Taliesin West takes a contemporary approach to historic preservation
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 says will continue for years to come.
To ensure that Wright’s two personal homes are preserved with precision, Foundation vice president of preservation Fred Prozzillo took a contemporary approach to the historic preservation of both sites. Through the work of preservation teams, Prozzillo seeks to extend Wright’s legacy of innovation by showcasing unique design and sustainable practices.
Many of the practices implemented by Prozzillo and his team seek to take a leading position globally with regard to the use of new technologies, the latest materials and experimental methods that have never been used in national historic sites. .
âThe preservation of Taliesin West and Taliesin is both unique and empowering. Often people think that historic preservation is about choosing a point in time and preserving a site until a specific date so that people can study it, learn from it and experience it as it is. she was at that time, âsaid Prozzillo. âWright wanted these two sites to be ever-changing laboratories. He was dividing his time between the two and upon his return he would see the property in a new light and make changes to the venues season after season. Our challenge is to think about how we preserve these living places and welcome 140,000 visitors per year, while working to preserve the notion of constant change. Our preservation teams respect the history of the sites while evolving to adapt to the changing needs of the properties.
On the agenda for priority preservation efforts in 2020:
Accessibility: With the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site designation comes increased interest and traffic from people from all walks of life hoping to learn about Wright’s work. Ensuring the accessibility of sites to people with disabilities is essential to the achievement of its mission. As such, the Foundation strives to add ramps, replace surfaces that are easier for wheelchairs and walkers, modernize lighting and sound systems, and create bathrooms that comply with the ADA, among others. Accessibility projects are funded by a DÃ©fi du National Humanities Foundation, which requires matching support from individual donors, a Quality of Life grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, and the Pakis Family Foundation (a support organization of the Arizona Community Foundation). The opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this press release do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Water and electricity infrastructure: Taliesin West’s water and electricity infrastructure is at the end of its useful life and the Foundation must determine how to replace it in a way that does not compromise the buildings. Engineers assist the preservation team in planning and evaluating the current infrastructure. The goal is that when water pipes are replaced under buildings, historic concrete floors are not compromised. Prozzillo and his team explored the use of horizontal directional drilling to drill under the building to preserve the original concrete. To do this, the Foundation partners with industry leaders in horizontal drilling technology. They also plan to apply this technique to replacing electrical systems and underground power lines in a way that does not adversely affect the site.
Taliesin West fabric roofs: The roofs of Taliesin West were once made of canvas and over time they became acrylic. The preservation team is investigating a way back to fabric roofing material. With grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), they are researching different framing materials and systems that could replace acrylic and keep buildings airtight. This may allow them to return to a roofing material that is more vibrant, lively, and closer to what Wright used in his day. The team develops details to select materials that they will then test on site. There, different selections of materials will be tested under the harsh elements of the Sonoran Desert. The result will be the development of a material that is not only suitable for installation in Taliesin West, but also a widely used sustainable building solution.
Hillside Theater of Taliesin: A two-year, $ 867,000 restoration is currently underway at the 120-year-old Hillside Theater in Taliesin. The project will address stormwater runoff issues that have compromised the building foundation and exterior sandstone walls. It will also modernize the building’s heating and electricity systems, make the toilets accessible and restore the finishes of the entrance hall, public space and auditorium. A green room and storage space will be added in the basement. The goal is to allow more events on the property and attract more guests on an ongoing basis, allowing the continued use of the space as Wright intended. The project is 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 recently provided $ 10,000 for this project.
âIn contemporary construction, if a material deteriorates, it would simply be removed and replaced. We hold our materials at a higher value as historic properties. We don’t want incremental changes to buildings by removing historic materials. If we change small parts over time, we might one day realize that it’s no longer Taliesin West or Taliesin, âsaid Prozzillo. âWe are not here to change; we are here to maintain and preserve. It seems contrary to the idea of ââbeing 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 increases 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 that visitors can understand what was there and what the community originally built. The goal is always to maintain this history 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 join in cutting-edge preservation efforts. They reached out to OSRAM Sylvania, the world’s leading lighting maker in Germany, to come and replace Taliesin West with LED bulbs to see if they can maintain the kind of quality incandescent lighting with LEDs. At night in Taliesin West, when the lights come on, the buildings glow like lanterns with translucent roofs. It’s a very dim light, very much like a camp feeling, because it was a camp. The challenge for OSRAM was therefore to know how to use LED bulbs for their cost and energy savings while maintaining this historic character.
Joining the Foundation as Director of Preservation in February 2012, Prozzillo was part of the Taliesin Fellowship in 1997 and interned at Taliesin Architects as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture (now known as name of School of Architecture in Taliesin). He received his Masters of Architecture in 2000 and has worked on notable projects in Arizona such as the rehabilitation of the historic Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale. Prozzillo is also a guest instructor in design and professional practice, and a member of the board of directors of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.
To learn more about the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and to become a member or donate, both of which benefit preservation efforts, visit FrankLloydWright.org.