What makes the cut? Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. China’s Great Wall. Cuba’s Old Havana. Egypt’s Giza Pyramids. India’s Taj Mahal. Peru’s Machu Picchu. Add the Banks of the Seine in Paris, Acropolis in Athens, Vatican City in the Holy See, the Old City of Jerusalem and Sydney Opera House.
All are among the 981 properties that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization deems outstanding in universal value and worthy of preservation.
The World Heritage Sites Committee meets in the Arab Emirates this month to size up the condition of these sites and decide what new locations should be added.
Only 21 World Heritage Sites are in the United States, and most are national parks. Exceptions include the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall. None are in Wisconsin, for now, but that could change as soon as 2016.
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s most significant works are slowly moving through the UNESCO nomination process. Nearly 3,000 miles separate the 11 structures under consideration as one World Heritage Site.
Three are in Wisconsin: Taliesin near Spring Green (the architect’s estate), the S.C. Johnson Administration Building and Research Tower in Racine (free tours expanded in scope this year) and the Jacobs House in Madison (a private home and prototype for Usonian architecture, seldom open for tours).
Also in the elite 11 are Unity Temple, Oak Park, Ill.; Frederick Robie House, Chicago; Hollyhock House, Los Angeles; Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pa.; Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Ariz.; Price Tower, Bartlesville, Okla.; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Marin County Civic Center, San Rafael, Calif.
As one work, they are “among the most iconic, most intact, most representative, most innovative and most influential of the more than 400 Frank Lloyd Wright designs that have been erected,” UNESCO explains online.
Construction of these buildings began in 1905 and ended in 1969, about 10 years after the architect’s death.
“It is slightly unusual for the properties in a nomination to be widely separated geographically,” says Phyllis Ellin of Chicago, a World Heritage Program historian for the National Park Service. She is working with the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy on nomination development.
“Nominations with discontiguous parts are called ‘serial’ properties, and the components can be widely separated if they are functionally or thematically related.”
Deciding which Wright creations to include in the UNESCO nomination means weighing global influence, integrity and authenticity, not setting up “a catalog of each type of building Wright designed.”
It also is not enough to be a National Historic Landmark, Ellin notes, because dozens of Wright buildings have earned this distinction. “The selection for the nomination needed to be made with a narrower set of criteria, geared to the World Heritage criteria of international significance,” she explains.
For a list of all World Heritage Sites and details about World Heritage Committee work, check out whc.unesco.org.
For more about Taliesin tours: taliesinpreservation.org, 608-588-7900.
For more about S.C. Johnson tours: scjohnson.com/visit, 262-260-2154.
For other Wright sites in Wisconsin that are open for tours: wrightinwisconsin.org, 608-287-0339.
Price Tower is the only Wright building in the preliminary UNESCO nomination that contains overnight lodging for travelers. Inside the iconic architect’s only skyscraper is The Inn at Price Tower, whose 19 rooms contain quirky angles, large windows and views of Oklahoma prairie. Rates start at $135 per night. pricetower.org, 918-336-1000
The Historic Park Inn, Mason City, Iowa, is the world’s only remaining Wright-designed hotel, and it was a prototype for Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, demolished in 1967. Rates at the stylish, 27-room Iowa inn start at $99. wrightonthepark.org, 641-422-0015
Less publicized but closer to home are two more Wright properties that are booked for overnights:
Seth Peterson Cottage, in Mirror Lake State Park near Baraboo, sleeps up to four people in one bedroom and one sofa bed. Rates begin at $250 per night, plus a $30 booking fee, with a two-night minimum stay. sethpeterson.org, 608-254-6551
Still Bend, a four-bedroom house in a typical Two Rivers neighborhood, sleeps up to six people at $295 per night, with a two-night minimum stay. theschwartzhouse.com, 612-840-7507
These lodging properties also offer guided tours, at least occasionally and typically for a fee.
Newly opened for tours in Rockford, Ill., is Laurent House, the only home that Wright designed as handicapped accessible. Owner Kenneth Laurent sustained spinal problems during World War II military service, and subsequent surgery left his legs paralyzed.
“Decades ahead of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility requirements” is how the design is described online. Tours happen four days a month, and reservations are required. laurenthouse.com, 815-877-2952