Perhaps the most universally beloved architect in America, Frank Lloyd Wright is a household name even among people who don’t know much about architecture. The striking house he built partially over a waterfall in rural southwestern Pennsylvania known as “Fallingwater” is one of the most famous homes in the nation, and most of his other midcentury modern pieces are almost instantly recognizable as his work. Now, eight of his buildings have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) recently voted to give protected status to Fallingwater, Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, The Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House, Wright’s own home and studio Taliesin in Wisconsin, Unity Temple and the Robie House in the Chicago area, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and Taliesin West in Arizona. Even bigger, it’s the first time the UN agency has ever recognized exemplary modern architecture in the United States.
The structures chosen represent various stages in the evolution of Wright’s 70-year architectural career, from his early residential work to his designing monumental museums. On top of that, all eight projects are noted as having played prominent roles in the development of modern architecture from the first half of the 20th century until today, continuing to inspire architects and designers all over the world.
“This recognition by UNESCO is a significant way for us to reconfirm how important Frank Lloyd Wright was to the development of modern architecture around the world,” says Barbara Gordon, President and Executive Director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. “There are nearly 400 remaining structures designed by Wright. Our hope is that the inscription of these eight major works also brings awareness to the importance of preserving all of his buildings as a vital part of our artistic, cultural, and architectural heritage.”
“All communities where a Wright building stands should appreciate what they have and share in the responsibility to protect their local — and world — heritage.”
Gordon’s comments come in the wake of the demolition of the Wright-designed Lockridge Medical Clinic building in Whitefish, Montana, which was the first viable (mostly un-altered) Wright building to be torn down in 40 years. The building had been up for sale by a developer for a year, and when he couldn’t get the $1.7 million he was requesting, he chose to raze it. Several other buildings are currently under threat of demolition, including the Chicago-area Glencoe cottage.
In a recent press release, UNESCO explained why they chose these particular buildings.
“These buildings reflect the ‘organic architecture’ developed by Wright, which includes an open plan, a blurring of the boundaries between exterior and interior, and the unprecedented use of materials such as steel and concrete. Each of these buildings offers innovative solutions to the needs for housing, worship, work, or leisure. Wright’s work from this period had a strong impact on the development of modern architecture in Europe.”
Photos and maps of the chosen Frank Llloyd Wright buildings and documents of their historical significance can be viewed on the UNESCO website.