Massaro House

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Coordinates: 41°22′58.95″N 73°44′18.51″W / 41.3830417°N 73.7384750°W / 41.3830417; -73.7384750

Massaro House, located on Petre Island in Lake Mahopac, New York

Massaro House is a private island residence inspired by designs of a never-constructed project conceived by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It is located on the privately owned Petre Island (sometimes spelled Petra Island) in Lake Mahopac, New York, roughly 50 miles north of New York city. As designed it was known as the "Chahroudi House" for the client who commissioned it; as built it gained the name of its owner, Joseph Massaro.

Original plans[edit]

In 1949, architect Frank Lloyd Wright received a commission from Ahmed "A. K." Chahroudi[1] to build a house on a 10-acre (40,000 m2) island the engineer owned in Lake Mahopac, Petre. Chahroudi would later state that during a lunch meeting he had with Wright and Edgar Kaufmann, the owner of Wright’s celebrated Fallingwater, the architect told Kaufmann: "When I finish the house on the island, it will surpass your Fallingwater".[2]

Wright worked on designing a one-story, 5,000-square-foot (460 m2) house for three months, but the project was cancelled when Chahroudi realized he was not able to afford either the $50,000 budget that Wright envisioned for the project or a second more modest version he requested.[3] Instead, he had Wright build the three bedroom[1] 1,200-square-foot (110 m2)guest cottage the architect had designed for the island,[3] later occupying it with his family.

Construction[edit]

In 1996, Petre Island was purchased for $700,000 USD by Joseph Massaro, a sheet metal contractor.[2] Though he had seen the original Chahroudi commission drawings for the main home years earlier, he initially intended merely to restore the island’s Wright-designed guest cottage.[2]

Massaro received five drawings as part of his purchase of the island:[4] a floor plan with ideas for built-in and stand-alone furniture, a building section, and three elevations. He hired Thomas A. Heinz, an architect and Wright historian, to complete the only partially realized design.[5]

Heinz employed 3D CAD/CAM computer software[6] to model aspects of Wright's design not self-evident in the original renderings.[2] His design also provided updated heating and cooling solutions that were not part of the original Wright concept, such as air conditioning and radiant heating.[5] It was also determined to add chimney caps, which Wright characteristically demurred, for the home’s six fireplaces.[2]

In common with Fallingwater, the house’s design does not merely accommodate but actually incorporates the local topography. A 12-foot (3.7 m)-high, 60-foot (18 m)-long rock forms the exterior to the entry and an interior wall, while a smaller rock doubles as a kitchen and bathroom wall. Again, like Fallingwater's signature terraces, the house features a cantilevered deck that stretches 25 feet (7.6 m) over Lake Mahopac. Its 18-foot (5.5 m)-high living area is illuminated with 26 triangular skylights.[4]

Massaro sold his sheet metal business in 2000 to focus on the creation of the house, the construction phase of which took place between 2003 and 2007.[7]

Controversy[edit]

Rejection of authenticity[edit]

Throughout the construction, Massaro was in conflict with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which had been established by the architect in 1940 to conserve his intellectual property. Massaro told interviewers that the foundation requested $450,000 to render working drawings from Wright's sketches and supervise construction of the house. Instead, Massaro hired Heinz and the foundation filed a lawsuit, which ended in a settlement that limited Massaro to referring to the structure as being "inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright".[4]

The foundation refuses to recognize Massaro House as an official Frank Lloyd Wright creation on a number of aesthetic and construction grounds beyond Massaro's refusal to comply with certification. Philip Allsopp, the foundation’s chief executive office, has however stated flatly: “It’s not a Frank Lloyd Wright house, because it hasn’t been certified by the foundation.”[4]

Massaro stated that he believed that Wright would rather the house be built than not built at all.[8]

Criticism of design[edit]

Rejection of the house by critics as a Wright design extends beyond the architectural supervision and fees, and includes details of the Massaro House construction. Notably, William Allin Storrer, an adjunct professor of architecture and Wright historian, points to the desert masonry and skylight selection. Additionally, the quality of the roof fascia and a set of missing stairs that was included in the original design are highlighted as contentious details that should remove the house from consideration as a Wright design.[9]

Storrer pointed out that rocks used in the desert masonry project out from the concrete surface on the Massaro House. Wright's signature desert masonry embedded native rocks closely in concrete. In his designs, Storrer claimed, rocks are flush with the face of the concrete, rather than distinct from one-another and randomly applied to otherwise finished walls protruding at odd angles. Evading the aesthetic consequence of design choices made, Massaro countered that 4 inches (100 mm) of Styrofoam insulation had to be added in order to adhere to modern building codes, resulting in the stones projecting beyond the original dimensions. He claimed that it was a concession even Wright would have been forced to make.[9] As rendered, that claim is untenable. [10]

Another signature of Wright's designs is the use of many windows, with the Heinz design for Massaro House including 26 skylights. The skylights chosen and installed in the home are domed, rather than the typically flat Wright designed panels. Massaro pointed out that flat panels are shown to leak, which Storrer conceded is a known issue with Wright designs but countered that solutions exist that would have allowed Massaro to stay true to "Wrightian" design principles.[9]

Homes designed by Wright often incorporate a unique design in the fascia or window frames. To stamp the custom design into the copper to be used for the fascia on the roof, Massaro created a special machine. Wright defenders insist that the design is stamped too lightly and shallowly to satisfy Wright's design standards.[9]

Several of Wright's design drawings for Chahroudi include a set of stairs that descend from the cantilevered deck to the rocky shore below. Massaro explained that had the stairs been included in his design they would have descended into 3 feet (0.91 m) of water.

Status[edit]

The Massaro House is maintained as a private residence and is not open for the general public. However, Massaro has stated he would make the house available as a fundraising location for nonprofit charitable groups.[3]

In November 2012 the property was listed for sale at $20 million USD.[11] This has been reduced to $14.9 million in increments, most recently in 2017.[1]

References[edit]