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Frank Lloyd Wright in Oklahoma: The Price Tower
The Realization of a Dream
The Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma is the realization of a dream for famed architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright. First conceived in the mid-twenties, it would take nearly thirty years before Wright would have a chance to build his first and only skyscraper.
Frank Lloyd Wright was a visionary. Through his innovative thinking and love for design, he revolutionized our preconceptions about modern architectural designs. His designs typically incorporate a wide variety of organic architecture, which promotes harmony between human habitation and the natural world. In a word that he used to refer to his designs, these Usonian structures made use of native materials, natural lighting, and a strong visual connection between the interior and exterior spaces.
This organic architecture is present in every building that Frank Lloyd Wright created. The Price Tower in Bartlesville is no exception.
A Dream Rejected: Origins of the Price Tower
Inspiration struck Frank Lloyd Wright in 1924. The National Life Insurance Company was expanding and needed a new office complex to house its employees. Wright was chosen to design the offices. After months of research, he finally submitted the plans to the company. Ultimately, the plans were rejected and Wrights vision of his towering skyscraper was dashed.
A second chance came five years later. In 1929, he was asked to design the St. Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie apartment building. With little modification to his earlier plans, Wright once again submitted his draft. Once again, his designs were rejected.
Finally, as he approached the age of ninety, having waited 27 years, Frank Lloyd Wright succeeded in creating his first and only skyscraper.
“The Tree that Escaped the Crowded Forest”
In 1952, Wright met with Harold Price, Sr., an oil and gas pipeline executive who was searching for an architect to design a three-story, 25,000-square-foot headquarters for his company. After much negotiation, and through Wright’s persuasive arguments, the three-story building now became a nineteen-story skyscraper with more than 57,000 square feet for offices, shops, and apartments.
Completed in 1956, the Price Tower is the only true skyscraper Frank Lloyd Wright designed that was ever constructed. The 221-foot high rise is a jewel on the prairie, the culmination of the architect’s long-held vision to build a uniquely modern skyscraper in the American landscape.
The Price Tower embodies some of Wrights lifelong concerns with materials, space, scale, and movement. Wright believed that architecture was an organic entity, a natural demonstration of materials and technology that could elevate society. The Price Tower was conceived of as an enormous tree whose branches are broadly cantilevered floors emanating from a cross-shaped supporting spine.
Beginning with a rotated square divided into four quadrants, Wright developed the pinwheel geometry of the Price Tower, which generated everything from the building’s floor plans and construction details to its elevations and ornament. This geometry was the first of its type to be used, replacing the designs of a conventional steel frame.
This hollow concrete spine contains the all the building's plumbing, elevators, and air-conditioning systems and breaks the structure into four quadrants. Three of the quadrants were designed to be used as office spaces, and the remaining quadrant for duplex apartments. The vertical central core absorbs the weight of each successive floor, similar to how a trunk supports the branches of a tree.
The Price Tower Arts Center
The Price Tower Arts Center was founded in 1985 as a civic art museum. In 1998, it was reorganized to focus on art, architecture and design. Features of the Price Tower Arts Center includes a museum, tours of the historic tower, a hotel and restaurant.
The museum galleries feature more than 100 drawings, models, photographs, documents, building components, and furnishings that illuminate how Wright’s dream materialized in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
Visitors can tour rotating exhibitions inside the Price Tower, as well as the fully restored 1956 Price Company Executive Office and Corporate Apartment.
Frank Lloyd Wright Structures in Oklahoma
Price Company Tower
Harold C. Price Jr. House
Richard Lloyd Jones House and Garage (Westhope)
While the Price Tower in Bartlesville is the most highly recognized building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it is not the only one in Oklahoma.