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Experiment in adobe. Frank Lloyd Wright's 42-year-old design comes to life

By Marilyn HoffmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 27, 1984



Santa Fe, N.M.

An unusual adobe house, designed in 1941 by Frank Lloyd Wright, is under construction in Santa Fe. When completed, early in 1985, its 4,900 square feet will make it the largest adobe structure in New Mexico.

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The house is likely to become something of an architectural landmark, since it will be the only one of Mr. Wright's several adobe designs to be built. It is being put up by Charles Klotsche, a Santa Fe real estate developer, who plans to make it his home. Its site is a 7,000-foot-high ridge that commands a 150-mile view.

The football-shaped ''dream house'' will have four bedrooms, four baths, seven fireplaces, and a 55-foot-long living room. It will also include an inner patio or open court and a swimming pool off the study. Mr. Klotsche estimates the cost will exceed $2 million.

The house was originally designed 42 years ago by Mr. Wright for Mr. and Mrs. Earl Burlingham of El Paso, Texas. The architect wrote at that time, ''The Burlinghams have a place near El Paso piled with sweeping sand, continually dry and swirling like the waves of the ocean. This is a design for a pottery house, that is to say, adobe. As contemplated here, the walls are molded accordingly. The general plan is a patio protected and surrounded by house and walls, overlooking an immense valley.''

Apparently because of Mr. Burlingham's death during World War II, the house was never built. The incomplete plans went into the archives of the Taliesin Institute in Scottsdale, Ariz., where they remained until Mr. Klotsche commissioned Taliesen Associated Architects to provide the architectural services to enable him to build the house in Santa Fe.

The developer had read about the plans in a book several years ago and decided to track them down.

Charles Montooth, an architect at the Taliesen firm, put together the final working drawings of the Wright design. Mr. Wright's son-in-law, Wesley Peters, did the mathematical calculations for all the curves and dimensions of the house , and he was the architect-of-record who signed the last drawings.

''We all took a lot of pains to correctly interpret Mr. Wright's original sketches and floor plan,'' Mr. Montooth comments. ''Toward the end of his life Mr. Wright began experimenting with all kinds of curved forms, especially the play of circles and arcs. These were in contrast to the rectangular lines of his earlier 'Prairie'-style buildings. As we studied the sketches for this particular house, which is more (distinctive) than most, we could follow the evolution of the design through his successive sketches. In some ways we felt like archaeologists, digging until we found the true and final plan.''

Although Mr. Burlingham had specified an adobe house, Mr. Montooth says the master architect did not like that material much. He did, however, like the idea of an earth-built house and could admire the softly sculptural lines of pueblo architecture, along with the plastic and flowing quality associated with mud and plaster construction.

He proceeded to design a house that is streamlined and modern in form, but which retains the traditional Southwest theme of thick adobe walls and little corner fireplaces. He determined that the walls should curve outward at the top and bottom, being thickest in the middle.

Mr. Klotsche is carrying the Southwest feeling still further with brick floors and slate countertops and tabletops. He has ordered 24,000 adobe bricks for his house, many of which will come from the San Juan Indian Reservation.

Because he thinks adobes ''do not have exciting qualities in terms of insulation,'' he will install hot water heat in the floors to take off chill and ensure uniform heat throughout the house. He will also place flat-lying solar collectors in the roof.

A clerestory, skylights, and windows will cast sunlight onto white plastered interior walls and extend the house into the outdoors in true Wrightian style.

Mr. Wright, a native of Wisconsin, designed more than 700 structures before his death in 1959. He first became acquainted with the Southwest in the 1920s, and in 1938 he set up his winter home and offices at Taliesin West in Scottsdale.