Exterior rendering of the proposed new facility. (Frank Lloyd Wright Trust)

The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust has unveiled its latest plans to create a learning center near the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. The Learning Center, as it will be known, will allow the trust to increase its educational programming for all ages but not with an eye, Wright officials said, to increase tourism capacity.

“We want to make it very clear that education is our intention,” said Celeste Adams, president and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.

The organization presented its preliminary plans to the public Tuesday evening after the Journal’s print deadline.

The latest plans are an updated, reconsidered version of the Trust’s original expansion plans from 2017, a plan poorly received by many. The project was then known as the Visitor and Education Center, with the “visitor” part commanding most of the public’s attention, according to Adams.

“The focus of conversations was more about visitors, which then and now is really not the focus,” Adams told Wednesday Journal. “The focus is education.”

The 2017 conceptual plans were also criticized by preservationists. The design called for the demolition of a historic home at 925 Chicago Ave. to make space for a 8,000-square-foot education and visitors center. The costly relocation of the John Blair House at 931 Chicago Ave. was also considered. The John Blair House, which was named after the man who built it, was famously occupied by Wright’s mother Anna.

“We listened to people’s concerns and immediately realized that was not going to be viable in the community,” Adams said.

(Frank Lloyd Wright Trust)

So, John Ronan, the architect behind both sets of plans, revised the 2017 designs and the Visitor and Education Center became the Arts and Education Center. Fundraising is currently in the quiet phase. The project is expected to cost between $5 and $10 million.

While the plans will have to go through the Village of Oak Park for approval, the center is planned to occupy 25,000 square feet of Trust-owned property located to the east of the Home and Studio at Chicago Avenue and Forest. The updated plans include the incorporation of the two post-Civil War era houses, neither of which were designed by Wright, and the construction of a new building called the Studio Pavilion.

(Frank Lloyd Wright Trust)

The John Blair House will remain an administrative center for the organization. Its façade will remain the same, but its interior will undergo some refurbishing. The house at 925 Chicago Ave. will be refurbished and become the Arts and Education Center, which will involve converting the structure into a public-use building.

Like the 2017 plans, the new building will be L-shaped. However, the building will be smaller than what was presented five years ago. The glass-and-oxidized-zinc building will have a pavilion, as well as an indoor studio with slate walkways outside. The Studio Pavilion is under the umbrella of the wider learning center project, according to the Trust’s media representative John Harris.

An outdoor studio will be located in the backyard of the Arts and Education Center. The two studio spaces will greatly increase the nonprofit’s summer camp opportunities, according to Adams. The center will also have on-site studio workshops and internships will be offered to high school and college students.

The organization currently partners with Oak Park School District 97 to provide tours to its fourth-grade students. With the new Arts and Education Center, Adams hopes that partnership will be extended to River Forest’s fourth graders.

Previous plan rendering from The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust for the education facility and visitor center. (Frank Lloyd Wright Trust)

The organization reported that an education advisory committee of local teachers, administrators and artists has been formed with a stated goal of ensuring the organization’s enrichment and education programs complement school curricula.

To make the center more accessible for all economic backgrounds, an anonymous donor from Oak Park has created a $100,000 equity scholarship fund. The fund will cover program fees for children who wish to attend camp or classes but cannot afford to pay for them.

The organization is on the cusp of change, according to Adams. The organization will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2024. If everything goes according to schedule, reaching that milestone will coincide with the opening of the center, which is meant to inspire the architects of the future.

“Children growing up here will have a point of pride in the fact that this is the birthplace of American architecture,” said Adams.

Join the discussion on social media!