No wonder, then, that an incomplete “next” Wright building has provoked the fascination of Dave Freedman, a graduating Master of Architecture student at the University of Toronto. Dave’s thesis will have him step into the shoes of Wright to imagine how the visionary architect would have completed the Mile High Illinois, a building that was neither completed in design nor built before Wright’s death in 1959. The skyscraper, if completed and built, would be the tallest in the world today – almost twice as high as the current record-holder, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Dave, who won the Howarth-Wright Graduate Fellowship from the University of Toronto’s School of Architecture, used his funds to travel to and visit over 200 of the prolific architect’s structures in the US.
“The fellowship is important because it provides an opportunity for in-depth research into one of North America’s most influential practitioners of architecture in the 20th century,” said Dustin Valen, Dave’s colleague who has studied Wright’s work extensively. “It sustains interest in a key figure who, paradoxically, features less and less in contemporary design education and culture.”
Dave’s interest in Wright has certainly been sustained throughout his studies, having been inspired in the past by Wright’s ability to combine geometric forms and innovatively use materials and building processes. Before his big trip, he would have described the Guggenheim as the most memorable Wright structure, but now finds it difficult to choose.
“From the Guggenheim, to Fallingwater, to the Johnson Wax Administration Building and the Research Tower along with nearby Wingspread, to the Price Tower, both Taliesin and Taliesin West, and the textile block houses of the Los Angeles area, there were too many exceptional experiences to call out a single one,” Dave said.
“Seeing so many of Wright’s structures in such a short period of time allowed me to contextualize his work. I realized that it doesn’t necessarily matter who you work for or how big your budget is, as long your work inspires you.”
Having the opportunity to see the evolution of an architect’s work over a 70-year span is an experience that humbled Dave in his own efforts to dramatically and quickly break out into the architecture world. Dave saw, first-hand and through his research, how Wright’s success didn’t happen immediately and that each project was a learning opportunity, a chance for growth of ideas and a possibility to try out new techniques.
Dave, who initially moved to Toronto to study design at a joint York University and Sheridan College program, sees his adopted city as architecturally inspiring. Pointing to existing structures by international architects such as Santiago Calatrava, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Daniel Libeskind and Frank Gehry, he believes that Toronto has the potential to inspire both present and future generations of architects. In fact, the city has already inspired Dave’s thesis.
“Wright’s Illinois tower was imagined for Chicago, but my proposition will be sited in Toronto and take into consideration 21st century understandings of structure, programmatic usage, circulation and site integration,” he said. “While Wright hinted at some of these concerns, many conclusions remained elusive since the project had barely reached a schematic stage during Wright’s lifetime.”
Dave encourages anyone interested in architecture to look for inspiration in the work of an architect, or in the city. As he learned on his trip, perhaps the best way to feel and understand architecture – as one could say about so many subjects in life – is to walk through it and experience it directly.
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