Visiting History: Bauhaus in America

The Frank House in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is one of the most important examples of work by the Bauhaus figures Walter Gropius and Marcell Breuer in America. Originally commissioned for Cecilia and Robert Frank, the house has been placed in trust to the Frank House Foundation, which was created with the intention of turning the building and its site into a house museum. As part of this effort, the Museum of Modern Art, in collaboration with the Harvard University Art Museums, plan to organize an exhibition about the house that will travel between the two venues from 2009 through 2010. The studio will explore the possibility of placing a visitor center for the Frank house on the site as a means of facilitating the relationship between the house and the public. At the beginning of the studio, students will be asked to research the Frank House original archival material, as well as the original building and its contents in collaboration with the instructor. Students will also be asked to produce analytical models and drawings as a means of documenting their findings. These materials will be included in the exhibition and will serve to augment the original archival material that will be used in the exhibition.The History ProblemVisitor centers for house museums are not unusual in America; indeed, they have become common place. The single family home has been the repository of architectural research throughout history, and as such it has become a subject of both historic preservation and curiosity for the public. The Gamble house in Pasadena is an early example of a house museum whose popularity led to the transformation of the existing garage on the site into a visitor center and gift store. But more often than not, homes of historical significance lack ancillary structures that can be transformed into visitor centers, and it becomes necessary to construct a new structure on the site. The visitor center for Frank Lloyd Wright\’s Larkin House in Buffalo, designed by Toshiko Mori Architects is a recent example of this circumstance. The Pittsburgh area alone is home to two other excellent examples of residences whose architectural significance led to the design and construction of visitor centers, Falling Water and the Kentuck Knob house, both also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In all cases, the house museum fits into the traditional understanding of tourism as a form of cultural dissemination. The architectural relic sits at the intersection of tourism, history and architecture. The gift shop component of these visitor centers points at the commercial nature of the enterprise, and making it economically viable for history to be preserved. While remarkably specific and in many ways exceptional, the program of the visitor center for buildings whose importance is primarily architectural points to issues of broader significance for today\’s architectural discourse, particularly with regard to architecture\’s current troubled relationship to its own history. Up to the early 1900\’s, history, itself, had been the subject of architecture, and the education of an architect had centered on acquiring architectural knowledge through the understanding of the history of the field. An architect\’s work was gauged according to their mastery of history, and polemics were based on an architect\’s selection of one style over another. H. H. Richardson\’s espousal of Romanesque, for example, set him aside from his peers and propelled his reputation as the American architect of his time. In the most literal sense, then, history has been the subject of architecture. Even the modern movement, in its negation of all historical styles, and in embracing forms and references foreign to architecture, dealt with history as its subject by its very insistence on history\’s absence. This eradication of history created a crisis within the field as architecture struggled with its raison d\’etre. In the 1980\’s, d