Virtual tours of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings are taking place around the country, including the Westcott House in Springfield. The Westcott’s executive director Marta Wojcik hosts and shares interesting vignettes about the famous house. CONTRIBUTED
Celebrating her 15th anniversary with the Westcott House Foundation this week, she’s covered topics from Wright’s Prairie style light fixtures to his fancy birdhouse. “It’s a lovely design, but would you know it — birds don’t give a feather about it,” she told viewers.
HOW THE TOURS WORK
The 17 participating properties record videos of their own buildings to send on to other Wright sites, essentially becoming architectural pen pals. At 1 p.m. each Thursday, select sites post a video created by a partner property. The clips vary in scope, with some highlighting specific renovations or architectural features and others offering full tours of buildings’ interiors.
For example, the Westcott House, designed in 1906 and built in 1908, shared a video from Fallingwater director Justin Gunther’s personal archive. Fallingwater, one of Wright’s most famous houses, was built over a Pennsylvania waterfall. Other examples? Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, shared its recently renovated kitchen; while Taliesin West, Wright’s Arizona winter home, studio and school, offered a look at the property’s original entryway.
We chatted with Wojcik about the new initiative and about the famous home she supervises.
Q: What makes Frank Lloyd Wright such a celebrated architect?
A: In 1991, the American Institute of Architects named Frank Lloyd Wright the greatest American architect of all time. Wright’s lifelong mission was to create what he called an “architecture for democracy.” He redefined our concept of space to offer everyone the opportunity to live and grow in awe-inspiring environments. His favorite term for his own creations was “organic architecture,” which meant he designed thinking of how the site is integrated with the surroundings and how all the elements of the design become a harmonious interrelated composition.
Q: How is the Westcott House a good example of his work?
A: Westcott House is a classic example of Prairie Style architecture, which represents the first significant phase of Wright’s career. The House was included in the Wasmuth Portfolio published in 1911 in Germany; Wright picked 75 of his best works to represent his accomplishments and Westcott was one of them.
The Westcott House reception room. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY PHIL ARMSTRONG
Q: What are some of your visitors’ favorite areas of the house?
A: I would say our visitors experience the biggest shock when we show them a short documentary about the dramatic story of saving this place. To see the scenes from “before” and to experience the house that is fully restored is to experience the power of community coming together to do something against all odds. It’s truly inspiring.
There is something innately joyful about exploring a Wright-designed space. Since his design is so playful, it could be that we feel like a little kid, just having fun. So many hiding places and so many delightful shadows created by the art glass. Our staircase topped by the beautiful skylight is one of my favorites.
Q: How did you become interested in Wright?
A: After I moved to the United States from Krakow, Poland, in 2002 I volunteered as a guide at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois. His work is still considered one of the best examples of uniquely American contribution to world culture. But his originality is not at the cost of quality of living. That’s what makes these homes timeless.
Q: Why are you enjoying these virtual tours?
A: I believe people appreciate a certain level of amateurish insider feel with these visits. Every week each of us produces a new video highlighting a different aspect of our sites, and in most cases, it’s just one person armed with their iPhone and extensive knowledge of their building. What is absolutely wonderful about it is the fact that this community of sites vary in sizes, from sites welcoming over 160,000 visitors annually to those that accommodate 3,000 visitors or so.
The Westcott House in Springfield’s dining room. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY PHIL ARMSTRONG
Q: What are some examples of things people might not know about Frank Lloyd Wright as a person?
A: Frank Lloyd Wright was a very colorful and controversial person. He was also an indisputable genius when it comes to architecture. But as it often happens, under all of this public persona, we find a real human, and as all of us, he too was very complicated. As part of our virtual outreach, we recently hosted a discussion with Nancy Horan, the author of “Loving Frank.” I highly recommend this historic fiction for everyone who has not read it; the Westcott House was designed during the time Wright had his affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney.
I easily break into tears while watching some movies, such as “Titanic.” A common thread here is that both “Titanic” and “Loving Frank,” both stories told about real events and real people that take us back to these humans who, like us, had dreams and hopes for the future and it was all taken away from them in the matter of seconds.
It is believed that the Westcott family was supposed to return from their European trip on “Titanic.” They changed their plans because John, Westcott’s young son, got very sick, which made them postpone the return for a month.
People may not know that Wright appeared on “What’s My Line.” You can find the episode on YouTube. The episode featured Wright, Liberace and New Carlisle resident Jane Scarff. I also always encourage people to watch Mike Wallace’s interviews with Wright.
Q: Any other virtual programs?
A: When we closed to the public in March we established “Westcott from Your Home,” which lists all the past and current initiatives. Some past lectures can be viewed on demand. We feature a fabulous online reading of “Iggy Peck, Architect” that we produced with Peter Exley, an AIA National 2021 president-elect. There is a lecture coming up on June 2 and a webinar on saving the Westcott House — 2020 marks 15 years of Westcott being open to the public.
Want free tours of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous buildings?
- Every Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m., architecture fans can search the #WrightVirtualVisits hashtag to watch short video tours of Wright buildings. If you don't use social media you can also view all the videos on vimeo.
- The list of participating sites, with links to their social media profiles, is available at SaveWright.org/WrightVirtualVisits. You can view the previous videos created by all participating sites.
- At 9 p.m. Monday, June 8, The Westcott House Foundation, Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, and Wright sites across the nation are teaming up with PechaKucha to present a live online global event in celebration of Wright's work and legacy. The event, entitled "Wright Sites x PechaKucha," will feature presentations in the highly-visual PechaKucha style which consists of 20 image-based slides with each talk lasting only 400 seconds. Attendees can live-stream the event online and presentations will be available to view within 24 hours after the event. No advance registration is required for this free event.