Taliesin West takes contemporary approach to historic preservation

Experience AZ | 1 Jan |

As newly inscribed UNESCO World Heritage sites as part of a collection of 8 sites, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in Arizona and Taliesin in Wisconsin have already seen an increase in visitors from around the world, a trend that the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation anticipates will continue for years to come.  

To ensure Wright’s two personal homes are accurately preserved, Foundation Vice President of Preservation Fred Prozzillo has taken a contemporary approach to the historic preservation of both sites. Through the work of the preservation teams, Prozzillo seeks to extend the legacy of Wright’s innovation by showcasing unique design and sustainable practices.

Many of the practices implemented by Prozzillo and his team are looking to take a leadership position on a global level when it comes to the use of new technology, the latest materials and experimental methods that have never been utilized at National Historic Landmarks.

“The preservation of Taliesin West and Taliesin is both unique and challenging. Often people think of historic preservation as picking a point in time and preserving a site to a specific date so people can study it, learn from it and experience it as it was in that moment,” said Prozzillo. “Wright meant both of these sites to be ever-changing laboratories. He’d split his time between the two and upon his return, he would see the property with a new eye and make changes to the sites season after season. Our challenge is thinking about how we preserve these living sites and accommodate 140,000 visitors per year, while working to preserve the concept of constant change. Our preservation teams maintain a respect for the history of the sites while evolving to fit the changing needs of the properties.”

On the docket for priority preservation efforts in 2020 are:

Accessibility: Along with the prestigious designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site comes increased interest and traffic from people of all walks of life who hope to experience Wright’s work. Ensuring the sites are accessible to individuals with disabilities is essential to achieving its mission. As such, the Foundation is working to add ramps, replace surfaces that are easier for wheelchairs and walkers, upgrade lighting and sound systems and create ADA compliant bathrooms, among other things. The accessibility projects are funded by a Challenge Grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities, which requires matching support from individual donors, a Quality of Life grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, and the Pakis Family Foundation (a supporting organization of the Arizona Community Foundation). Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this press release do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Water and Electrical Infrastructure: Taliesin West’s water and electrical infrastructure is at the end of its serviceable life and the Foundation needs to identify how to replace it in a way that doesn’t compromise the buildings. Engineers are assisting the preservation team in the planning and assessment of the current infrastructure. The goal is that when the water lines are replaced under the buildings, the historic concrete floors are not compromised. Prozzillo and his team have explored the use of horizontal directional boring to bore underneath the building to preserve the original concrete. For this, the Foundation is partnering with industry leaders in horizontal boring technology. They also plan to apply this technique to the replacement of the electrical systems and underground power lines in a way that is not harmful to the site.

Taliesin West was architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and school in the desert from 1937 until his death in 1959 at the age of 91. Today it is the main campus of the School of Architecture at Taliesin and houses the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. It is located at 12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd,. Scottsdale, AZ 85259

Taliesin West’s Fabric Roofs: The roofs at Taliesin West were once canvas and over time have changed to acrylic. The preservation team is investigating a way to get back to a fabric roof material. With grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), they are researching different materials and framing systems that could replace the acrylic and keep the buildings watertight. This may allow them to transition back to a roofing material that is more dynamic, alive, and closer to what Wright used in his time. The team is developing details to select materials that they will then test on site. There, different material selections will be tested under the harsh elements of the Sonoran desert. The result will be the development of a material that’s not only suitable for installation at Taliesin West, but a widely-used sustainable building solution.

Taliesin’s Hillside Theatre: A two-year, $867,000 restoration is now underway at Taliesin’s Hillside Theatre, which is a 120-year-old structure. The project will address storm water runoff issues that have compromised the building’s foundation and exterior sandstone walls. It will also upgrade the building’s heating and electrical systems, make the restroom accessible, and restore the finishes in entry foyer, the audience space and the performance area. A green room and storage space will be added to the basement. The goal is to allow for more events on the property and attract more guests on an ongoing basis, allowing for the continued use of the space as Wright intended. The project is being funded by a $320,000 Save America’s Treasures grant from the National Park Service, which requires matching support from individual donors, the Foundation and Taliesin Preservation. The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation has recently provided a $10,000 match for this project.

“In contemporary construction, if a material deteriorates, it would simply be removed and replaced. We hold our materials to a higher value as historic properties. We don’t want to have incremental change on the buildings through the removal of historic materials. If we change small pieces over time, one day we might realize it isn’t Taliesin West or Taliesin anymore,” said Prozzillo. “We’re not here to change; we’re here to maintain and preserve. This sounds contrary to the idea of being an institution of innovation, but we see a profound challenge in finding creative solutions to balance preserving the past and innovating for the future. If there are any safety or structural augmentations necessary to maintain the structures, we explore how to incorporate those changes in a way that does not compromise the historic character of the building. Our goal is to always preserve the original structure so visitors can understand what was there and what the Fellowship originally built. The purpose is always to maintain that story and the life of the structure over time.”

In 2012, the Foundation’s preservation team launched what is now known as the Frank Lloyd Wright Innovation Studio to invite leaders to partner in industry-leading preservation efforts. They approached OSRAM Sylvania, the world’s foremost lighting manufacturer out of Germany, to come in and re-lamp Taliesin West with LED light bulbs to see if they can maintain the kind of incandescent lighting quality with LED. At night at Taliesin West, when the lights come on, the buildings glow like lanterns with the translucent roofs. It’s very low light, very much like a camp feel, as it was a camp. So the challenge to OSRAM was how to use LED lightbulbs for their cost and energy savings and still maintain that historic character.

Joining the Foundation as Director of Preservation in February of 2012, Prozzillo was part of the Taliesin Fellowship in 1997 and interned with Taliesin Architects as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture (now known as the School of Architecture at Taliesin). He received his Master of Architecture degree in 2000, and worked on notable projects in Arizona such as the rehabilitation of the historic Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale. Prozzillo also serves as a visiting instructor in design and professional practice, and as a Board member of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.

For more on the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and to join as a member or make a donation, both of which benefit preservation efforts, visit FrankLloydWright.org.

 

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