Not your typical Frank Lloyd Wright- on claass HAUS today.
Designed during a period of personal and professional tumult, the A.D. German Warehouse (c. 1915) is Frank Lloyd Wright at his most defensive- a brick and concrete fortress designed in part (at least according to local legend) to satisfy unpaid debts. Wright's rare warehouse stands in Richland Center, Wisconsin, a bucolic town that happens to be the architect's birthplace and is located just 25 miles from Taliesin. The muscular masonry building, commissioned by local wholesaler Albert Dell German, is clearly a structure of utility, its heavy brick walls practical in their flat austerity. But the warehouse is still a Wright (though it does look a bit Sullivanesque), its crown coming alive with aesthetic ambition. Wrapping around the structure's top floor, a broad, cast concrete frieze is marked by intricate Wrightian geometry and reveals the master's burgeoning flirtation with the Mayan Revival (a style that would come to define much of his work during the following decade).
Contemporary to Wright's designs for Midway Gardens in Chicago and Tokyo's Imperial Hotel, the A.D. German Warehouse is less showpiece and more incubator- a building that would function as a testing ground for many of Wright's new ideas. Here the architect explores pioneering technology (an early reinforced concrete construction technique called the Barton Spider Web System) and unusual decorative prototypes (what would become his Mayan Revival motifs) to signal a departure from his Prairie Style past. Overall, the building is straightforward in its form and purpose- thick brick walls make for a cooler building, narrow window slits stretch the length of the exterior and allow for maximum storage space, and the flaring (though a bit awkward) columns support the interior's flexible, open plan. Sure, the functional warehouse may not be considered a Wrightian masterpiece, but it remains no less interesting, its embellished tomb-like form an elaborate and thoughtful take on the typical masonry storage structure.
Construction on the warehouse began in 1917 and would continue for the next three years before budget overages (the original cost was estimated at $30,000, while the final cost was something near $125,000!!!) and a difficult economy stalled the building's completion. German used the warehouse in its unfinished state to store sugar, flour, and coffee for several years before losing it to bankruptcy. After buying the Wright-designed warehouse back in 1935, German lost it again, this time for good, and over the next few decades, the building changed hands frequently, often sitting empty but always escaping any talk of the wrecking ball. Today, a local campaign to restore the National Register-listed site is underway, and the once overlooked landmark and Wright's only warehouse building has found a new lease on life.
The A.D. German Warehouse is open to the public. You can find more information about visiting here.
Photograph at top:
A.D. German Warehouse (c. 1950). Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.