The Price Tower is a nineteen story, 221 foot high tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is the only realized skyscraper by Wright, and is one of only two vertically-oriented Wright structures extant (the other is the S.C. Johnson Wax Research Tower in Racine, Wisconsin). It was commissioned by Harold C. Price, for use as a corporate headquarters for his Bartlesville company. His wife, Mary Lou Patteson Price, and his two sons, Harold, Jr., and Joe, rounded out the building committee. The Prices were directed to Frank Lloyd Wright by architect Bruce Goff, who was then Dean of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma, where the Price sons had studied. That relationship bonded into a life-long patronage of both architects by the Price Family. Wright designed an Arizona home for the senior Prices and a Bartlesville home for Harold, Jr., his wife Carolyn Propps Price, and their six children. Goff, who was also a tenant at Price Tower, became the favored architect of Joe Price, designing a bachelor studio on his family's property in Bartlesville and two later additions following his marriage to Etsuko Yoshimochi.
Wright nicknamed the Price Tower, which was built on the Oklahoma prairie, "the tree that escaped the crowded forest," referring not only to the building's construction, but also to the origins of its design. The Price Tower is supported by a central "trunk" of four elevator shafts which are anchored in place by a deep central foundation, as a tree is by its taproot. The nineteen floors of the building are cantilevered from this central core, like the branches of a tree. The outer walls hang from the floors and are clad in patinated copper "leaves." Wright had championed these design ideas, which other architects had put to use before the construction of the Price Tower as early as the 1920s in his design for an apartment complex of four cantilevered towers for St. Marks-in-the-Bowerie in downtown New York City. Following the effects of the Great Depression, the project was shelved and adapted by Wright for the Price Company in 1952. Wright, therefore, plucked his "tree" out of the "crowded forest" of Manhattan skyscrapers and placed it on the Oklahoma prairie where it continues to stand uncrowded by neighboring tall buildings.
The floorplan of the Price Tower centers upon an inlaid cast bronze plaque, bearing the logo of the Price Company and marking the origin of a parallelogram grid upon which all exterior walls, interior partitions and doors, and built-in furniture are placed. The resulting design is a quadrant plan -- one quadrant dedicated for double-height apartments, and three for offices. The materials for the Price Tower are equally innovative for a mid-twentieth-century skyscraper: cast concrete walls, pigmented concrete floors, aluminum-trimmed windows and doors, and patinated embossed and disstressed copper panels. The general geometric element is the equilateral triangle, and all lighting fixtures and ventilation grilles are based upon that form while the angled walls and built-in furniture are based on fractions or multiples of the triangular module.
[Image: Price Company Tower (1952), Bartlesville, Oklahoma.]