Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Frank's Folly

I had arrived in Tempe, Arizona a day earlier, and played with my camera on the Arizona State campus as I waited for my daughter to finish her classes. Through a spray of palm fronds the Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium appeared in my viewfinder. It looked something like a single adobe layer of wedding cake; at once, graceful and otherworldly, a curiosity and a beauty.

I'd loved Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural design since childhood, and this building was no exception. Measuring 300 feet long by 250 feet wide and 80 feet high, this final public commission by Wright, also features 50 concrete columns that support the roof and an architectural pattern of interlocking circles.

The auditorium opened in 1964, 25 months after the first spade of earth was turned, and following the deaths of Wright and ASU President, Dr. Grady Gammage. It seats more than 3,000 people and has hosted events as diverse as Broadway musicals such as Rent to organ recitals, lectures and the final debate of the 2004 presidential election.

But this architectural showpiece is reputed to be on the ASU campus only because of a gambling debt. According to legend, Wright and then president, Gammage, were not only good friends but also gambling buddies. The story goes that Wright originally created this design as an opera house for Baghdad, Iraq. However, when Wright ran out of funds, he put the opera house blueprints down as collateral. Wright lost the bet, and Gammage gained a signature structure for his desert campus.

How I wish I could have seen the look on Wright’s face as he handed Gammage the blueprints…

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Miracle on I-35

The Wizard of Oz is set in rural Kansas for good reason. The state’s wide open spaces provide a perfect breeding ground for tornadoes and violent storms.

It only takes a few hours for us to travel I-35 from our home in the Kansas City area to Wichita, Kansas, where much of my husband’s family lives. Usually a smooth and easy trip, it can become unsettling and downright scary when the spring and summer storm season is in full swing.

At 2 p.m. on a steamy afternoon the sky grows black as midnight, lashing the landscape with sheets of rain that are so dense you can’t see the road more than one car length before the windshield. Seemingly endless banks of angry clouds rise from the horizon and brilliant jagged lightning rips through the sky. Each of these powerful storms may emerge or calm down within several hours or several minutes, creating a predictable path of destruction or surprising gift of nature in its wake.

During one trip to Wichita, we received such a gift. From far across the prairie, we saw a break in the mean-spirited sky. Blinding sunlight cut a swath from high above, gilding the parched ground and electrified air. As I grabbed the camera, my husband cautioned there was no way I could take a good photograph through the car window as we traveled at 70 miles an hour.

But weeks later, when I finally developed the film, I found a perfect photograph of the spectacular light shaft – our own miracle on I-35.