Architectural fantasy camp inspired by the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright

By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent
Published6/28/2008 12:05 AM

Only the exceptionally fortunate get to live out a dream.

However, a dozen people from around the continent recently got to do just that.


The group spent four consecutive evenings in the historic Oak Park studio of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, learning how to draft architectural plans and seeing their own ideas come to life.

Dave Bainbridge of Elgin, a regional human resources manager with Panera Bread, and Rob Bak of Downers Grove, a May graduate of Fenwick High School in Oak Park, were two of the participants in this month's Architectural Fantasy Camp, offered by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.

"This is something I did for myself," Bainbridge explained. "I have always been intrigued by Frank Lloyd Wright, but until this camp I didn't realize what a visionary he was and how radical his designs were for the time he was working. It is humbling to sit in his studio and think of everything that happened here."

Bainbridge spent his time in the camp designing a retirement home for himself and his wife now that their daughter is entering her last year of college and they no longer have to scrimp and save for her education.

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"This camp has been very inspiring and has taught me to look at things like space and functionality differently," Bainbridge continued. "They taught us about adjacencies, design techniques and architectural principles."

The trust also provided all the necessary tools, including rulers, architectural pencils, vellum paper for plans and even a plastic template campers could use to outline items like toilets, bathtubs, door swings and cabinets.

Then organizers let the students draw and architects wandered around, asking questions and offering suggestions, but never hovering or telling campers that they had done something wrong, Bainbridge stressed.

Bak, 18, of Downers Grove plans to attend the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign this fall where he will study architecture. In fact, this summer he is interning on Michigan Avenue at the architectural firm of VOA Associates, where he is learning computer-aided design.


Bak's parents gave him the Fantasy Camp in Wright's studio as a graduation present so that he could learn the basic art of drafting and see if architecture was his true passion.

"I have really enjoyed talking with the practicing architects to get their insights on things and learning how to draft homes - all in Wright's studio," Bak said. "I learned drafting in high school but it was just simple things like drawing tools. And everything I am doing in my internship is on the computer, so this is a unique opportunity.

"When I told some of the architects at VOA that I was doing this camp, they were so glad that I wanted to learn these skills because they feel that now that so much is done on the computer, we have lost part of the art of architecture and that many of the new architects don't truly understand scale."

Sharing the drafting tables with Bainbridge and Bak were architecture enthusiasts ranging from a young Oklahoma City couple designing their dream home, to a Toronto homemaker who just loves architecture and wanted to learn to draft, to a man from Hollywood, Calif., who does computer graphics for television and films and enjoys doing architectural drafting on the computer as a hobby.

"Since I work everyday on the computer and am kind of burned out with television and movies, it is fun to learn skills that people used back in the 1920s using nothing but tracing paper and a pencil," explained Steve Davis, whose computer graphics have enhanced such films as "The Italian Job" and "The Addams Family" and television programs like "Monk."

"In this camp I am rediscovering things that people knew and took for granted as an everyday skill back then," he added.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust has been offering these fantasy camps four times a year since 2002, according to Jan Kieckheifer, education director for the trust. They are held in March, June, August and October each year. This year the cost is $650 for trust members and $700 for nonmembers. Many people book them an entire year in advance, although one space still remains for the August session.

"These camps are an opportunity for people who enjoy fooling around with floor plans to have concentrated time to work on a project of their choosing, with professional guidance, in Frank Lloyd Wright's own studio," Kieckheifer said.

Professional architects volunteer their time to teach the class. Derrick Bennett, an architect with Robert Pope Associates of Chicago, has been teaching the camps for four years.

"I enjoy meeting people from all over the world who come to these camps and helping them work on their dream houses or additions and explore the ideas they have," Bennett explained.

Cyrus Rivetna shared the teaching responsibilities with Bennett at the June camp. It was the second time he volunteered to teach for the trust.

"Even though the campers are not trained architects, I have found that they have great ideas," said Rivetna of Rivetna Architects of Chicago, which specializes in residential architecture. "I enjoy seeing how other people think because it actually helps me think of different ways to attack my own architectural problems, and I certainly don't mind spending time in Wright's studio."

Campers at the June session came from California, Toronto, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oklahoma to enjoy the thrill of putting pencil to paper in the studio Wright designed and used from 1889 to 1909.

Over the years the camps have attracted medical personnel, teachers, graphic designers, lawyers and businesspeople from all over the world. They have designed retirement homes, additions, garden sheds and boat houses, and almost everything in between, Kieckheifer said.

"Everyone who comes shares a love of looking at a space and thinking about the spaces they live in," she explained. "Most have a working familiarity of Frank Lloyd Wright, but that is certainly not required.

"Most do not design prairie-style homes on the exterior," Kieckheifer admitted. "But most end up using a lot of Wright's ideas with regard to floor plans and window placement.

"You know, you could do a workshop like this anywhere. But doing it in Frank Lloyd Wright's own studio is what makes it unique," she continued.

For more information about the Architecture Fantasy Camps, call Kieckheifer at (708) 848-1976.

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