Yesterday I had the privilege of getting an in-depth tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio in Oak Park, IL. The tour was led by Don Kalec, who contributed much during the restoration of the building. Don is an architect by trade, and an instructor at the School of the Art Institute. He spent most of the tour explaining the restoration and rational behind it. What I find problematic is that the house was restored to how it existed in 1909. That means many of the other alterations done after 1909 by Wright himself were destroyed to restore it back to 1909. Not only does it mean that many parts of the house were removed, but much had to be rebuilt that no longer existed. The question of what is real is my major gripe with this method. While it is important that this house is significant for when the Wright family lived there, it also must be noted that another 101 years of this house's history occurred after 1909.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio was built in 1889, that means that the vast majority of the home's history occurred after the chosen date of 1909. I also worry as to what is really original. Take the kitchen for example. Most of the tiles are new, the wall paper is new, the foundation is new, the wooden decoration above the table is new. A lot of it is based off of 100 year old, vague photographs. This is possibly creating a false sense of history. Many tourists think of the cathedrals in England as these great medieval treasures, but they are really 19th century restorations on what idealized gothic architecture should be. At the same time, preservationists don't want to preserve part of the FLW Home and Studio that is not original nor uninvolved with FLW. So the question is; what do we preserve? Or more importantly, what do we not preserve? What do we recreate? What cannot be recreated? I do not have answers to these questions, but they are surely something to think about next time you visit a historic site.
The Frank Lloyd Write home and Studio