Frank Lloyd Wright – Documenting Design

"Perception is the beginning and the preliminary condition for thinking. One’s own perceptions awaken one’s own conceptions, and these awaken one’s own thinking in later stages of development. Let us have no precocity, but natural, that is consecutive, development." – Friedrich Froebel

Working with i-TEN Associates and various preservationists throughout the state of Oregon has been a remarkable experience. Since embarking to document 100 historical buildings in Oregon with 3D technologies including laser scanning, panoramic photography and various forms of 3D modeling, our ‘Sentinel Project’ continues to gain momentum and attention from preservationists throughout Oregon and abroad.

Every site differs in approach, restoration concerns, and personality. Our latest preservation supporter has included the DoCoMoMo Oregon Chapter (Documentation and Conservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the Modern Movement) lead by Peter Meijer, AIA. Through the architects supporting this organization, a very unique historical structure was brought to my attention that has been fighting the liquid sunshine of Oregon’s climate for many years, resulting in leaks, a failing skylight, and other water damage concerns.

Our most recent project was indeed this unique structure; the digital documentation of the Frank Lloyd Wright – Gordon House next door to the Oregon Garden in Silverton, Oregon. This is the only building in Oregon designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his only house open to the public in the Pacific Northwest. This house was designed by Wright in the Usonian tradition for Evelyn and Conrad Gordon in 1957, built in 1964 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.


Our laser scanning documentation of the exterior was performed on a separate day than the interior scanning to accommodate for the weather. Targets could not remain in place for consecutive days due to visitors, high winds and a fair share of wildlife. Therefore, interior scanning was target-less using only the architectural geometry for scan registration. A little more time consuming, but a much better visualization product for posterity and legacy of the data.

Colorized scanning at 1/2 resolution (x3 noise compression) using the FARO Photon LS was determined to be optimal in the time allotted for house access. Our hosts were extremely gracious and accomodating while we scanned, occassionally educating us on the history of Wright’s design features as they moved to and from one of the rooms converted into an office – the home base for the Gordon House Conservancy; a non-profit organization with the mission:

"To educate the public on Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural approach and principles of organic architecture by preserving the only house in Oregon designed by Frank Lloyd Wright."

The Not So Obvious

There is a somewhat natural obscurity in working with historical preservation projects. Perhaps a better articulation may be that there is always more to be discovered, that has already been discovered. Documenting this mid-century architectural achievement brought with it a great deal of insight into the progressive nature of Wright’s design. Innovations included an open floor plan, gravity floor heat (at one time, fed by geothermal sources), carports, cantilevered roofs with broad overhangs and floor-to-ceiling windows; features in contemporary architecture we take for granted today. Also noteworthy are the 15 angled design themes throughout the house, even including the edges of countertops.

Other delightful charms that can be found throughout the Gordon House are little wooden toy blocks. Cute, I thought. But these were not mere gift shop toys for visitors. No, these could be called the building blocks of Wright’s conceptual voice for his entire career. Wright shared this mutual toy block inspiration for design with Albert Einstein, Charles Eames, and Buckminster Fuller, to name a few.

They’re known as Froebel Gifts. Developed by Friedrich Froebel in the 19th century, these blocks have been used to teach children to connect with their world through 3D visualization play and interactivity for over a century. Froebel, it should be noted, is also credited with the creation of the first kindergarden in approximately 1837. The teachings that Wright and others experienced with Froebel Gifts looked very different than the way blocks are often used in today’s institutions.

Froebel believed that development of thought came to humans as a process of perception and conceptual development in stages (Wiggins, Smith). My experience with documenting history is really not all that different. Every site has brought with it a rich cultural heritage and a community standing behind that heritage, eager to share its wisdom. I’ve learned about Oregon’s architecture in stages through observation in the documentation process, as well as my interactions with the people acting as Oregon’s historical ‘sentinels’.

Many have expressed their fascination with 3D technologies and our project, but more importantly, they look toward the future of their history and ask, ‘what will become of this?’

History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.

– Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC)


Scan imagery, photographs and historical information courtesy: The Gordon House Conservancy, PO Box 1207, Silverton, Oregon 97381. Frank Lloyd Wright Gordon House 2012. Used by permission.

Wiggin, Kate Douglas; Smith, Nora Archibald. "The Republic of Childhood". Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company. The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1895

About the Author

Paul Tice

Founder and CEO of ToPa 3D - a data visualization company based in Oregon, Paul draws from over 10 years of experience in CAD systems, 3D technologies, project management and connecting project teams. Working in the AEC and historical preservation industries and having published several articles in LiDAR News, Paul has appeared in the Oregon Business Journal, The Daily Journal of Commerce, The Eastern Oregonian, and SparPoint News with his work on 3D historical preservation. Additionally, he won the Innovation in Multimedia international award from Bentley Systems, Inc. in Amsterdam, Netherlands for his work with laser scan technology and animation in November 2011. Since that time, he has presented at trade conferences on his work and taught workshops on the leveraging of laser scan technology nationwide.
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