Design

Frank Lloyd Wright Building May Rise Again

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One of the world’s most famous architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, was commissioned to design a visitor’s pavilion in Banff, in the Canadian province of Alberta, at the turn of the 20th century. Located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, the locale was increasingly growing as a tourist draw.

Completed in 1914, in collaboration with Canadian architect Francis Conroy Sullivan, Wright’s structure cost an estimated $20,000. His open plan approach was radical relative to the design norm of rigidly structured rooms. Wright preached liberating space, steeped in a desire to closely associate man and nature.

Wright’s edifice eschewed, however, the locals’ request for a multi-purpose winter sporting facility. Wright implemented his signature “Prairie” style for a picnic shelter: a long, low structure that emphasized the horizontality of the surrounding vista.

While Wright used natural materials (cedar, spruce, local stone), his low-hipped roof was incompatible with the realities of the region’s snowy winter weather. Moreover, the building’s absence of heating was hugely problematic in such a cold climate. His structure was critically dismissed as “neither ornamental nor useful.”


Frank Lloyd Wright’s Banff Pavilion Exterior, circa 1920. © Photographer Unknown

The pavilion’s recreational grounds, which were located adjacent to the river, frequently flooded; one 1933 flood caused severe structural damage. In 1938 the pavilion was demolished, replaced with tennis courts and, at a later date, a skateboard park. No traces of the building remain today.

A small committee advocating to resurrect the building was formed in the early 1980s. The movement gained support from the architectural world, and the possibility of using Wright’s old sketches would enable a faithful restitution of structure.

Earlier this year, the Frank Lloyd Wright Revival Initiative – an organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of the renowned architect – petitioned the Banff Town Council for permission to rebuild the structure. American filmmaker Michael Miner is leading the effort, having set up a nonprofit to facilitate fund-raising. The architect’s grandson, Eric Lloyd Wright, is an advocate as well.

At a meeting held on March 29, 2016, the Banff council accepted the proposal on speculative terms, since some pragmatic requisites, including funding, have yet to be determined.

Frank Lloyd Wright building may rise again
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Banff Pavilion. © Calgarian architectural illustrator Bill Ross

“Council supported the initiative in principle, so that they could consider reconstruction at the Banff Recreation Grounds, and asked that the Initiative submit a feasibility and cost analysis study… plus an assessment of the project on the community,” said Diana Waltmann, Manager of Communications and Marketing for the Town of Banff. No deadline was imposed. Once the Council receives the above information, stakeholders (including Parks Canada and local businesses) would have to weigh in.

“Over the last 35 years there have been a number of efforts to see it rebuilt. Only recently however, has Banff’s Town Council demonstrated a sincere willingness to move ahead,” the Frank Lloyd Wright Revival Initiative (FLWRI) stated in a press release.

The Banff structure was ultimately only one of only two Frank Lloyd Wright buildings constructed in Canada. The other, a private cottage located in Ontario, still stands.

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