When Frank Lloyd Wright Pioneered Accessible Design

Revisiting the impact of Laurent House

Laurent House
The exterior of Laurent House.
Laurent House
By Tobias Carroll / July 25, 2020 10:35 am

The 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA) has prompted plenty of reflection on both the law’s impact on design and the work that still needs to be done. While the ADA played a significant role in making spaces around the country more accessible, there were some efforts to achieve a similar goal which were carried out long before the passage of the ADA.

Writing at Smithsonian Magazine, Jennifer Billock looks at one such example, designed by one of the nation’s most revered architects. This was the house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Ken and Phyllis Laurent, who lived in Rockford, Illinois. Ken was a veteran of World War II who became paralyzed after an accident during surgery. As Billock writes, the Laurents were impressed by the openness of Wright’s earlier designs, and sought to hire him to design a new home for themselves. Wright agreed.

The process of designing the Laurent House represented a slight shift from Wright’s usual methods — in this case, a closer collaboration with his clients than usual.

To start designing the Laurent House, Ken wrote down everything he’d need in a home to make his life easier. He sent Wright a two-page letter—one of dozens of letters and documents in the Laurent House collection shared between Wright, his apprentices and the Laurents—outlining everything he could think of: wider doors, lower light switches, lower doorknobs and no elevation changes.

The Smithsonian Magazine article quotes Jerry Heinzeroth, president of the Laurent House Board of Directors, on the importance of this collaboration. “Wright recognized that only Ken could tell him what his specific needs were before he could begin his design process to address them,” Heinzeroth said.

It’s the kind of forward-thinking approach to design that still resonates today — and continues to make Laurent House an architectural landmark.

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