“Engineering the Organic” -- Exhibition Assesses Partnership of Engineer J.J. Polivka and Frank Lloyd Wright

Release Date: September 28, 2000

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Western New Yorkers this fall will have an opportunity to visit an architectural exhibition employing new technologies, including virtual reality, to examine a little-known but significant working relationship in the career of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

"Engineering the Organic: The Partnership of J.J. Polivka and Frank Lloyd Wright," an exhibition designed and organized by UB and the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, will open on Sept. 30 in the historical society, 28 Nottingham Terrace.

It will explore Wright's professional collaboration with noted Czech-American structural engineer Jaroslav Joseph Polivka, who introduced a number of daring innovations to the field of structural design, particularly in the use of pre-cast and pre-stressed concrete.

Their partnership resulted in the design of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the Johnson Research Tower in Racine, Wisc., two of Wright's best-known and most highly regarded buildings.

The two also produced functional designs for several unrealized -- but spectacular -- structures, including the San Francisco Butterfly-wing Bridge, the Belmont Racetrack Pavilion and "Seacliff," a dramatic, cliff-hugging home designed for the Morris family of San Francisco. The official Web site for the exhibit at http://polivka.buffalo.edu includes a detailed schedule of the program and related events.

The exhibit, which will run through Jan. 7, was organized by the UB Archives, UB's School of Architecture and Planning, the Department of Media Study in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, UB's Lockwood Memorial Library and the historical society.

Organizers say the exhibit will employ computer and interactive displays permitting visitors to explore and "experience" Wright's work in new and unique ways. It also will allow viewers to consider such fundamental issues as space geometry and proportion in a manner far superior to reliance on still photography and video.

Catalogues for the exhibit will be produced in both Web-based and print formats.

A public symposium that will be held from 9:30 a.m. to noon p.m. Oct. 14 will feature Wright scholar Jack Quinan, professor of art history at UB. Matthew Drutt, associate curator of the Guggenheim Museum, will present a lecture at 2 p.m. on Nov. 12 on the exhibition at the historical society.

The exhibition was designed and coordinated by members of the UB faculty, professional staff and student body. They are Rodney Gorme Obien, senior staff assistant, UB Archives; Jean La Marche, Ph.D., assistant professor, School of Architecture and Planning; Susana Tejada, art and art history specialist, Lockwood Memorial Library, and students Dan Puff and Chris Paa of the School of Architecture and Planning.

"Our purpose is to more fully reveal the synergy of art and science that shaped Wright's unique structures," says Obien. "Several exhibits will employ interactive architectural-engineering displays and other tools developed by the School of Architecture and Planning, and the Department of Media Study."

The exhibit also will feature material from the extensive collection of Wright documents, letters, photographs, plans and other materials from the UB Archives, including its collection of Polivka's papers.

"We want to help people of all ages to understand the basic structural principles of Wright's architecture," Obien says, "and to appreciate the bold engineering innovations that made his ideas a reality.

"By making the exhibit available over the World Wide Web, we will demonstrate ways of integrating new technologies, like virtual reality, into exhibition design," Obien says.

"The Web also is tool for the dissemination of scholarship developed and presented here in Buffalo and makes it possible for us to offer a unique educational opportunity to students -- and Wright aficionados -- all over the world."

Obien points out that the project creates a model for future cooperative projects between the UB Archives, UB Libraries, the School of Architecture and Planning, the Department of Media Study and community-based organizations like the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

In addition, it offers opportunities for UB graduate students from the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Architecture and Planning, and the School of Information Studies to gain scholarly and academic experience by contributing to the exhibition.

Other UB faculty members involved in exhibit design are Mary Flanagan, Department of Media Study; Shahin Vassigh and Wassim Jahi, School of Architecture and Planning, and Judy Jungels, UB Libraries Preservation Department. Quinan and Christopher Densmore, UB archivist, served as consultants.

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