Catherine W. Zipf

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Email: Catherine.W.Zipf [at] gmail.com

Website: www.catherinezipf.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CatherineZipf

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/catherine-zipf/

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Short Bio

Award-winning architectural historian Catherine W. Zipf studies the underdogs (and the elites when they were underdogs) of American architectural history. With an interest in race and gender, Zipf reconstructs lost or overlooked histories, providing a new, often surprising, viewpoint on the traditional narrative. Recent projects include Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, a book that examines Wright's career before the construction of Fallingwater, and The Architecture of the Negro Travelers' Green Book, a public catalogue of Green Book sites.

Medium Bio

Award-winning architectural historian Catherine W. Zipf studies the underdogs (and the elites when they were underdogs) of American architectural history. With an interest in race and gender, Zipf reconstructs lost or overlooked histories, providing a new, often surprising, viewpoint on the traditional narrative. Recent projects include Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, a book that examines Wright's career before the construction of Fallingwater, and The Architecture of the Negro Travelers' Green Book, a public catalogue of Green Book sites.

Zipf serves as the Executive Director of The Bristol Historical & Preservation Society, in Bristol, RI, a Colonial-era Norman Rockwell-esque town built by money generated from the slave trade. Her current projects examine Gilded Age women who built houses in Newport, RI, enslaved people who lived in Bristol, and Cuban sugar plantations owned by prominent Bristolians during the 19th century. Follow her on Twitter to see which one she finishes first.

Long Bio

Award-winning architectural historian Catherine W. Zipf studies the underdogs (and the elites when they were underdogs) of American architectural history. With an interest in race and gender, Zipf reconstructs lost or overlooked histories, providing a new, often surprising, viewpoint on the traditional narrative. Recent projects include Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, a book that examines Wright's career before the construction of Fallingwater, and The Architecture of the Negro Travelers' Green Book, a public catalogue of Green Book sites.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater picks up the story of America's greatest architect at his absolute lowest point, when his career seemed finished and before he became the architect we know him as today. Zipf examines what Wright did during the Great Depression that led to one of the greatest career comebacks of all times--and the construction of that American icon, Fallingwater.

The Architecture of the Negro Travelers' Green Book is a public architectural history project that studies the sites listed in The Negro Motorist's Green Book to discover their history and support their preservation. Zipf, along with partners Anne Bruder and Susan Hellman, has co-lead this project since 2016. Sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia, Zipf and her colleagues work with scholars across the nation to create and maintain this database.

A graduate of Harvard University and the University of Virginia, Zipf is a prolific author. In addition to her monthly column for The Providence Journal, she has written for The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Buildings and Landscapes, Arris, DoCoMoMo, Early American Studies, American Periodicals, Radical Teacher, The Journal of City, Culture and Architecture, and Architexx.org. She has also published essays on Maya Lin, architect Chloethiel Woodard Smith, and Lucy Van Pelt's psychiatric booth (as a gendered space). Her first book, Professional Pursuits: Women and the American Arts and Crafts Movement, was named Outstanding Academic Book by ChoiceMagazine. A complete list of Zipf's work is available catherinezipf.com.

Zipf serves as the Executive Director of The Bristol Historical & Preservation Society, in Bristol, RI, a Colonial-era Norman Rockwell-esque town built by money generated from the slave trade. Her current projects examine Gilded Age women who built houses in Newport, RI, enslaved people who lived in Bristol, and Cuban sugar plantations owned by prominent Bristolians during the 19th century.

Follow her on Twitter to see which one she finishes first.


Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater:
American Architecture in the Depression Era

By Catherine W. Zipf

Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, January, 2021

Price: $35.96, ISBN: 9781138644359

Available at Routledge and amazon.com

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater explores Wright's career at its lowest moment, the years of the Great Depression, before his comeback as America's greatest architect. Between 1909 and 1929, Wright's career was marked by personal turmoil and a roller coaster of career-related ups and downs. In these years, before he completed the buildings we know him for today, Wright's career was so far gone that most critics had written him off as a product of the 19th century.

But to everyone's surprise, after the Great Depression, Wright, now in his seventies, emerged from total career chaos to create one of America's greatest icons. From this time forward, his career surged, so much so that one third of all his buildings were constructed during the last 20 years of his life.

The Great Depression played a key role in Wright's resurgence. The Depression disrupted the practice of architecture substantially, to the extent that most architects of the 1920s simply closed up shop. Unwilling to give up, Wright instead figured out ways to practice architecture during the Depression without building any buildings. And, the choices he made during this period gave rise directly to the American icon, Fallingwater. In the end, Wright stands alone as the only "big name" architect to survive the Depression years.

In this groundbreaking study, Catherine W. Zipf reexamines Wright's career during the early 1930s to reveal the strategies he used to revive his career and how those strategies resulted, during the Depression no less, in the commission for Fallingwater. Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater surprises readers with the story of Wright before he was Wright-and tells of how he became the Wright we know today.


FAQs

Does the world really need another book on Frank Lloyd Wright? What's new about this book?

In general, I'm totally with you on this question. Wright's work is well studied; even I didn't think we needed another book on his work. In putting together the proposal for this book (something I was asked to do), I realized just how important this period of Wright's career is to who he became and how we see him today. Most scholars tend to gloss right over this difficult part of his life-he produced very little during these years, so if you're telling the story of his work, these are the years to skip. My book focuses exactly on this period of time to show the steps Wright took that put him back on the path to success. This book isn't about Wright's Oak Park years or his triumph with the Guggenheim-there are many other fine books you can read if that's the tale you want told. My book is for readers who are interested in seeing Wright as a whole person.

What's a scholar of race and gender doing writing about one of the most famous white architects in America?

As a scholar of race and gender, I never had any interest in writing about Wright. But while putting together the book proposal, I took a hard look at this period in Wright's life and realized that Wright was lower than low, and I mean really down and out with very little hope for recovery. The critics were quite correct to write him off. And yet, out of this period comes one of the greatest American buildings ever. How did he overcome the obstacles that lay before him? I ask these questions all the time of women architects and architects of color, but it never occurred to me that they also needed to be asked of Wright. Suddenly, this project fell squarely in my wheelhouse-and it became both necessary and urgent to find out how he had done it.

An architectural historian--that's different. What do you like about architecture?

I'm not the traditional architectural historian. I study how architecture (or space, if you prefer) shapes our reality--so really, I'm about the social function of architecture more than the forms. In Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, I spend a lot of time on the ideas behind Wright's buildings. I'm interested in the factors that allow certain buildings to be built and certain voices to be heard over others-and then what those others do when they're not heard. Whether we are aware of it or not, how we organize our environment deeply affects how we live.

You work in a jail?

A historic jail, yes. I am the Executive Director of the Bristol Historical & Preservation Society, which occupies the former Bristol County Jail (or Gaol, as my historian likes to spell it). The building consists of the 1828 Keeper's Cottage, which originally had four cells, including two literally called "dungeons", and a 1859 addition, which was built to a standardized plan and contains eight cells. It operated as a jail until, no kidding, 1957, which is when Rhode Island's Adult Correctional Institutions were opened. As we've researched the jail's history, we're learned a lot about how jails were used to help those on the fringes of society. So yes, we had people who broke the law stay in the jail, but the building also housed people who were mentally ill, hungry, running from abuse, or just needed a place to sleep. It's one of the most fascinating places I've ever worked. And yes, there are ghosts.

Any relation to Zipf's Law?

Yes, George Kingsley Zipf was my grandfather, but he died when my father was a young man, so I never knew him. Growing up, we joked all the time about Zipf's Principle of Least Effort-that you use 20% of your vocabulary 80% of the time. We used to apply that to, say, the mess on my Dad's desk or how much homework my brother and I really needed to do. As an adult, I see him differently now, and recognize how groundbreaking his work really was. And, he did it all without computers. I definitely wonder what he could have achieved had he lived longer. A helpful video explaining his work is here.

What's next for you?

It drives my family crazy, but I work on several projects at the same time--I tend to get bored (or stuck) and doing it this way helps. Right now, I'm researching houses built by women clients in Gilded Age Newport, and I think that's going to move to the forefront. I'm also working with a group of local community researchers to study the history of enslaved people in Bristol, RI. Which will I finish first? Who knows--I'll be just as surprised as anyone to find out!


Press Release

New book, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, links the American icon Fallingwater to the Great Depression.

Author Catherine W. Zipf examines how the Great Depression allowed Frank Lloyd Wright to stage the greatest comeback in American architectural history.

Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group

On sale: January, 2021

Price: $35.96, Pages: 193, ISBN: 9781138644359

Contact: Catherine.W.Zipf [at] gmail.com

While the Great Depression finished the careers of many American architects, Frank Lloyd Wright bucked the trend to emerge stronger than ever-he was the only "big name" architect to achieve this. Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater: American Architecture in the Depression Era explores this moment in Wright's career to understand what steps he took to revive his sinking career and how they resulted in the construction of one of America's greatest monuments, Fallingwater.

Award-winning author Catherine W. Zipf is known for reconstructing lost or overlooked histories in American architecture. A graduate of Harvard and the University of Virginia, Zipf has written for The Providence Journal, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Buildings and Landscapes, American Periodicals, and Radical Teacher, among many others. She has also published essays that examine Maya Lin, architect Chloethiel Woodard Smith, and Lucy Van Pelt's psychiatric booth (as a gendered space). Her first book, Professional Pursuits: Women and the American Arts and Crafts Movement, was named Outstanding Academic Book by Choice Magazine. More information on Zipf can be found at www.catherinezipf.com.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater appeals to readers who are curious about the Great Depression, American Architecture, and how monuments are created, even under the worst of circumstances. Inspiring to those who've ever been down and out, this enlightening read will surprise those who think they know Wright and his work.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater is available at Routledge and amazon.com.