Life After Wright – Pittsburgh Quarterly

F.allingwater is probably Frank Lloyd Wrights most famous design and was named “Best Work of American Architecture of All Time” by the American Institute of Architecture. With 160,000 visitors a year, it inspires awe and awe – don’t touch and stay behind the velvet ropes.

But drive about 23 miles from Fallingwater to Polymath Park in Acme, Pennsylvania and you can have a completely different experience in a house designed by Wright or his apprentice Peter Berndtson. And you can spend the night and really immerse yourself in the Frank Lloyd Wright experience.

Wright used the term Usonia to refer to both the United States and his concept of planned communities that would include affordable, single-story, flat-roofed homes. They have integrated local stones, clapboard windows, underfloor heating, carports and the compression and relief concept known to him (entering a large room through a small room first).

In the early 1960s, Berndtson was hired to design houses for two Pittsburgh families, the Blums and the Balters, on 130 acres in Westmorland County. While Berndtson’s plan was to build a Uson style settlement with numerous houses on five hectares of land, the two families refused and preferred their privacy in summer houses with mountain and forest views. The houses were typical of Wright’s Usonian style, with locally harvested stone, Cherokee red floors, and views through large windows that looked out at nature.

In 2000, Heather and Tom Papinchak bought a modern home on adjacent property. When they learned that the neighboring property was to be built in wood, they bought it in 2003. Tom, a contractor and local builder, worked on the restoration and maintenance of the two houses, turning them into unique rental properties for the night. They named their development Polymath Park. A polymath is a person with knowledge of a wide variety of subjects described by Wright and his followers.

In 2006 the Papinchaks acquired Duncan House, a house originEventually built in Lisle, Illinois, for Elizabeth and Donald Duncan to be relocated to Johnstown, Pa won over. Tom told the new owners that Polymath Park was a more suitable place, and they dismantled, transported and rebuilt the house over a nine month period.

The Papinchaks then turned their house into a restaurant called Tree Tops – the suggested name of Berndtson’s proposed parish – and since the house was built into the hillside, diners actually ate in the canopy of trees. Heather is the cook, and entrees range from wild-caught salmon to filet mignon, which is cooked in a variety of ways, including dusting with espresso beans and drizzled with a bourbon and lemon butter jus. The vegetarian options include stuffed portabella mushrooms stuffed with seasonal vegetables and cauliflower with herb rice.

In 2016, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy reached out to the Papinchaks with the opportunity to purchase a 3,000-square-foot home called Mäntylä House, designed for the Lindholm family in Cloquet, Minnesota, in 1952. The copper pipes providing the radiant heat in the floors had to be replaced. The area around the house was also commercially developed and no longer matched the environment Wright had envisioned. Tom Papinchak flew out with a team and labeled every piece of the house and its furnishings (all but two designed by Wright) and brought them back to Polymath Park, where the house stood and was reassembled.

The Papinchaks recently acquired another building: Birdwing, a 6,500 square foot house designed in 1965 by Wright’s son Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. (called “Lloyd”). The Minnetonka, Minnesota home was slated to be demolished, but next year it will become Polymath Park’s visitor and architectural education center, dedicated to preserving the heritage and work of Wright, making the park the only place the Work is exhibited by the father, son and a Wright apprentice.

Along the way, the Papinchaks have forged some interesting partnerships, including a nonprofit component, Usonian Preservation, Inc., to help preserve Wright and Berndtson’s architecture. Another is Akashi Technical School in Hyogo, Japan, which has sent students on a three-week immersive program every September for several years. You will work with students on the Bidwell Training Center’s Horticulture Technology program to work on the landscaping of the Berndtson homes. Finally, they partner with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in Fallingwater on Polymath Park tours for Fallingwater visitors interested in learning more about Wright.

Reservations for Polymath Park are recommended, and visitors can enjoy a delicious lunch or dinner at Tree Tops and combine it with house tours. And if looking (and eating) is not enough, you can spend the night in one of the four houses in Polymath Park and really live the “Wright” life. Sit on the furniture, hang out, sleep in the beds, and pretend (at least for one night) you own a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright or his apprentice. How cool is that

Check as opening times, days and prices vary and the park is closed for some winter months. But this particular architectural gem is well worth a visit.

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