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June 17, 2024

An Iconic Frank Lloyd Wright Theater Reopens Following a $1.1 Million Restoration Project

A lively crowd of midcentury-modern architecture lovers gathered at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in the early afternoon on June 8, the architect’s 157th birthday. The celebrations weren’t just to blow candles and eat cake in honor of the legendary designer, but rather to commemorate the reopening of Wright’s Hillside Theater at Taliesin following a five-year, $1.1 million restoration project. “We’re very happy to present this space to you today,” Ryan Hewson, director of preservation at Taliesin for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, said in a speech at the theater’s reopening. “The need for this project has been steadily more urgent as the space continued to physically deteriorate.”

The performance venue is located within the Hillside building on the Taliesin grounds, Wright’s estate in Spring Green, Wisconsin, which encompassed his private residence, architectural studio, and Taliesin Fellowship—an apprentice program that drew hundreds of architects in its peak—among other facilities. (He also had Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, which served a similar purpose and was used in the winter.) The architect acquired Hillside in 1922 after the Hillside Home School, which was run by Wright’s aunts, closed. The building was one of his earlier commissions, and once he owned it, he incorporated it into the Taliesin Fellowship complex, reimagining it over the years to include a drafting studio, apprentice dorms, a large dining room, and the Hillside Theater.

Hillside, one of the historic buildings on the Taliesin Estate.

Photo: Tim Long courtesy of Taliesin Preservation

In Wright’s days, the venue would host weekly public movie screenings for 50 cents a ticket as well as concerts and other cultural events. However, the years were not as friendly to the theater as it had been to the Spring Green community. The venue suffered from structural and functional challenges, largely born from construction techniques that were common in the early 1900s, but no longer sound. “The project started with improving and installing adequate site drainage,” Hewson tells AD. Water that had infiltrated the building and damaged the stage was among the most severe threats to the site. “The stage had far more water damage than we realized when we started the project,” Hewson adds. “We first took it apart, and then reconstructed it.” Other improvements included new roofing, relaying paving, and updating plumbing and electric systems.

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