Preservation at Taliesin
In 1976, Taliesin was declared a National Historic Landmark by The National Park Service. Since then, Taliesin joined the ranks of “Priority 1” threatened landmarks — a status shared by only 5% of the nation’s other 2,500 National Historic Landmarks. In 1994, Taliesin was put on the list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Taliesin is a gem set in the rolling countryside, and like anything of great value, it requires constant attention and care.
Like any building, Taliesin remains exposed to the elements and suffers the ravages of the often harsh Wisconsin climate. In time, routine repair and maintenance must be supplemented with more intensive physical intervention. For Taliesin, that time is now.
Our in-depth preservation efforts thus far have given us greater insight into Frank Lloyd Wright and his work while expanding our understanding of the vision that drove his techniques. Taliesin offers scholars and visitors alike an unrivaled opportunity to experience the breadth and depth of Wright’s genius.
Taliesin Preservation was created to preserve the buildings, artifacts, landscape, and legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin estate in Wisconsin. Taliesin Preservation's Preservation Team is on site year-round working to preserve, restore and rehabilitate the buildings and landscape of the 800-acre Taliesin estate.
The tag “Historic” is applied to many things ... from Roman ruins to baseball cards, from Gothic cathedrals to eight-track tapes. But mere age does not bestow historic significance. Most buildings standing in towns and cities across America are strictly utilitarian, built primarily with end-use in mind. After all, that’s what buildings are for: to be occupied. They may be beautiful, they may be ugly, but frankly, most people wouldn’t care if they were torn down to make room for other buildings ... new buildings, also either beautiful or ugly.
So what makes a building historic? It’s a difficult question to answer. A better question to ask might be: What makes a building worth preserving?
Some buildings are just plain good to look at. They add character to our towns and cities. They enrich our lives, they make our communities more interesting. Think of Seattle’s Space Needle, the Transamerica pyramid in San Francisco, Chicago’s Field Museum, or the Chrysler Building in New York City. Other buildings we preserve and protect because they’re significant to us as Americans. Think of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Alamo in San Antonio, Mt. Vernon and Monticello in Virginia.
Other buildings deserve to be preserved because they represent a turning point, a moment in time when our view of the world was changed forever. Taliesin is such a building. Not only was it home to one of America’s foremost architects, but it embodies the creative ideals and innovations he gave to the world. Today, his influence is woven into the fabric of our lives. It affects not only the buildings we inhabit, but also the design of commonplace things, and how we approach environmental stewardship.
There are few things anyone can point to and say “Ah ha! I see Wright’s influence there!” His influence on our lives is subtle, and much of it stems from the genius of his work at Taliesin. That makes Taliesin important. And important things are worth preserving.
The construction and conception of Taliesin is unique and as a result demands a unique approach to preservation. Taliesin served as a 1:1 scale model for Wright to explore design concepts, structural assemblies, and materials; it is an amalgamation of work space, living space, farming space, and classroom space. The preservation effort is a continuation of the work at Taliesin - with an emphasis on preserving the historic core to the decade of 1950-59. Many of the projects that the preservation team undertakes involve the unraveling of layers of historic fabric, glimpsing the decisions and thoughts of past workers and providing evidence of earlier iterations of Taliesin. Throughout this process drawings and documentation are used to make decisions, as well as, to record the techniques and materials used to restore all the buildings and building systems on the Taliesin estate.
Taliesin Preservation is charged with the maintenance and preservation of 20 buildings in total and 900 acres of natural and agricultural land. There are seven historic buildings in the historic core - Taliesin, Hillside, Midway, Tan-y-Deri, The Romeo and Juliet Windmill, Engineer’s Cottage, and the Fabris’ Cottage. There are another ten buildings located on the Thomas Lloyd Jones Farm - adjacent to the historic core - Thomas Lloyd Jones House, Thomas Lloyd Jones Barn, Thomas Lloyd Jones Spring House, Thomas Lloyd Jones Machine Shed, Michel’s Farmhouse, Michel’s Chicken Coop, Preservation Shop, and several storage buildings.
In addition to this Taliesin Preservation operates its tour program out of the historic Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center & Riverview Spring Green Restaurant designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In partnership with Unity Chapel, Taliesin Preservation works to maintain Unity Chapel. The agricultural fields are certified organic and are farmed by Otter Creek Farms. In addition to restoration of the buildings, the preservation team also maintains the natural areas, with a focus on the restoration of the historic prairies.
Preservation at Taliesin is not only about restoring the spaces; while the architecture is timeless, mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems are not. When feasible, the preservation team works to upgrade the existing MP&E systems. Upgrading these systems will allow for expanded and continued use and enjoyment of the spaces through tours, the school of architecture, and special events. The preservation team deals with large scale projects such as the comprehensive restoration of the Guest Wing, and also smaller scale cyclical building maintenance and repairs such as re-shingling roofs and cleaning off organic growth.
When Taliesin Preservation was originally founded in the early 1990s, it was decided that it should have its own on-site team. Having an on-site team is a tremendous advantage for an historic site and can cost a lot less than contracting with others; people who work on the buildings do not have to be found for every job and taught how to work with Wright's experimentation; they also know where to get local supplies, or who to call when the job is too large for them alone.
The Taliesin Preservation team do a variety of different jobs. They repair or replace plaster, windows, floors and doors; do re-roofing, or supervise re-roofing; restore furniture; do plumbing and drainage work; and many more things than can be listed here. Every room that you walk through at Taliesin has had work completed in it by Taliesin Preservation's team.