Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Motoring Around Madison

By Chuck

We left Taliesin this morning, headed for Madison and its campus of the University of Wisconsin, a comfortable drive of less than an hour. After stopping at the campus information and parking center to find out the rules and costs of parking on campus, we headed to the Unitarian Universalist church designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. His parents were charter members of this congregation, which selected a lovely rural spot as the setting. No more. The entire community has grown up around the grounds and the parking lot is now shared by part of the U of W Medical Center.

I had actually only planned to do a drive-by; but, there was no street parking so we went into the church lot and I hustled inside to confirm available parking while Claire stayed behind to protect Cristina from marauding policemen. All was good: Turns out that there are tours at 10:30am daily--we had arrived at 10:22. And, they were able to provide a temporary parking pass.

Front of the Unitarian Meeting House, Madison, WI. It is hard to see in this picture; but, the church is supposed to be a ship plowing through the earth. Again, no separation between Man and Nature.

Our capable guide, Carolyn, gave us a customized tour that lasted 1.5 hours--we were the only tourists this morning. She even gave us the opportunity to tour the new extension, which is about 4 years old, architecturally harmonious with the original building, and has the LEED Gold rating for environmental efficiency--they were determined to have a green building. It features geothermal heating and a living green roof. The new structure is where the current religious services and classes are held, as the congregation had outgrown the old building. We were impressed that they now share the old building with the local Jewish community, as they needed a place to convene for their services.

Note the extensive use of triangles in the external structure of the Meeting House; this is repeated internally. FLW was fascinated with geometric shapes, especially diamonds, circles and triangles. Many of the inside tables were triangular, designed by him; they can be used individually for one or two persons, or combined, to accommodate larger groups. Also, he varies ceiling height a lot, internally, which is visually quite interesting. In addition, low ceilings contribute to the "sheltering" effect of his designs, along with the high windows, which preserve privacy. The double-seater, FLW-designed pews were moveable, folding wooden seats that were normally placed so the congregation could see one another--this is the same treatment used in the Theatre at Taliesin. They could be removed, as necessary, to create open space for social gatherings.

Side and entrance

This image captures one of FLW's famous features: the blending of nature and Man (construction, in this case) so they are not perceived as separate. This comes from his Unitarian background and respect for nature. You may not realize it, but there is glass abutting the stone in this picture, allowing you to see the outside from the inside without really being aware of the separation. The glass, and in other instances the wood, is incorporated right into the supporting material--leaving the latter as the defining contour of the building. Wright was also (one of?) the first to put two glass windows together at a 45° angle, virtually eliminating any sense of being inside, looking out. Unfortunately, I don't have an example from this site.

Next we drove to Washington Square and the Wisconsin State Capitol, to see the Farmer's Market held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and to eat lunch.

The Farmer's Market is, roughly, the equivalent of the one in Davis; but, the flowers were a lovely touch and I saw a number of people carrying bouquets back to their office. I had a delicious  strawberry-rhubarb turnover; but, I ate it so quickly, Claire did not have an opportunity to photograph it.

Claire was famished by now and we found a lovely Italian eatery down the street, near the Capitol. I had the healthy special of the day: Chicken, stuffed with cheese and asparagus, on a bed of potatoes, covered with gravy.

Claire had the Grilled Veggie Panino with Minestrone soup. She thought, incorrectly, that I got the worst of the bargain.

We loved this little corner of the Children's Museum on a corner near the Capitol.

We have noticed cows just about everywhere--including on the buildings. Sometimes there are plastic cows in fields along the roads, in spots you would expect to see actual heifers. But, let us not forget that one nickname for people from Wisconsin is 'Cheesehead,' and this comes from cows. I recall, as a child, being told that the reason we had to mix the yellow color packets into our margarine was that the Wisconsin cheese lobby insisted on this to prevent the public from confusing naturally yellow butter with white veggie lard. There may have been some economic incentive as well?

I have always loved houses with turrets. This is simply one near the center of Madison.

Davis can consider itself the bike capitol of the World (the U.S.?), but we don't have convenient rent-a-bike stands in town.

Another turret, this one at the Triangle Market, which advertises itself as an historical spot offering daily tours. We did not stop to corroborate this.

Another interesting building, encountered as we walked down State Street, which connects the Capitol to the U of W - Madison campus. This is somewhat reminiscent of structures encountered in Scandinavia; and many of their descendents have settled in the Midwestern part of the U.S.

Chuck, on a quest to find a cheap, used copy of Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage--an historical treatment of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Sadly, they are expensive, large and difficult to carry, and they are hard to find.

The U of W - Madison campus is beautiful; but, it does not have a single architectural theme. There are all kinds of buildings, here. This one caught our eye; it is the old gymnasium building.

We are about to enter the student union building.

The beautiful underside of the portico as we enter the student union.

Here is the lovely Terrace on the back of the student union building. Notice the colorful round tables and the iconic sunburst chairs.

Chuck on the upper Terrace of the student union building.

We are encountering our first active support for Obama-Biden in this State. These signs are posted in a local funky clothing shop, which doubles as a Democratic headquarters of sorts. I have also noticed far more support from editorials and readership in the Wisconsin State Journal than I expected; however, I think this is probably localized support. I doubt that the truly rural town outside the greater Madison area share the same level of enthusiasm for Democrats and their policies. Some of the signs we have seen are hand drawn. Others say things like: "All I want is the same healthcare plan that members of Congress have." "Corporate Plan for America: Loot it and leave it" "Obama '12/ Yes we can/ Tax the Rich"

 This is the classic Science Building, located atop a sloping hill.

It is interesting to note the contrast between the union-busting efforts of Governor Walker's administration and the historical contribution of Wisconsinites to establishing a role for government in "securing the well-being of its citizens." A plaque we discovered on campus commemorates the ideas of local academics in formulating the New Deal of the FDR administration. This school of thought "helped rewrite the nation's Labor Laws and brought about such programs as unemployment insurance and the minimum wage law.

Now, I'm off to the lobby to get my dinner--a pint of Edy's Cookie Dough ice cream and, from the car, our Costco chocolate hand-dipped shortbread cookies. Claire is following up with a diet Pepsi chaser. You have no idea how difficult it is to find healthy, affordable dining choices on the road.

I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.  ~ Frank Lloyd Wright