intended to burn "pole-wood" stacked on end.
There are two Wright residences in Kansas City. The opportunity to see one is memorable.
Text and selected images courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
This page was last updated on 10/01/09.
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