Why The David Wright House Cannot Be Moved
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As the situation concerning the future of the David and Gladys Wright house in the Arcadia neighborhood of Phoenix hangs in the balance, some have wondered why the unique concrete block residence couldn't just be moved to a new location and out of harm's way. So PrairieMod asked restoration architect and Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy vice president John G. Thorpe for an answer. Although a few other Wright buildings have been moved (at considerable...
As the situation concerning the future of the David and Gladys Wright house in the Arcadia neighborhood of Phoenix hangs in the balance, some have wondered why the unique concrete block residence couldn't just be moved to a new location and out of harm's way.
So PrairieMod asked restoration architect and Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy vice president John G. Thorpe for an answer. Although a few other Wright buildings have been moved (at considerable expense) in order to save them, it turns out that that is not possible with this remarkable home. Read why after the jump...
As stated by Thorpe, the Conservancy reviewed the original drawings and also discussed the prospect with Scottsdale structural engineer Mark Rudow.
Frank Lloyd Wright and his son wanted to do one of the things that Wright did best: explore the nature of a given material and see what structural and aesthetic limits could be reached and expressed with it. For this house, the material was the concrete block — which was actually David's career.
The two construction systems that his father used both literally enabled the house to be built, but at the same time, now prevent it from being dismantled or moved.
(© FLWright FDN, Scottsdale, AZ.)
(© FLWright FDN, Scottsdale, AZ.)
First, David and Gladys' house employs "engineered masonry" (hollow-block-walls-filled-with-steel-rebars-and-grout) which he used in all of the 1920's Textile Block houses, the Usonian Automatics, and many other houses through the 1950's. Since the custom-made curved and corbelled block walls (courses stepping in and out as they go up) are filled and bonded together with a lattice of vertical and horizontal steel rebars in grout, it is not possible to dismantle the walls by removing individual blocks without completely destroying each of them. All original blocks would be lost.
Second, Wright also used "reinforced concrete" (bent-steel-bar-reinforced-concrete columns, girders, beams and slabs) which he had employed as far back as Unity Temple (1906). At the David Wright House, the main floor slab is made of a grid of curved and angular concrete girders and beams with adjacent thin slab areas in between (see drawings). All of the concrete is heavily-reinforced by steel bars within and also bent down (or "hooked") into the radial first floor concrete block piers. Similar to Unity Temple, Fallingwater, and others, the concrete-rebar system allow the great cantilevers but prevent the whole floor from being dismantled and from being separated from the base piers.
So the walls are not removable and the whole main floor cannot be separated from its piers. Therefore, the only way the house could possibly be moved is in its entirety. It would have to be fitted into a huge custom-made steel frame and then lifted by several mobile cranes onto sets of "dolly" wheels comparable to those on a large airplane. The result would be two-fold: a) the cost for such a move would be extraordinally prohibitive, and b) the city would disallow the move as the huge rolling load would crush the roadbed and destroy trees on Rubicon and everywhere else. Therefore, unlike most structures, the David Wright house cannot be moved.
We would add that the Phoenix developers recently mentioned that, as a precedent, the 1830's "London Bridge" had been successfully "moved" to Lake Havasu ca. 1971. We have confirmed that actually only the stone veneer — pieces of stone cladding only 6" to 8" thick — had been individually marked, removed and reinstalled to cover a new concrete bridge at Lake Havasu. The cost just for the stonework veneer was $2.4 million.
So, the very design and construction of this totally unique building is blessing and a curse: It makes it a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, but also prohibits its being moved out of danger.
What's needed is to have a true preservation-minded owner come forward to save this building for generations to come. If you are that prospective owner, or know of one, then please act soon before it's too late.
If you care about the helping to preserve the work of our country's greatest architect, then please contact the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and support their important mission.
All photos copyright John Clouse. Drawings of Frank Lloyd Wright are Copyright © Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ.