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In Marin County, seventy years of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Swirling tiers of model depict Wright's 1959 Guggenheim museum in New York

Reinventing American architecture several times over, Frank Lloyd Wright had an extraordinary 73-year career. The many facets of that career, which started in Chicago in 1886, are visible February 16 through May 13 in one of the last settings Wright designed: the Marin County Civic Center, in San Rafael, 15 miles north of San Francisco.

A major exhibition, Frank Lloyd Wright: In the Realm of Ideas focuses on concepts that fired the architect's imagination. Displays are loosely organized around four themes: redefining the wall as a dynamic sculptural element, responding to the natural character of a site, experimenting with materials and methods, and designing houses for the average family. More than 160 objects-models, original drawings, furniture, stained-glass windows, and enlarged photographs-illustrate these ideas.

Tour a model house

The show, organized and circulated by the Scottsdale Cultural Council and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, also features an 1,800-square-foot temporary house, set up outside the exhibition hall. Wright designed it in 1955 as a prototype for mass-market housing.

As in every Wright design, this one fights the tyranny of boxiness. Long, low, cantilevered roofs and a repeating grid of windows emphasize the house's horizontality. Inside, Wright did away with conventional room-defining boundaries, using cantilevers, overlapping spaces, built-in furniture, and geometric ornament to lead the eye to adjoining rooms and out into the landscape. Overall, it's a design that still looks modern today.

The house also features a clever construction idea: Wright had specified concrete block, but for a traveling show (it moves next to the San Diego Museum of Art), concrete would have been impractical. Here, sections made of lightweight panels can be disassembled, shipped, then reassembled on site.

Explore Wright's unconventional center

The most dominant exhibit of all is the civic center itself, finished after Wright's death in 1959. Controversial ever since it was first proposed, the sprawling structure has been called everything from "a radically overextended beached whale" to "a Buck Rogers science fiction city." Guided tours and information are available by calling (415) 499-3632; exhibits documenting the building's stormy history are on view throughout the center during the show.

The main show occupies the Exhibition Hall, in the valley below the civic center's main building. From US. 101, take the San Pedro Road exit. Hours are 10 to 9 Tuesdays, 10 to 5 Wednesdays through Sundays. Admission is $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 ages 5 through 17.
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Date:Mar 1, 1990
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