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Preservation, Management, and Stabilization Approaches at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin: An Analysis of the Evolution of Intervention Strategies

Semrad, Allison

Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Wisconsin, is an eight-hundred acre estate situated in a rural, rolling landscape. The site is significant because of its architectural character, as a collection of representative works spanning Wright’s entire career, as well as for its association with the Taliesin Fellowship, Wright’s elaborate and well-documented model for teaching and living. Taliesin is currently open for tours and also houses a resident community made up of students, their faculty, interns, and a few older members of the Fellowship, often referred to as Legacy Fellows. For preservationists and the site’s caretakers, Taliesin’s buildings pose a particularly thorny problem. Students and apprentices were responsible for much of Taliesin’s construction, and Wisconsin’s harsh climate often accelerates the material deterioration of wood details, structural elements, plaster, stucco, and cedar-shingle roofs. The research presented in this thesis lays out a chronology detailing how Taliesin has been managed and preserved since Frank Lloyd Wright’s death in 1959. Between 1959 and the late 1980s, the Taliesin Fellowship managed the site, maintaining and altering the buildings for continued use. In 1991, a preservation non-profit was founded by recommendation of a Governor’s Commission. This group, called Taliesin Preservation Commission, and later Taliesin Preservation Incorporated (TPC and TPI, respectively), was tasked with establishing a new public tour program and managing maintenance and preservation interventions on site. The second half of the thesis details three case studies areas that shed light on specific structural interventions, as a way to understand how these physical projects reflect the values of Taliesin’s residents and caretakers. The case studies are: Mr. Wright’s Bedroom Terrace, the Lower Court, and the combination of Mrs. Wright’s Bedroom and the Gold Room. Each was stabilized multiple times through Taliesin’s preservation history, calling into question the site’s long period of significance, quality of the original construction, continued use of these spaces, and the importance of material authenticity. By setting up a chronology of preservation work at Taliesin, one can evaluate how preservation work has evolved at this particular site. Hinging around the 1990s, interventions are planned with increasing standards for research and documentation. Under the guidance of TPI and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, the nature of preservation projects has shifted to include more comprehensive and forward-thinking interventions. Additionally, there are also many ways that intervention strategies at Taliesin have stayed consistent through time. The earliest articulation of goals for public tours at Taliesin emphasized the interpretation of Wight’s concepts of organic architecture and, secondarily, how the buildings manifest these principles of design. Interventions account for common frameworks such as the Secretary of the Interior Standards, but often also stray from professional standards in an attempt to reconcile the building’s role as a historic object and the home of an existing community. A consistently small preservation team employs a deep knowledge of the site’s history and intimate familiarity with the buildings’ construction details, as well as a reverence for the buildings as designed by Wright. Taliesin’s working policy for preservation does not strictly adhere to formalized industry standards but has instead adapted to the needs of this specific building and community over time. Spaces within the buildings are selectively and iteratively restored, rehabilitated, preserved, or altered. A study of preservation approaches employed on site can inform our understanding of Taliesin as an educational tool; to be publicly interpreted, continuously updated as a residence, or fixed in time as an object meriting preservation.

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More Information

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Prudon, Theodorus H.
Degree
M.S., Columbia University
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