Experiencing Great Architecture and Creative Built Environments

– AIA Gold Medal Winner

Fort Wayne Fine Arts Center (1973)

Louis I. Kahn Architect

Now the Arts United Center, 303 E. Main Street Fort Wayne IN

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Visited October 27 2013

Designed in 1961-64

Architect Louis I. Kahn designed a theater in Fort Wayne Indiana…who knew?

Famous for the Salk Institute in La Jolla, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, and the Parliament of Bangladesh in Dhaka, he actually built relatively few buildings so Fort Wayne is in excellent company. He was well known as the design critic at Yale School of Architecture and as Professor of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. He received the AIA’s Gold Medal.

The exterior of the building is a crisp, simple box constructed of dark brick.  The front facade has two very shallow arched keyhole windows linked with a concrete form acting as a heavy lintel over the entry doors.

The theater in Fort Wayne will require another trip, as it was closed on a late sunday afternoon. Kahn’s interiors are known for their “poetic sensibilities” and a walk through the lobby and auditorium I am sure will be inspirational.

The Art Institute of Chicago’s  Architecture in Context  –  Louis Kahn in the Midwest issue focusing on the Fort Wayne Theater.

Link to the Arts United Center website


Farnsworth House (1951)

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Architect

14520 River Road, Plano IL 60545

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Visited July 5, 2013

This is a great opportunity to experience a preeminent example of the International Style embodied in a small weekend house hovering over a vast green lawn on the banks of the Fox River. It is said that Mies personally designed the house after meeting Dr. Edith Farnsworth at a dinner party ( and obviously made a good impression…).

The pavilion is raised above the Fox River flood plain supported by 8 steel columns. The perimeter walls are composed of large floor to ceiling panes of plate glass. There is a core area which houses two bathrooms, the utility room, kitchen cabinets and  fireplace. This core area does not engage the perimeter glass walls at all, and in fact does not even go to the ceiling except a small portion which is stepped back from the core walls. The core is clad in beautiful Primavera wood veneer, a rare wood from Central America, said to be Mies favorite. All of the utility connections and the roof drain all go through the floor plane to the ground in a relatively small cylinder inconspicuously placed under the utility room.

From the lawn, wide marble steps lead up from the lawn to an elevated terrace offset to the west of the pavilion. From this terrace, the marble steps continue to lead you up to the porch at the floor level of the house. The entrance is a pair of very narrow aluminum framed full height glass doors, slightly offset from the grid to the living room side of the house to direct visitors in that direction upon entry.

It is really a one-room house ( not including the bathrooms and utility space), with spaces arranged around this core. They all have a broad view of the river and the lawn through the vast windows. It is a spectacular experience, if only I was there without the other people on the tour, living in the house for the weekend – oh well, I can dream…and to think I could have bought this one-room house 10 years ago for only $7.5 million…

Here is a link to the floor plan

Click here for the Farnsworth House Website


Thorncrown Chapel (1980)

E. Fay Jones, Architect

12968 U.S. 62 Eureka Springs, AR

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Visited April 29, 2013

A Masterpiece. This building received the AIA’s 25 year Award, and is a truly spiritual place. Nestled in the Ozark Mountains outside Eureka Springs, this proud tall structure is exquisitely detailed, even though it is constructed mostly of 2×4’s and other common stock lumber. Although quite small in size, the proportions of the structure and view of the forest all around provides an experience that rivals some of the grand cathedrals – a pure, calm, reflective experience that was both relaxing and exhilarating at the same time..if that makes sense. It is one of those experiences that is hard to put into words. Just sitting there and watching the hawks or eagles ( I am not a ornithologist) soaring in the blue sky through the tree branches, with the ferns and moss covering the rocky outcropping of the forest floor it was really quite fantastic. If you are lucky, ask the host if she is the musical director of the chapel. She may go up to the altar and sing Amazing Grace – It was an extra beautiful bonus. Sometimes I wonder how I happen upon these moments…it seems it happens more often then I deserve.


Clinton Presidential Center – Interior (2004)

James Stewart Polshek FAIA, Architect

1200 President Clinton Avenue, Little Rock, AR 72201

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Visited April 26, 2013

While at the Museum, have lunch at the museum cafe, FortyTwo


Clinton Presidential Center – Exterior (2004)

James Stewart Polshek FAIA, Architect

1200 President Clinton Avenue, Little Rock, AR 72201

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Visited April 25 & 26, 2013

I finally got the opportunity to visit the William J. Clinton Presidential Center. Over the years I have heard other architects joking that it looks like a single wide trailer. I was shocked to chat with a local woman in Little Rock who found out that I was an architect there to see the Clinton Center – she leaned over and quietly said “I think it looks like a single wide trailer”.

I have seen other James Stewart Polshek buildings and know that they are striking, well detailed modern objects. This is no exception. This building is described as a bridge…at least the beginning of a bridge cantilevered out at the river’s edge. He uses the bridge reference literally from the adjacent abandoned railroad bridge, and figuratively from Clinton’s “Bridge to the Future” acceptance speech. This square tube truss dramatically cantilevers out toward the river at the eastern edge of downtown Little Rock. The western facade has fritted glass panels suspended several feet in front of the truss frame creating a sunscreen shielding the interior space. At night this glass curtain glows with the light from inside the museum. The cross bracing structural members on the ends are purposely placed off center to create a dynamic frame in what could have been a bland facade. It did not disappoint. Well done.

As far as the local’s reference to it looking like a single wide trailer, The Clinton Presidential Center is not alone with nicknames.  Polshek’s Biomedical Science Research Building on the University of Michigan Campus is known as the “Pringle” building by locals – due to the potato chip shaped roof of the auditorium sited prominently out front. I am sure that James Stewart Polshek would not approve of either.

While visiting the Museum, have lunch at the museum cafe, FortyTwo


Palmer House – Interiors (1950)

Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect

227 Orchard Hills Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Aerial View and Directions

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Visited September 15-16, 2012

See my post “Palmer House – Exterior” for information on the property.

The interior dramatically changes personality as the light changes in the space. From morning light, afternoon light, evening light and then artificial light the spaces are transformed as time goes by. When the trees, lawn and natural gardens are in sunlight, the interiors takes a back seat as the windows and walls seemingly disappear and the beautiful natural hillside is the star. In the evening after the sun sets, the glass appears as black panels focusing attention inward to the interior. The integrated indirect lighting transforms the oil-finished cypress clad ceiling of the living room into a warm canopy focusing on the fireplace. The polished Cherokee red concrete floors subtly reflect the light from above. Wright’s Origami Chairs ( which are quite comfortable ) are placed around the living room focused on the fireplace. Built into a wall by the kitchen is the dining table surrounded by dining chairs ( which are not comfortable).

All of the interior walls come together at 60 or 120 degree angles, as the floor plan is organized on an equilateral triangle grid. This grid is implemented in the furniture as well, even the beds have 60 and 120 degree corners.


Palmer House – Exterior (1950) – revisited

Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect

227 Orchard Hills Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Aerial View and Directions

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Visited September 15-16, 2012

Look at my first Palmer House post from two years ago for a description of the building.

The Palmer House has been purchased from the Palmer family estate, and is now available for overnight rentals (when the new owner is not in town). The purchase agreement comes with a very strict preservation agreement. Since it was purchased from the original owner’s estate, and the preservation agreement is in effect, this is an incredible opportunity to “live” in an original Frank Lloyd Wright house. The experience is pure Wright, without any unfortunate “updates” that mar many Wright properties that have gone through multiple ownership changes over the years.

Although recuperating from a back injury and not prepared with my tripod, I could not pass up an invitation from some amazing friends to spend the night. I have documented the house in 3 separate posts showing the exterior, the interior and the tea house on the property.