Saturday, December 31, 2005

Frank Lloyd Wright's Price Tower
Bartlesville, OK

I'm straying a bit north of Tulsa this entry. We'll head to Bartlesville, OK where we take a look at Frank Lloyd Wright's only skyscraper. Completed in 1956, the Price Tower celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. After falling into disrepair over the years, much has been restored and this intriguing building is now home to administrative offices, 21 designer hotel rooms, a resturant and bar, a museum , art gallery and a gift shop. Tower tours are available everyday except Sunday.

Over a long lunch break this past week, I took the tour with a couple of friends. I was very impressed. I've always been a real fan of the designs that came from Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly Fallingwater. Since the museum was presenting an exhibit called Prairie Skyscraper: Frank Lloyd Wright's Price Tower, I figured it was the perfect time to visit. The tower was restored in 2001 by Phillips Petroleum Company and then donated to the Price Tower Arts Center. Unfortunately, because all images inside the tower are copyrighted, I was unable to photograph the wonderful interior. The exhibit was fantastic, with many original drawings and sketches from FLW for the Price Tower as well as many other skyscrapers that were never built, including towers for Chicago, Pittsburg and D.C. One drawing was of a futuristic city, where all shops, homes and jobs were in these towers spread out over wide rolling farms of crops. Personal flying machines took you around where you needed to go, but everything you needed was contained in these needles in the sky with exceptionally small footprints. There were drawings of planned hotels and office complexes that included many towers similar in design to the Price Tower. In addition to all of the drawings, there were models of buildings and examples of the hexagonal furniture originally designed specifically for use by tenants of the tower by FLW himself.

The Price Tower is sometimes called "the tree that escaped the crowded forest". It was originally conceived by FLW in the 1920s, and was originally planned for St. Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie in New York. With its unique cantilever design, the entire structure is supported from a primary "trunk" and all rooms attach like "branches". The beautifully patinaed copper used throughout the tower is just amazing. The original triangular fixtures have been restored throughout and look great. The scale of the building is very odd. The rooms are exceptionally small, particularly when you're in a group of 25 people trying to look around. There is nary a 90 degree corner in this building. Odd nooks and crannies show up throughout. Some of the modern conveniences included in the residential spaces were gas fireplaces, dishwashers and Jetsons-like "rubbish" chutes in the kitchens. The tiny elevators (of which there are 3, 2 operational) can only hold 4-5 people snugly to get to the upper levels. I was hoping that they would have some of the old offices a bit more furnished than they did, but the rooms were great anyway. The views from the 2 level apartment designated for the Price's were spectacular. Additionally, outside the large windows, we see a large eagle roosted on the roof just above the balcony (the same one with the pine tree you can see from the ground). Figuring that taking a picture of the eagle wouldn't violate any copyrights, I whipped out my camera just in time to watch him spread his magnificent wings and fly away. Too late!

After visiting Mr. Price's office on the upper floor, we took the external stairwell down and really enjoyed the views of Bartlesville, as well as peeking into the windows of each floor. We considered trying to talk one of the cleaning ladies into letting us glance at one of the hotel rooms. No one ever came out into the hallway for us to ask, so we didn't get to see one in person. The rooms were designed by acclaimed New York-based architect Wendy Evans Joseph. The video they showed us a the beginning of the tour showed them to be quite modern and suitably "artsy". There's a Flash video clip that shows a bit of the interior here.

The Price Tower Arts Center is getting ready to grow with a very awesome looking design by Zaha Hadid. Tightly integrated with the entire city block and the Bartlesville Community Center, the tour video showed some great walkthrough 3-D visualizations of how this will eventually look. A multi-level museum/gallery will have glass panels for the roof, so you will look up from the exhibits to see the Price Tower looming above. A lucite scale model in the exhibit center also gives you a great idea how this new ultra-modern structure will integrate with the Price Tower.

A visit to this special building is definitely recommended to fans of mid-century architecture and groundbreaking design. The current exhibit on the tower runs until Jan. 15, 2006.

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