Frank Lloyd Wright "Usonian" architectureFrank Lloyd Wright Archive Documenting Construction of the James Bryan Christie House. The archive offered here represents the scope of the creation of the James Bryan Christie House, from hiring Frank Lloyd Wright, to choosing a plot of land, reviewing the plans, making payments, tracking expenses and quarreling between the architect and the client. In brief, the archive includes eight Frank Lloyd Wright Typed Letters Signed, five blueprints, eleven building plans, one drawing on tracing paper, an album with photos documenting the construction of the house and other related materials including correspondence between Wright's office and Mr. Christie, land deeds, contracts, architectural plans and the property sheet for when the house was eventually listed for sale. This collection of materials offers rare insight into the process of working with Frank Lloyd Wright.
The James Bryan Christie House, located in Bernardsville, New Jersey, was built between 1940-1941 and designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The first of only four homes by the architect in this state, the James B. Christie House is a prime example of "Usonian architecture"- residences for middle class families using limited materials such as brick, wood, cement and glass. The house is of importance to Wright's oeuvre-two renderings of the James Bryan Christie House, in color, are part of the MoMA's permanent collection.
With three bedrooms and three baths, for a total of 2,000 feet, this is the largest of Frank Lloyd Wright's New Jersey "Usonian" homes. The one-story house, predominantly of brick, glass, cypress and redwood, has an L-shaped layout. The kitchen is at the corner of the "L" separating the wing with bedrooms from the living and dining spaces. The overall horizontal appearance of the Christie House is reinforced by its flat roof. Integral to the home's design is its relationship to the natural environment, what Wright referred to as "organic architecture." As such, when deciding upon a plot of land to purchase, Christie sought Wright's advice. In a letter from this archive dated August 5th, 1939, Wright advises: "As to the site. I think you should be [the] best judge of that. I suggest you get as much individuality as to topography and features-stream, trees, etc, as you can and as much freedom from adjacent buildings as is possible. When you get your site send us a topographical map-features noted-a few snapshots and we can proceed to make the preliminary sketches for you." The typed letter (11"x 8.5", on professional letterhead) is signed, in blue ink, "Frank Lloyd Wright".
After the 11.3 acres of wooded forest were purchased in early 1940, Christie and Wright continued an exchange of letters about the design of the house and its placement on the plot of land. While they agreed on a design and a $10,000 budget including the design fee and construction costs, delays and difficulties related to contractors cause much tension between the two men. The letters between Mr. Christie and Wright, which began in 1939 cease to exist after September 1940. In a letter dated September 14, 1940. Mr. Christie threatens legal action following a delay in construction ("I assure you that your failure to provide such cooperation immediately will result in legal action."), Wright replies:
"My dear Mr. Christie: Your faith in "legal action" in touching. Your threats would better be left unsaid-but you are probably used to dealing with a different kind of male animal so we will credit you accordingly. . . I do not furnish houses to people for certain sums of money. I sell them my services for what those services may be worth to them. If we can build what you want for $10,000 well and good. If we can't it is our privilege to redraw the plans to come within your cost limit which we will proceed to do.
In all matters relative to building I am your agent only for what I may be worth to you. If you get this straight in your mind it may help, somewhat, to get you the house Mrs. Christie wants. Sincerely yours, Frank Lloyd Wright." Signed in pencil. Dated September 16th, 1940 on "Taliesin Spring Green, Wisconsin" professional letterhead.
While the communication between Wright and Mr. Christie cease, there is additional communication from Wright's apprentices, also on his letterhead, through the end of 1940. The final exchanges with Wright are in 1944 and the letters are to Mrs. Lucille Christie, regarding professional photographs of the home. One letter in particular addresses the tension between Mr. Christie and Wright. On "Taliesin" letterhead and dated, March 20, 1944, the letter reads in full:
"My dear Mrs. Christie: Thank you for your nice letter. Of course we will be glad to see you on your way West. Stop over night with is at Taliesin.
If the young photographer will send us the prints he has made we might be willing to O.K. them for publication. Uncertainty about the result is all that keeps our O.K. back.
I recognize that 'your Jim' had plenty of provocation for exasperation and, probably lacking the technique, took the stand he did in the way he did it. Being a lawyer has its demoralizing effects?
Anyway, there is no ill will or hard feelings -
Frank Lloyd Wright"
These letters are but one aspect of the narrative documenting the drama and negotiations behind the creation of the James Bryan Christie House from initial inception, through the stages of construction, and finally to its sale. Together with the supporting documents and architectural plans, this archive reveals a colorful tale at the intersection of creative ambition and something realities.
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