Just 50 miles north of the Big Apple sits a pure and pristine refuge from the grit and grime of the city; a retreat where all notions of urbanity vanish from consciousness. That was the intention of American Industrial designer Russel Wright when he built the home of his dreams. Set deep in the moss-covered woods and replete with green roofs, interior boulders, and tree beams, the artist's rural studio and residence are a bit reminiscent of the work of another 'Wright' by the name of Frank Lloyd. The National Historic Landmark occupies the Manitoga/Russell Wright Design Center in Garrison, New York. We recently stopped through for a Sunday stroll around the grounds and a glimpse of current artist in residence Stephen Talasnik's Sanctuary, a collection of floating reed sculptures in the pond adjacent to the home. Come along with us as we delve into this 1960s retreat, which you'll see was very much ahead of its time.
Russel Wright designed his oasis deep within the woods, almost as if to force oneself to shed the city by walking through the landscape before reaching the home. The residence and studio are topped with green roofs, each of which has been replaced with new sedum in recent years to provide more fruitful vegetation. Giant glass windows reflect the trees and invite daylight into every room, and elements of nature are peppered throughout the interior. The landscape seeps inside, with boulders mimicking steps, resin coating the walls, birch draping over the doors, and raw tree trunks acting as beams.
Peering from the natural stone balcony, visitors can overlook a quiet pond, a mirror of the surrounding woodland. If you travel to Manitoga in the next few weeks, you’ll also be able to encounter Stephen Talasnik’s Sanctuary. The current artist in residency created a series of woven reed sculptures, which float like pieces of the woodland on the glimmering water. They sway with each bit of breeze and, much like Wright’s home, they feel as if they have always belonged to this peaceful parcel of land.
Talasnik took a nod from Frank Gehry, noting that “in building it’s always the skeleton that’s more important than the skin.” His ephemeral artworks dance in the wind like wooden igloos. Talasnik constructed the architectural creations in the water after an extensive series of material testing to withstand the weathering of the seasons. Each of the floating spheres are buoyed by a polystyrene foam, the same material used to make surfboards float.
One can’t help but feel utterly entranced by nature on these majestic grounds. There seems to be no dividing line between the landscape and the architecture, and it is the way you wish most buildings would feel. Though the structure has endured a series of restorations over the years, it still feels as though it was always there, burgeoning from the landscape. It was one of the first times any designer had used an open plan. The home was occupied by Wright and his wife until his death in 1976.
This was a private tour offered in partnership with the Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI) as part of BFI’s Membership program providing intimate gatherings for a network of like minded practitioners. Join their mailing list to receive information about future gatherings.