First Thorpe Fellows Reflect on San Francisco Conference
Photo by Mark Hertzberg
Photo by Mark Hertzberg
The Conservancy’s 2016 conference in San Francisco welcomed the inaugural participants of the John G. Thorpe Young Professionals and Students Fellowship, which was created in memory of longtime Conservancy board member and tireless preservation advocate, architect John G. Thorpe. Suzan Ozcelik, an architectural designer with Mark Cavagnero Associates Architects in San Francisco, and Matthew Palmquist, a first-year graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Master of Architecture program, were selected as the first fellows to attend the Conservancy conference.
Each spoke briefly at the conference of their career goals and connection to Wright. Afterward, we asked both to reflect on their experiences.
Having the conference begin with the bittersweet news that the Frank Lloyd Wright house in the small town of northern Minnesota where I grew up had been dismantled to be reassembled elsewhere, was news I was not expecting on multiple levels. I was troubled and saddened by the state of the house, but deeply impressed with the Conservancy’s efforts to preserve the house, if not on its original site. The work of the Conservancy—efforts to first attempt to save the house in its original site, then to save the house at whatever cost—is amazing in terms of scale and determination, and rare in today’s rapidly changing built environment.
Beyond this opening case study, I found the rest of the conference to be extremely informative and interesting. It was a privilege to see firsthand how Wright folded the influences of local Bay Area vernacular architecture with that of his own. I found this blend of styles and material choices most notable in his work around the Berkeley Hills, where I noticed parallels with his work and that of other Regionalists like Bernard Maybeck, John Galen Howard and the Green brothers. Aside from all the amazing architecture experienced throughout the conference, the most notable experience was meeting John Thorpe’s twin brother, Tom, who was able to attend the conference. Also an architect and preservationist, Tom helped me better understand John’s work for the organization, and who he was as a person. He told me of the family trips they would take together to go see architecture around their home, and of the fact that John attended Berkeley—where I am currently studying. It was inspiring to talk to Tom, and see how he has stepped up to participate in what his brother loved to do, and to share his legacy with those interested in hearing about it.
I was also struck by the diversity of people and places represented at the conference, and the large number of projects that are undertaken by the Conservancy. I am thoroughly impressed by the passion and the stamina of the Conservancy and its members, and their love for the work of Wright. Despite the inevitable shortcomings of designs over time (leaky roofs, soil erosion, salt corrosion), it is admirable that the owners and caretakers of these buildings are willing to wage battle against time, environment, culture and even government to preserve the original intent and feel of the building.
If you are seeking a community who demonstrates true dedication and commitment to architecture and history, it is the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. Lectures unfold into many lively conversations and public comments. Tours lead to rich landscapes where members discuss methods for construction and maintenance. Through stimulating dialogue with members who become your extended family and ongoing preservation efforts, Wright’s legacy and great works stay alive. I am grateful to John Thorpe and his impact upon the design community, and to his brother Tom and his wife Kathleen for seeing the meaning and value in restoration. There is truly no other like contribution to the field of architecture or an architect’s legacy.
Thank you to all who contributed to the fellowship fund. Applications for the 2017 John Thorpe Fellowship to attend the conference in New York City will be available soon on this site. Donations to the fellowship can be made online (please note “in memory of John G. Thorpe” in the comments field) or by calling the office at 312.663.5500.
Posted on February 22, 2017