If you have walked the Tulip Tree Trail or been out to the Museum’s South Lawn this summer, you have likely seen and heard the ongoing preparations for construction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman-Wilson house on the Museum grounds.
Earth moving is almost complete, as the site has been cleared and leveled, and the utility lines installed. The construction team is currently in the process of building a dry-stack stone retaining wall that is six feet tall and 250 feet long. The wall will stabilize the vertical cut into the hillside that was necessary in order to level the site. Excavation has also begun on the building’s basement.
“All good houses begin with a great foundation,” said Scott Eccleston. “This has been a real challenge, because if you remember, this is a ravine—and so we have filled this in, compacted, and dug it back out. And the footprint is small. It looks wide, but it’s really not when you start bringing in materials. When everything begins to come back in, it’s a very intimate footprint.”
The original plans for the Bachman-Wilson house included a basement, but it was “value engineered” out when the home was actually built. The basement was added back to the construction here at Crystal Bridges in order to house the commercial-sized HVAC system necessary to handle environmental controls once the house is open to the public.
“The original HVAC system, built in the ‘50s, was very small and wasn’t going to handle hundreds of people a day coming through it,” explained Eccleston. “This is a commercial system that needs a lot more space. Well, typically a Usonian house is known not to have any wasted space, right? That being said, there’s no place to hide all of the equipment, so therefore we had to go down below the ground.”
Once the basement is complete, the crew will be able to pour the building’s slab and wall footings, which are expected to be complete by November 1. In phase three, the construction will finally begin to go vertical, with installation of the blockwork and wood through the winter.
This fall, students from the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas will begin construction on the information pavilion they have designed for the Wright house. The pavilion will serve both as an interpretation center and entryway to the site for visitors, and will feature information about Frank Lloyd Wright, his Usonian design principles, and the history of the Bachman-Wilson house. Having passed through this pavilion, visitors will then enjoy a short walk along a landscaped path to the house itself.
The public tour of the house is already in development: Museum educators working with architects to plan a route that will allow for relevant stopping points to illustrate key elements of the house’s design, while continuing to facilitate traffic flow through the building and grounds.
Barring weather disruptions, we anticipate the opening of the Bachman-Wilson House for tours in Summer 2015. Stay tuned for further updates!