Friday, January 14, 2011

The (almost) view from Frank Lloyd Wright's Kentuck Knob

click on photo to enlarge

         Frank Lloyd Wright built spectacular houses in spectacular settings.  Taliesin West for example, on the brow of a  rugged hill just north of Phoenix.

        And Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania famously built over a stream.

         Some 20 miles from Fallingwater there's another Frank Lloyd Wright house, Kentuck Knob.  It was built at the end of Wright's career in the mid 1950s..  You'll notice the fortress-like entrance, a signature note in Wright's houses after his first Taliesen was set on fire and his lover and six others were murdered with an axe in 1914..

         Taliesin, means "shining brow" in  that gargled, tangled language of the truly articulate called Welsh. Wright positioned his first Taliesin on the "brow" of a hill.  As was Kentuck Knob.

         After falling in love with their friends, the Kaufmann's home, Fallingwater, Bernardine and I.N. Hagan called Wright and asked if he'd design a house for them. They'd bought 80 acres and it would be a wonderful setting for a Frank Lloyd Wright house.

          His answer was, “Of course. Come on out.”  Wright was 86, up to his neck designing the Guggenhiem Museum in New York City.  He could not come to Pennsylvania.  No time. So he asked for a site map, and never having seen the property he designed the house you see here, Kentuck Knob, named after the hill on which it sits.

Click on photo to enlarge

               This is the view from the back of the house facing the pretty woods.

               Wright visited the site just once, when the house was already under construction.  Far be it from the diminutive man in the cape and the floppy hat, the giant of American Architecture, to admit to a mistake. He must have loved that great green, liberating, stretch-your-wings space.  Those rounded high mounds that look like Wales.

                 The woods are pretty like any woods for hundreds of miles.  He did not say, "Pick the structure off its foundation and move it,"   So the house, now owned by Lord Peter Palumbo, stayed where Wright had drawn it on the map.  Facing the woods.

               Too bad. My photo does not do justice to the depth, grandeur and beauty of the astonishing 180 degree vista of farms and forests and hills just a few steps away.  It's a view that makes you say words like "breath-taking,"  "exhilarating" and the words just float away and disappear in the green and blue space. My picture is the middle one of three.  The view on either side is just as deep, rich and beautiful.

               To see all three and one of the finest views east of Kansas walk twenty yards southeast from this porch. 

              Which just goes to show, as they say in Kansas, there is no substitute for the farmer's shadow. Or the architect's.

               And if you really, really want it right, step back from time to time and take a look. You might see something enormous.

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