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Unesco Adds Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architecture to World Heritage List

By Lauren Messman

Fallingwater house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 in rural southwestern Pennsylvania.
 
Fallingwater house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 in rural southwestern Pennsylvania.

Eight major works designed by Frank Lloyd Wright were inscribed alongside international treasures like the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids of Giza on the Unesco World Heritage List on Sunday, the first recognition by the United Nations cultural organisation of American modern architecture.

The announcement was made in Baku, Azerbaijan, where the World Heritage Committee had been meeting to review the sites currently on the list, and 35 others that had been nominated. Inscribed as “The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright,” the addition encompasses eight of Wright’s more recognisable designs, spanning the various American landscapes that served as his inspiration.

The designation includes homes Wright designed for clients, like Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, the Robie House in Chicago and the Jacobs House in Wisconsin, alongside the sites that served as his private residences and housed his architecture school — Taliesin in Spring Green, Wis., and Taliesin West in Arizona. It also includes famous public works that bookend his career: Unity Temple, built between 1906 and 1908 in Oak Park, Ill., and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, which was completed in 1959.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, an organisation that works to preserve the nearly 400 remaining buildings Wright designed, embarked on the nomination process more than 15 years ago, after a suggestion from the International Council on Monuments and Sites, which advises Unesco.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

The council “felt that Wright’s contribution to modern architecture was too significant to have it represented by only one building and requested that we undertake a serial nomination,” said Lynda Waggoner, a former director of Fallingwater and a founding member of the conservancy’s board. Waggoner will now lead the Frank Lloyd Wright World Heritage Council, established to support coordinated conservation efforts for the eight World Heritage sites.

“These works exerted major influence on modern architecture in their open plans, abstraction of form, use of new technologies and materials, connection to nature and ability to adapt to modern living,” Waggoner said.

The World Heritage Program was created in 1972. Before Sunday’s announcement, it included more than 1,000 properties “that are considered to be of outstanding value to humanity,” according to the Unesco website.

The designation of the Wright properties followed the United States’ withdrawal from Unesco at the end of 2018. The move means the United States can no longer be represented on the World Heritage Committee, which determines which sites are added to, or removed from, the World Heritage List. Maintenance and preservation of individual sites is the responsibility of the host country.

The Wright designation does not mean that the eight sites will get more resources or money for preservation efforts. But Jeff Goodman, vice president of communication and partnerships for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation at Taliesin West, said that including Wright’s name among the 24 World Heritage sites in the United States is bound to bring more visitors and visibility to all of the architect’s existing work.

“We really believe that sharing Frank Lloyd Wright’s work with more people around the world will make the world a better place,” he said. “He continues to teach us about not only how we relate to the world, and the impact we have on the world, but how we relate to each other.”