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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Built Wright

It was Rowan Derryth of Prim Perfect who suggested I go over to the Frank Lloyd Wright Virtual Museum and meet up with Bacchus Ireto, the Curator and a fine builder in his own ...right. OK that's the only one, I promise.
Perhaps like me you think of Wright as an architect of the 1930's or 40's but in reality he was born not long after the end of the Civil War, in the period in which the Suez Canal was completed, and Dickens was on tour, Garibaldi was marching on Rome, and America was out buying Alaska. Wright's mother wanted him to be an architect, and in his autobiography he cites Froebel blocks (a sort of knobless precursor to Lego), pictures of cathedrals on the nursery wall, and summers spent toiling on his uncle's farm - but also taking the time to study the lie of the land - among his strongest influences. Well, the two semesters of civil engineering at U Wisconsin probably didn't hurt. He had a boatload of wives and partners, and lived through many personal storms (including the chilling Taliesin incident) and built homes, theatres, and cathedrals to God and Mammon not only across the Midwest, but from New York to California, even spending a few years in Japan.  He founded a school for architects, the Taliesin Fellowship, which favoured the hands-on approach to building (and probably contributed to his creative longevity) and wrote numerous books and papers. Fallingwater his most celebrated private residence is from 1936, and he was in his 80's when he designed the Guggenheim on Fifth Avenue.
There's way more to be said, and the FLWVM Welcome Center fills in the rest with elegance and vivacity. Even a few minutes in this Artful suite, bright with stained glass and redwood just like Wright's houses, are enough to get an idea of the scope of his creativity through photos and notecards.
I asked Bacchus where the name of the sim 'Usonia' came from.
Bacchus Ireto: Usonia is an acronym for the United States of North America; no one is entirely sure where Wright found it, it seems the author Samuel Butler first used it in the early 1900s and Wright appropriated it to describe the architecture he was building in the 1930s as liveable for modern Americans. We had a 'Usonian buildoff' back in February with about14 amateur and 12 pro builders competing, and you can see some of the entries here on the sim.
Afterwards, I noticed I was standing next to this huge 'Usonian Principles' board ... will the humiliation never end? No, don't answer that one. There is a huge amount of information here so take it up to the cafe on the third floor and have a read over a brew. While you're up there, take a moment to admire the theatre which is based on the interior of Wright's Unity Temple, in Chicago. They hold seminars here.
Bacchus Ireto: When our group was formed last summer, the mission from the beginning was educational.  In this gallery and the one above it are the permanent exhibit to introduce visitors to Wright and his architecture. The sim existed on rented land to begin with, but when we moved to our own sim, we rebuilt the museum buildings. A team of builders worked together on the sim design and physical plant, and how to display the houses to the best advantage. We've tried to show how each house fits into Wright's career, and the museum sponsors build offs throughout the year, geared to a specific style related to Wright in some way. He was quite a character, but aside from that, he is part of a school of architects that tried to develop what they thought of as a purely American architectural style, instead of relying on the past, or European influences and I find his homes true works of art in themselves. I'm a history student in RL, but in SL I build. At the beginning I was pretty inept, I learned by tearing apart prefabs. I commissioned a FLW house to live in and invited Frey over to see it, which is how I came to be curator here.
He's too modest. Bacchus' reconstruction of the first Usonian house, the Herbert Jacobs Residence from 1935, has just been approved for the sim. The FLWVM is the virtual worlds licensee for the RL Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation which must approve the builds that are placed here so standards are very high. I wondered if the group think Wright would have liked or used SL?
Bacchus Ireto: We've had discussions on that. Wright pushed the technology of the time, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much. I think he would be frustrated by SL's building limitations sometimes: but unlike some architects, who really were more theoretical and rarely built things, Wright meant his houses to be lived in, and as you know, building in SL has some things you have to adapt to allow for cam controls and things. I think he would have been interested in the freedom of SL - but he was a funny person though, hard to predict his reaction.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Virtual Museum CEO is Frey Bravin, a web developer in RL, a builder in SL, and a lifelong Wright fan.
Frey Bravin: I first got interested in Wright's work when I was around 5 years old. We were out driving one day and passed by the Gregor Afleck house in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. It was the most amazing, beautiful house that I had ever seen in my short life; there was something about the house, how it just blended into the woods around it and became a part of them. It gave me an interest and a love of architecture that I have had to this day. I've driven past that house thousands of times and I never fail to look at it and smile every time I see it. I've been working on a SL version of the Affleck house for some time now but I'm way too picky and will not be happy with it untill I get it just right.
OK that time it was him not me.
The sim creates that magical 'been there' feel -  the best of virtual tourism, hey - you can sit on the roof, stumble through the kitchen, even fly across the terraces, and nobody tells you off!
Frey Bravin: Yes, that was the main objective here, to try and expose Wright's work that otherwise may have never had a chance to see it. We currently have seven houses on display but we plan on expand that to about 24 and rotate them, and we currently have three in production.  I've been really lucky with collaborators. We have had a lot of really good people want to be a part of this. It takes a big commitment and you have to be able to work as a team. The first person to join me was Rosie Oldrich right after I first started and she is now the Assistant Director We have a great partnership with the Builders Brewery, a group founded by Supremius Maximus and his partner Sensuous Maximus. They've been major supporters of the museum and a godsend to us. They run classes and events to encourage intelligent design on their sim, and collaborate with our projects, so its worked out very well for us all.
Sim Builders Brewery sounds wonderful, and I thought about TPing over, but their charter says 'no cursing' so I don't think they'd let me in. At least not this morning. Meanwhile, back on the ranch, or should that be among the prairies... sim Usonia is laid out in chronological order, and is a gallery of bravura building talent - many of SL's most prestigious names have lent their skills to making this project happen. It is amazing how relatively easy it is to cam inside the structures and I wondered if there was some kind of magic cheating with proportions, or if the houses are really that avie friendly.
 Frey Bravin: To some extent they really are just that friendly. Fallingwater in RL is a really small dwelling, interior-wise, so probably is the hardest to navigate for avatars. We try to build as close to the real scale as possible, using the original plans, so you can really get a true feel for the house.  I have a pretty good collection of books by and about Wright,  but I think my favorite is the Frank Lloyd Wright Field Guide which deals with every biulding that he did, and the unbuilt designs also. If I had all the prims and the time necessary, I would love to make the unbuilt Arizona State Capitol Building that he designed.
Drop in at Usonia for the art, for the culture, and for their Friday Fling, from 6-9 pm SLT, or - as pictured here - be there on Sunday between 12-2 pm SLT for 80's music at the Breeze.

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