Frank Lloyd Wright New Jersey House Reborn in Arkansas
It seems as if no undertaking is too unwieldy—or expensive—for the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art to handle.
Last year, the Bentonville, Arkansas, institution (with unfathomably deep pockets, thanks to the largess of museum founder and Walmart zillionaire Alice Walton), announced that it had purchased, for an undisclosed sum, an important Usonian house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
The elegant, 2,800-square-foot modernist structure of concrete, mahogany and glass was built in the 1950s in Millstone, New Jersey for Abraham Wilson, brother of the architect’s apprentice, and his wife Gloria Bachman. The house’s owners sold the place to Crystal Bridges last year, mainly because they were trying to find a way to secure the historic building because it has become susceptible in recent years to damage from increased flooding of the nearby Millstone River. The extraordinary long-distance acquisition, and the museum’s plans to transport it to Arkansas, has raised many eyebrows and questions as to the logistics, feasibility, and cost of the building’s reconstruction some 1,200 miles away.
Nevertheless, plans moved forward. The house was carefully dismantled, one piece at at time; each component was meticulously catalogued. A drawing of each element will now be used to aid in the building’s reconstruction.
Late last spring, the thousands of pieces were loaded into tractor trailers and shipped to Bentonville. During the summer and early fall, a site was selected for the Wright house on the museum’s 120-acre campus, and preparations were initiated to receive it. This alone was no small feat, since Wright’s houses were each designed as a site-specific integration of architecture and nature. The new site, the museum affirms, approximates the building’s original wooded setting. According to museum spokespeople, the project has gone smoothly so far, and the first supporting beams are to be set in place this month.
Plans are also underway to break ground within weeks for a Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired visitors center pavilion designed and built by students from the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Connected to the Bachman Wilson house by a winding path through the woods, the pavilion will serve as an information center as well as a gateway to the house. The new complex, featuring the reconstructed Wright building, is set to open to the public in the summer of 2015.
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