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Wright's Angle 

A conversation with Elizabeth Wright Ingraham, local architect and granddaughter of Frank Lloyd Wright.

click to enlarge Elizabeth Wright Ingrahams Solaz house in Manitou - Springs
  • Elizabeth Wright Ingrahams Solaz house in Manitou Springs

Though she could just as easily have ridden out her life on the accolades and architectural style of her grandfather, Frank Lloyd Wright, Elizabeth Wright Ingraham has made a name for herself as an architect of practical elegance and efficiency.

Practicing what could be called "regional modernism," Ingraham (president of the Colorado Chapter of the American Institute of Architects) fuses spacious contextual design with pragmatic minimalism that shows her roots while revealing her own distinct style.

Her local projects include the homes "Solaz" in Manitou Springs, "La Casa" in Pueblo and the Vista Grande Community Church at Union and Academy.

Indy: You made a shift at some point from your early work, which was largely derivative of your grandfather, Frank Lloyd Wright.

EWI: I did. I found my own vernacular. And that means that in the first, early years I was not under my grandfather but obviously my father and grandfather greatly influenced me. I decided I'd be an archicitect when I was fourteen. I was surrounded by architecture all my life, lived in fine buildings--wonderfully designed buildings, and I was conscious of it.

So the transition to finding my own vernacular was long and difficult. I had to try to find the forms and the principles that apply in the different parts of the country. My early work was good, fine, but it was derivative and I preferred to try to find my own vernacular -- which I eventually did.

Indy: You're quite conscious of energy conservation with the materials you choose.

EWI: I have always oriented my buildings for natural, south-facing light. I use west light too, but not too much because it's a very hot light in the summertime. I also always try to use materials that are maintenance free (cinderblock and poured concrete) and last a long time; you can see that in the Solaz house. Those materials are used a lot in California and Arizona, in many parts of the country.

We often reject that kind of material around here. We think it's industrial. But that's fine -- we're in an industrial age. It's a marvelous to use and it's economical, and it really complements the landscape, which is the point of the thing -- maintenance-free and no trim, nothing to cause any problem.

Indy: Tell me your thoughts on the proposed new wing of the Fine Arts Center.

EWI: It's a very, very good concept. The new building is going to go where the parking lot is with a new parking garage underneath. Then there will be a kind of in-between the old building and the new. It leaves the integrity of the original building and creates this marvelous plaza in between the two that could be used for outside exhibitions. And you'll see right through it and it does not destroy anything. We haven't seen the designs for this yet but I think that it's very interesting what they'll do there.

Indy: Do you know the character of the new building?

EWI: No but I hope it will be a stunning building. I would like to see something that has some luminosity to it so that you could see it from I-25. Something that brings some presence to it, and I think Gwathmey-Siegel and Gensler can do that.

Indy: What do you think about the Starr Kempf issue?

EWI: I like Starr Kempf's work; I think it's marvelous. If Lotte Kempf were willing, it should probably all be moved into Confluence Park or something that would really be exciting, or around the city in different locations. I guess she wants to keep it there for the time being, and she is, of course, entitled to that. But the work itself is really exciting. I would love to live next to it

Indy: Tell me your thoughts about rebuilding at the site of the World Trade Center.

EWI: I think we won't have a decision on that for quite some time, whether it be commercial or memorial. The lights are quite spectacular -- a good start. I think Terence Reilly (curator of architecture at the MOMA) was right when he said it changes week to week what people think.

My gut feeling is that I think an underground museum with a glass roof would be good. And then someone suggested that in the footprint of the buildings, which were one acre each, there should be reflective pools. I think people are going to want to know the story of Sept. 11.

Indy: Do you think 9-11 might change the country in a positive way?

EWI: I heard Mike Shields speak in Washington two weeks ago, and I asked the question at the conference: Do you think 9-11 was a defining moment in history? He said no, he thought it's a transforming one but not a defining one unless something really happens to change our country's overall consciousness. So far, it's hard to know what that change has been.

Indy: What kind of changes would you want to see?

EWI: We're living in one of the few countries in the world that does not support the arts. There's not much art consciousness, and in a sense we're anti-intellectual also. We have some fabulous thinking in this country. I don't think the Founding Fathers would have envisioned that we would ignore the arts and culture in the way we have. And that's hard to understand.

Indy: There's built-in conflict.

EWI: A lot of built-in conflict. I hope we struggle through that because every nation in the world is starting to copy us.

capsule

Elizabeth Wright Ingraham

The final lecture in the Design In America: Breaking Old Habits series

Tuesday, April 2 at 7:30 p.m.

Gaylord Hall, Colorado College

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