Beautiful Design Can Mask Hidden Flaws

A picture of the upstairs fireplace at Wingspread in Racine

Almost two weeks ago, I visited the Frank Lloyd Wright designed home in Wind Point, Wisconsin named “Wingspread” (you can visit free of charge).

This beautiful home, one that is on the National Register of Historic Places, hides its flawed design out in the open.

From the outside, Wingspread is gorgeous. Like many Wright homes, it is nestled into the natural landscape though story has it that Wright originally scoffed at the location because the hills were not rolling enough to create a powerful statement for the Prairie School home. When you enter the home you notice the very low ceilings of the entry that lead to the grand family room with its soaring ceiling and numerous skylights. The family room and entry is designed in such a way to create a dramatic effect, and you do feel every bit of that effect.

Wingspread is a rare Frank Lloyd Wright home that you can actually fully engage with the space. Since this home now serves as a conference center, the Wright designed furniture is perfectly fine on which to sit. You are able to take photos of anything you wish. And you are able to walk freely through the home without a tour guide.

While on the tour of Wingspread, I noticed the fireplace on the second floor stacked with seven foot tall birch logs. Seen in the image above, the fireplace is vertical and completely open. One could call it a walk-in fireplace though it is not recessed deeply into the brick wall. While impressive, the tour guide did note that this fireplace was used only once. The reason is very simple. When the logs were set on fire at the base as they burned they also began to crumble. As the base of the logs crumbled, the logs fell away from the fireplace and onto the floor around the seating area. Architectural genius Frank Lloyd Wright had designed a gorgeous fireplace that was completely unsafe in which to have a log fire. In addition, all of the beautiful skylights that Wright had included above the grand family room began to leak incessantly after only a few months. Within 20 years of the homes completion, the Johnson family, owners of SC Johnson Wax, moved out of the home.

Think about your own school and classroom spaces.

What may seem orderly and clean and functional to a teacher, may be flawed and non-functional for a student. A large high school campus that resembles a small community college campus, while impressive to the tax payers driving by, may make a student feel lost and insignificant. An aesthetically pleasing library may have horrible lines of sight and not enough space for student collaboration. A recliner placed in the corner of a classroom, if not properly fire rated creates an immediate hazard. A digital classroom space that does not attract students, or perhaps requires multiple plugins to operate, is useless.

It is important that all stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, admins, community members, board members and designers) are included in the design of our educational spaces (physical, virtual and digital). While not all may have a degree in some facet of design, it is vital to have the thoughts, feedback, questions and concerns of all those who will ultimately live in this space.

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