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Living in America: Frank Lloyd Wright, Harlem & Modern Housing

Roy E. Petersen; Section B, Broadacre City model, Taliesin, 1935; Photograph
Roy E. Petersen; Section B, Broadacre City model, Taliesin, 1935; Photograph; The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)
21 August 2017

On September 9, 2017, Living in America: Frank Lloyd Wright, Harlem & Modern Housing will open to the public at the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery on Columbia’s new Manhattanville campus. The exhibition is curated by the University’s Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture.

The exhibition title “Living in America,” a phrase written on wooden panels traveling with the model of Wright’s Broadacre City (1929–58), evokes a question that preoccupied architects and planners throughout the mid-20th century: How to live together? Wright’s proposal for an exurban settlement of single-family houses offered one possible answer; plans for large public or subsidized housing located in urban areas presented another. Although these two visions seem a world apart, they share a common history.

Wright (1867–1959) first exhibited his Broadacre City project at Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan in 1935. While the prominent Wisconsin-based architect anticipated a degree of economic diversity, Broadacre’s residents were, for the most part, implicitly white. In 1936, construction began on one of New York City’s first public housing developments, the Harlem River Houses, funded by the Public Works Administration under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Built for working-class African Americans, the complex was designed by a consortium including John Louis Wilson Jr., the first African American to graduate from Columbia’s School of Architecture. Through such parallel examples, Living in America: Frank Lloyd Wright, Harlem & Modern Housing shows how two different approaches to American housing intersect along racial and socioeconomic lines, and asks: How to live in America, together?

The exhibition’s narrative takes the form of two interwoven plotlines, developed through displays of project-specific drawings, photographs, and other material dating from the late 1920s to the late 1950s. One plotline tracks the Broadacre scheme as it plays out in Wright’s subsequent work, scattered around the country; the other tracks the development of public housing in Upper Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood. Both stories connect social institutions, such as the nuclear family, with economic structures, such as private property or its alternatives. Wright’s version of the “American Dream” and Harlem’s public housing both reflect disparities, conflicts, and aspirations that remain part of American life today.

Buell Center Director Reinhold Martin said, “This is a living history, in every possible sense. The difficult questions about American society that are raised by these buildings, projects, and ideas are as relevant today as they were then. They have animated many discussions among the many people responsible for this exhibition, and we hope that they will do the same for visitors to the show. Led by Buell Center Assistant Director Jacob Moore, an extraordinary team of student researchers joined in a collaborative effort with our colleagues at the Wallach Gallery, Avery Library, and MoMA to give these urgent matters the fresh attention they deserve.”

Carole Ann Fabian, Director of Columbia’s Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, which acquired the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation’s archives jointly with The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2012, said, “At Avery, Wright’s archives receive the fullest exposure for curricular uses and research-intensive interrogation by students, scholars, and the interested public. The selection of materials on exhibition at the Wallach Art Gallery, for example, can be studied by a wide range of viewers, from Columbia’s Core Curriculum students to architectural historians to artists and families in the surrounding neighborhood.”

Deborah Cullen, Director and Chief Curator of the Wallach Art Gallery, said, “We are proud to collaborate in the joint celebration of this important acquisition, as well as to use the opportunity to reflect on both historical and contemporary building projects that shape, and reshape, our neighborhoods.”

Harlem River Houses, 1936–1937, Avery Library
Schell Lewis, perspective drawing, 1935; Horace Ginsbern Papers, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York
About the exhibition

Living in America has been curated by The Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), and is co-presented by The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery and and The Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, in correlation with Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York through October 1, 2017.

“Broad Acres and Narrow Lots,” an associated essay by David Smiley, Assistant Director of the Urban Design Program at Columbia’s Architecture School, is included in the MoMA exhibition catalogue. Living in America’s curatorial team is composed of students from various Columbia masters and doctoral programs, together with the Buell staff and in close collaboration with archivists from Avery Library and other institutions.

The Buell Center research team includes Reinhold Martin, Director, Jacob Moore, Assistant Director, and Jordan Steingard, Program Manager, together with Erik Carver (Harlem team leader), Daniel Cooper, Clara Dykstra, Robin Hartanto Honggare, Neha Krishnan, Tola Oniyangi, Julie Pedtke, Jiexi Qi, Alexander Hilton Wood (Frank Lloyd Wright team leader), Ashley Wu and Zhengyang (Echo) Yue. Nick Bloom, Matt Lasner, Nancy Later, Richard Plunz, Abbe Schriber, David Smiley, and Joseph Watson were also consulted.

The exhibition design team includes Project Projects: Shannon Harvey, Prem Krishnamurthy, Chris Wu, Janet Chan, Lauren Bishop; and Leong Leong: Dominic Leong, Gabriel Burkett.

Archival material has been drawn from Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University; Columbia University Archives; Cornell University Library, Rare and Manuscript Collections; Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library; Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archive (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York); Hagley Museum and Library; The LaGuardia and Wagner Archives, Fiorello H. LaGuardia Community College/CUNY; The Library of Congress; The Museum of the City of New York; The National Archives; New York City Municipal Archives; The New York City Housing Authority; Rockefeller Archive Center; Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; Syracuse University Library, Special Collections Research Center; University of Massachusetts at Amherst, DuBois Archive; Wayne State University, Walter P. Reuther Library; The Wisconsin Historical Society.

Wallach Art Gallery Hours
Wednesday – Friday, noon – 8pm
Saturday and Sunday, noon – 6pm
The Wallach Art Gallery is free and open to the public.

About Columbia University
Among the world’s leading research universities, Columbia University in the City of New York continuously seeks to advance the frontiers of scholarship and foster a campus community deeply engaged in the complex issues of our time through teaching, research, patient care and public service. The University is comprised of 16 undergraduate, graduate and professional schools, and four affiliated colleges and seminaries in Manhattan, and a wide array of research institutes and global centers around the world. More than 40,000 students, award-winning faculty and professional staff define the University’s underlying values and commitment to pursuing new knowledge and educating informed, engaged citizens. Founded in 1754 as King’s College, Columbia is the fifth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.
About the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture
The Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University was founded in 1982. Its mission is to advance the study of American architecture, urbanism and landscape. Located within Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, the center sponsors program and research projects focusing on issues of both scholarly and general interest.
About Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
Founded in 1890, Columbia’s Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library collects books and periodicals in architecture, historic preservation, art history, painting, sculpture, photography, decorative arts, city planning, real estate and archaeology. The scope of the Avery collection in architecture is outstanding; it ranges from the first Western printed book on architecture, De re aedificatoria (1485), by Leone Battista Alberti, to the classics of modernism by Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. Avery’s drawing and archives collection holds approximately 1,500,000 drawings and original records.