The “tree” in question is Price Tower, the only existing skyscraper designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I recently had the opportunity to tour the building, and am still somewhat awestruck by it. I’m not an architect, so I can’t comment on the structural merits of the building, but the aesthetics are remarkable. For me, it was not so much the exterior of the building that was special–at least not until I got up close enough to look at the detail of the copper “leaves” covering the facade–but the interiors of the building are simply superb. The attention to detail was head-spinning. Wright apparently maintained strict control over every facet of design, including fittings and furniture. As I understand it, they were also designed by him. Certainly no ordinary furniture would fit into most areas of the building. There simply aren’t any right angles. In this particular building, the Wright angles were all triangles.
The Price Tower, Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
“The tree that escaped the crowded forest,” (Wright’s nickname for it) refers both to the building’s construction and to the origins of its design. The Tower is supported by a central “trunk” of four elevator shafts which are anchored in place by a deep central foundation, much as a tree is anchored by its taproot. Like branches of a tree, the building’s nineteen floors are cantilevered from this central core. Each tiny elevator holds a maximum of three close friends, or me and half of my luggage. The outer walls are clad in patinated copper “leaves,” giving them a beautiful green colour. Wright had applied the same concepts in a design for an apartment complex of four cantilevered towers in New York City in the 1920’s, but as a result of the Great Depression, that project was shelved. It was later adapted by Wright when he was commissioned by Harold C. Price, of the H. C. Price Company, a local oil pipeline and chemical firm in Brtlesville, Oklahoma. Hence, the “tree” was plucked out of the “crowded forest” of Manhattan skyscrapers and transplanted onto the Oklahoma prairie. It was opened to the public in February 1956.
For those of you who speak “architecture-eze” here’s a better description of the structure:
The floorplan of the Price Tower centers upon an inlaid cast bronze plaque, bearing the logo of the Price Company and marking the origin of a parallelogram grid upon which all exterior walls, interior partitions and doors, and built-in furniture are placed. The resulting design is a quadrant plan—one quadrant dedicated for double-height apartments, and three for offices. The materials for the Price Tower are equally innovative for a mid-twentieth-century skyscraper: cast concrete walls, pigmented concrete floors, aluminum-trimmed windows and doors, and patinated embossed and disstressed copper panels. The general geometric element is the equilateral triangle, and all lighting fixtures and ventilation grilles are based upon that form while the angled walls and built-in furniture are based on fractions or multiples of the triangular module. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_Tower
The image I’ve always had of Wright is of a man of great intelligence, wit, and ego. Seeing the Price Tower, and hearing about the building of it, has only made that impression stronger. The Tower exudes his wit and creativity. In the top-floor office of the President of the company there is a huge and beautiful globe, tucked back in an out-of sight nook behind a door. As the story goes, Wright had a friendly dispute with Price over that globe. Prce wanted the globe in his office; Wright didn’t want anything round in the building. Wright finally gave in, but kept it largely out of sight.
I’m reading the novel, Loving Frank–a fictionalised account of his seven-year love affair with a woman other than his wife. So naturally the opportunity to see one of his buildings was a special treat. So infatuated am I with Wright at the moment that I have even acquired a nifty new Wright look myself… MM