Monday, October 18, 2010

Frank Lloyd Wright's Petit Memorial Chapel

As Ralph Liebing has pointed out in his Per-SPEC-tives articles which appear in CSI chapter newsletters, most spec writers didn't enter the design professions with the intention of writing construction specifications.

I certainly didn't.  I wanted to be a designer.  My fascination with the buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe motivated me to go to IIT’s architectural school in Chicago.

After I started working in an AE firm, I was deployed pretty much exclusively as a drafter and detailer (the old-fashioned kind of drafting, long before CAD).  My attempts to get assigned to design work were unsuccessful.  Then the late Bill Lohmann offered me a job as a spec writer.  I accepted his offer.   I’m glad I did and I can honestly say that in 37 years as a specifier I've never had a boring day.

Anyway, yesterday I came across a building that reminded me why it's a good thing for the world that I became a wordsmith instead of a building designer. 

The building is Frank Lloyd Wright's Petit Memorial Chapel.  It sits in a cemetery in Belvidere, Illinois and was built in 1907.

I could never have designed anything this good.  I do a pretty good job arranging words, but as an architect I could never have achieved the degree of focus, elegance, and simplicity that Frank Lloyd Wright did with this building.

I find most of Wright's buildings breathtaking, but this one is special because it's so pure, so cerebral, and so refined.  Compared to most of the eclectic crap that was being built in 1907, this must have stood out like a spaceship from mars.

The photographs I'm attaching barely hint at the zen-like purity of this little building.  If you get the chance, go see it for yourself.

BTW, if someone offers you a job as a spec writer, I’d advise you to jump on it.  If you get lucky, you could be in the vanguard of the long-awaited integration of specs and BIM.  


  1. Bill Lohmann influenced my decision to be a spec writer too, through his columns in Progressive Architecture. I met him once and while he didn't offer me a job, he offered encouragement.