A Frank Lloyd Wright house that was flooded by Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey is high and dry in Arkansas. And it’s getting thousands of visitors as part of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
The Bachman-Wilson House, originally located in Millstone, New Jersey, was one of Wright’s famed Usonian homes. The architect created these small, simple structures for middle-class Americans, and about 60 were built.
The Crystal Bridges Museum had the home moved to Bentonville, Arkansas, where it was aligned on the same axis Wright used when laying out the building in 1954.
More than 80,000 people have toured the Bachman-Wilson House in the past year. The home is presented as a retreat — a place to get away from it all without having to get away.
“You’re completely immersed in your natural environment,” said Dylan Turk, a curatorial assistant at Crystal Bridges. “Wright’s using materials that are American and comfortable — woods and natural materials — because he feels that is more connectible than steel, which is what other architects were using at that time.”
Wright desired an American identity among everyday homes and labeled his style “Usonian,” for the “United States of North America.” He wanted them to be affordable, and charged just $400 for the plans for the Bachman-Wilson House. The house cost about $30,000 to build.
Wright actually never visited a Usonian home, Turk said. He was busy working on the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, when the Bachman-Wilson House was built.
“Wright valued everything he designed, but he was also working on, at the time, The Guggenheim, which he thought would be his shining moment as an architect. He may have been a little preoccupied,” Turk said.
While it wasn’t part of the Crystal Bridges’ initial plan, the Wright-designed home fits in with the museum’s concentration on art, architecture and nature, Turk said. Crystal Bridges architect Moshe Safdie sited the museum above Town Branch Creek. The Bachman-Wilson House overlooks Crystal Spring, a tributary well out of the flood plain.
Students from the University of Arkansas’ school of architecture, which is named after Wright protege Fay Jones, designed a welcome pavilion nearby. Wright, Jones and Safdie each won the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal.
“I wish I could have said I initiated the action to get the house, but I didn’t,” Safdie said. While he hasn’t yet seen the Bachman-Wilson House in Arkansas, he said he was thrilled to hear about the acquisition and noted that he, Jones and Wright each now have an influence on the museum’s grounds.
“The trilogy has pleased me,” he said.
Before the house opened on a recent chilly morning, Turk sat down on the living room’s low-slung bench, which abuts a cinder block wall designed as a barrier for the world outside. Across the room is a wall of glass, broken up by mahogany door frames and window frames cut in the shape of a maple tree’s winged seed pod. The room faces southwest to catch the afternoon sun.
“He wanted you to be as close to the ground as you possibly could be because he thought that grounded you,” Turk said. “You’re looking up. You can see the tops of the trees through the clerestory windows.”
A rust-colored floor, heated from beneath, extends beyond the glass.
“He pioneered radiant heat in the United States. If you are outside on a cool night, you can feel your house,” Turk said. “He wanted you to feel your house in as many ways as you possibly could.”
The Bachman-Wilson House flooded a number of times in New Jersey, most recently when Sandy hit in 2012. When its owners considered moving it to preserve it, Crystal Bridges said it would fit in with its mission.
“Art is not just a painting that hangs on the wall,” Turk said. “If you want to be creative, it doesn’t have to be limited to a canvas.
“This is familiar. It’s a house,” he said. “Most people live in a house, so it allows us to open up this space for people to come in and go, ‘Huh, my house doesn’t look like this. Why?’ or ‘I have this in my house. Why do I have this in my house?””
If You Go…
CRYSTAL BRIDGES MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART: Located in Bentonville, Arkansas. Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Monday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Free general admission includes Wright house.