Some people believe in life after death. Others don’t. But architecture after death is a new concept: building something 50 years after the now deceased architect designed it, is a bit far-fetched; or not?
The Massaro House on Petra Island, originally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 50s has caused a lot of controversy: Is it fair to call it a Wright building? Should it have been built? Would Wright like the end result?
Joe Massaro bought Petra island on Lake Mahopac in 1991. His initial aim was to restore the guest house built on it, also designed by F.L. Wright. The original owner, A.K. Chahroudi had backed out of building the house that the famous architect had designed for him, the whole project being very expensive and daring for the time, not to mention technologically challenged. But those original plans would be realised 50 years after they were born.
Wright had only done a few pencil sketches before the project was shelved. So when Massaro decided to realize the architect’s dream, he turned to F.L. Wright Foundation to get renderings of the original plans. The Foundation had back then a program called Legacy, to enable people to built un-realized Wright projects. Unfortunately they did not see eye-to-eye on this one and parted ways. After this turn of events, Massaro decided to hand over the project to Wright scholar and architect Thomas A. Heinz.
Heinz has written thirty books on Wright and has restored and rebuilt more than forty of his designs. No doubt he is the ideal architect to handle a project like this. Being technically challenged even at this age of computer software design and advanced building techniques, the original plans were realized almost intact. Huge thin roofs without supports across the living areas meant finding clever ways to build them with concrete on those rocks (now part of the house) as well as the massive triangular grid of skylights, done in a single pour, with a specially made concrete mix.
The cantilevered 78 foot long wing reaches out across the lake, soaring over a single column towards the water. The original plan included stairs reaching far down on the water surface but modern building regulations meant this feature had to be omitted. The result looks very much Wrightian but also has modern touches that make it unique.
The furniture inside the house are modern F.L. Wright original designs, while some of the outside ones were made from ancient mahogany trunks (see above). The bedrooms are typically small (below), like in all Wright’s homes: he preferred having people live in their living rooms – pun intended.
We do not know if Frank Lloyd Wright would have liked the end result. But the Massaro House is definitely not a building to be ignored by anyone with a remote interest in architecture and one of its greatest masters.
Drawings by Frank Lloyd Wright/Courtesy of Dod Chahroudi.
Photographs by David Allee/New York Magazine