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Wright would have liked boathouse project

I was dismayed and disheartened to read the article in the Jan. 25 Buffalo News titled "Not quite Wright?" about several Frank Lloyd Wright-designed projects being built in Buffalo. As someone who has embraced the Rowing Boathouse, shared my enthusiasm with hundreds of people throughout the nation and asked them to become active partners in the project, I found the article counterproductive.

I think building Wright's only rowing boathouse on Buffalo's beautiful waterfront has many advantages, not simply for the city and its large and vibrant rowing community, but also for the world of architecture as well. Let me tell you why.

This design by Wright is a one of a kind. Wright himself always considered the boathouse a special work, as evidenced by its inclusion in his Wasmuth portfolio (published in Berlin in 1910) and in his 1930-31 touring exhibition in America and Europe - an exhibition that included only eight works.

This architectural gem has long been considered by scholars to be a foundation stone in the development of modern architecture, one of the root buildings, the innovative pioneer, the first form-giver to American modern architecture.

Wright designed his boathouse the same year he was building the Martin House, the Larkin Administration Building and the Heath House. This architectural "sibling" of his most important Buffalo commissions shares some similar design features and will be, as Donn Esmonde stated in his piece, an "intriguing asterisk" for visitors drawn to Buffalo by the Martin House or the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. We're not saying this building is as important as the Martin House or the Larkin Building, but it will be a worthy addition to the larger collection.

With more Wright structures in Buffalo, the city will be able to hold its cultural tourists here that much longer, delivering that much more in economic impact to the city. And when they visit, they will experience - to use one of Wright's own phrases - a "well nigh perfect" replication of what he hoped his boathouse to be. It will be used exactly as Wright intended, situated on a similar body of water, with the proportions, spaces and scale he designed.

The Frank Lloyd Wright's Rowing Boathouse Corp., led by a board that is very sensitive to the importance of interpreting Wrightian works correctly, has hired Tony Puttnam, one of Wright's apprentices, to bring this boathouse to life. Who better than someone who lived and worked with Wright to say whether or not building this boathouse is appropriate? Puttnam feels Wright left his life's work to his foundation (the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation) with the express purpose of carrying on his work and building many of these lost jewels someday.

It would be wonderful if Wright could be on site to oversee the construction, but instead we look to his apprentices and his foundation to resurrect his works and bring his creations to life for the long-term benefit of the citizens of Buffalo, the city's visitors and oarsmen from around the world.

Buffalo native Tom Fontana is an award-winning television writer.

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