a Wrightian bank by Wes Peters
A bank by Frank Lloyd Wright's favorite protégé on claass HAUS today.
Located in Spring Green, Wisconsin, home of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, the Bank of Spring Green stands in the heart of the town's commercial center, one of many Wright-inspired landmarks dotting the streets of the small idyllic town. Designed by Wright's chief "pencil in hand" and son-in-law William "Wes" Peters, and completed in 1972, the bank is effortlessly Wrightian in form, its layered geometric shapes and warm, earthy facade dedicated to the organic philosophy of the architect's legendary mentor.
Born in Terre Haute, Indiana, Wes Peters studied at Evansville College and MIT before training as Wright's first apprentice at Taliesin. After falling in love with Wright's adopted daughter Svetlana (only a teenager at the time), Peters left Wisconsin for a brief stint, returning two years later to marry the young woman with her parents' (reluctant and eventual) blessing. As Wright's right-hand man and main structural engineer, Peters worked on some of the architect's most recognizable projects including Fallingwater, the Johnson Wax Administration Building, and the Guggenheim Museum. Peters would remain at Taliesin for the rest of his life, becoming Chief Architect after Wright's passing in 1959 and dedicating his career to preserving the architect's legacy.
Relying on a circular mode of expression, the Bank of Spring Green (now BMO Harris Bank) is a one-story, curvilinear structure with a flat roof and a stone facade. The bank's most prominent features, curving canopies of smooth concrete and a ribbon of windows behind a screen of geometric shapes, recalls Wright's circular aesthetic and seems reminiscent of projects like Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church (1956) and Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium (1962-64) (which was actually completed by Peters after Wright's death). An unconventional bank design, the interior continues Peters' emphasis on organic forms and materials. The lobby featured a limestone check-writing table, two fireplaces, planters, and teak furniture, while the circular plan kept bank and office equipment separate from the public's view. In 1975, Peters designed a drive-up teller window (featuring maybe some of the best light fixtures on a bank building) that complemented the original design.
Greatly influenced by Wright’s concepts of organic architecture and circular geometry, Peters designed 120 of his own projects, but his contribution to architectural history remains deeply entwined with his mentor's preeminence, leaving historians to untangle the complicated web of their collaboration. Throughout his long career, Peters, a talented architect and engineer in his own right, demonstrated an unwavering allegiance to Wrightian architecture and a remarkable loyalty to the man himself. In many ways, Wes Peter's Bank of Spring Green, a building organic in form, honest in materials, and fundamentally grounded in the processes of the natural world continued Wright's design ethos and helped to cement the master architect's extraordinary legacy.
Image at top:
Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. This 1972-vintage BMO Harris branch bank building in Spring Green, Wisconsin, was originally known as the Bank of Spring Green. Sauk County, Spring Green, Wisconsin, 2016. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, 2016631374.
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