Sunday, May 13, 2012

Meeting Frank Lloyd Wright

In 2006, I was employed at Infinity Glass & Restoration. The shop was responsible for fabricating, finishing, and installing custom old-growth cypress doors, windows and mill work for the "Lost Houses" at the Darwin D. Martin House Complex here in Buffalo.  To my surprise, I was assigned a prominent part of that work to mill and assemble: the oak pergola trim, a large oak beam and a trellis structure that was to be installed in the conservatory .  I consider myself very honored and fortunate to have been able to contribute to such an amazing part of architectural history. 

The oak trim looks simple, but it's actually five separate pieces that were milled to join together and not leave any gaps or visible joints. 

  The oak trim was pretty straight forward (though it had several parts) and the beam, while large, was made up up smaller pieces all joined together. It was the trellis that seemed to be giving even the seasoned woodworkers at Infinity a bit of anxiety. Not only were the columns triangular and composed of a lot of parts with a great amount of detail, they changed size as they got taller and also had to have electric lines run through them - so they had to be boxes, not solid. To make it even more interesting, the parts needed to be adjustable for the installation as the conservatory was not yet complete and exact measurements wouldn't be available until days before the dedication ceremony was scheduled.  Top it all off with the fact that a statue of the Winged Victory of Samothrace (which was not yet completed) would have to be moved through the same space. This meant the trellis would have to be made sectional and able to be disassembled if needed. That's a lot of factors to consider while building anything. 

Once all the parts were milled, assembled, fit and finished, it was time to get them in place.  

The nine and a half foot statue of Nike was still being sculpted when we started. In it's place was an image of the statue that was originally in the space.

Later, the completed statue would be installed along with the remaining parts of the trellis.  Lights and a copper cap were added and the final finish was applied.
Photo courtesy Digital Imaging Project

  It's difficult to convey in still images or words the feel of this space (this virtual tour does give a great overview). I never really understood what it was about Frank Lloyd Wright architecture that was so important. When we had put the columns in place and there were some plants added, I had a real visceral sense of how all these elements came together to create something unique. It really is an experience to walk through the open-air pergola, down a couple steps and through a narrow door to the conservatory and have the feeling of expansion as you get to the tall trellis and statue. If you live in Buffalo or are ever in the area, please take an opportunity to visit this unique and historic building.  

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