Building the Pauson House: The Letters of Frank Lloyd Wright and Rose Pauson

There aren't too many non-fiction books about buildings that can be described as "awesome" and "haunting," but Allan Wright Green's Building the Pauson House: The Letters of Frank Lloyd Wright and Rose Pauson is both.

The Rose Pauson House was located at 5859 N. 31st Street in Phoenix. It was designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1939, and constructed in 1942. The structure was built for desert living prior to air conditioning, and utilized desert stone, timber, and shade. The finished home included a balcony, a studio, and servants' quarters.

Unfortunately, Rose Pauson only lived in the house about a year before it burned down in 1943. The ruins (called the "Shiprock Ruins") continued to attract visitors until 1980, when they were removed to extend 32nd Street.

Green is the great-nephew of Rose Pauson, and his book contains the story of the Pauson House's design and construction, told through more than 50 previously unpublished letters between Pauson and Wright. The pair's exchanges are detailed, revealing, and sometimes fraught with tension.

The "Shiprock Ruins" of the Rose Pauson House
The "Shiprock Ruins" of the Rose Pauson House
Wikimedia Commons

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Fans of Frank Lloyd Wright may glean new insights into the architect through these letters. Though he and Pauson disagreed about many things, including water leaks and repair bills, Wright's dedication to his craft is always evident (in one letter, Wright wrote to Paulson, "If the house doesn't fit you from the soles of your feet to the top of your head, it wouldn't be one of our houses").

Among the correspondence is a letter from Pauson expressing concern over fire hazards, and a debate about where to put the main fireplace. The final choice was a fatal one, as the main fireplace was the source of the blaze that burned down the house (the wind blew an ember onto some drapes).

In addition to the mass of letters, Building the Pauson House also includes 28 photographs and six variations of the floor plan. The only thing it lacks is information about any attemped restorations of the house. Overall, this is a must-read for fans and students of architecture, and particularly for people interested in designing for desert environments.

The book runs around $25 and can be picked up on the Pomegranate publications website and at Changing Hands in Tempe.

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