Backstory and Context
Pol·y·math...a person of encyclopedic learning
Western Pennsylvania may be best known as home to Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpieces, Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, but the area includes more examples of his famed Usonian architectural style. Within its 130 wooded acres, Polymath Park boasts four homes that have been preserved and opened to the public.
In a career spanning more than 70 years, Frank Lloyd Wright pioneered what he called "organic architecture," in which manmade structures are designed in harmony with nature. Among his many projects, Wright developed the concept of the Usonian home, characterized by local materials, flat roofs, cantilevered overhangs, natural lighting, radiant-floor heating, and visual connections between indoor and outdoor spaces. The word "Usonian" was coined by writer James Duff Law in 1903, who used it to refer to people from the United States, an alternative to the word "American." Wright, who used the word as early as 1927, adopted "Usonian" to describe his vision for a distinctly American architectural style.
Peter Berndtson was among Frank Lloyd Wright's first group of apprentices who studied at his Wisconsin estate, Taliesin. There Berndtson met his wife, Cornelia Brierly, a fellow architectural student and one of the first five women to attend Carnegie Tech. The couple relocated to southwestern Pennsylvania, where Berndtson focused on designing private homes. He applied Wright's principles of organic architecture while developing his own unique style.
In the 1960s, the Balter and Blum families of Pittsburgh commission Berndtson to design for them Usonian summer homes in the Laurel Highlands. Together they purchased 130 acres of farmland and forest with views of the rolling Chestnut Ridge. Berndtson designed distinct Usonian-inspired homes for each family, the Balter House built in 1963 and the Blum House in 1965. The homes are nestled naturally into the surrounding landscape, using local materials and large windows to blur separation between indoors and outdoors. Berndtson approached the Balters and Blues with a proposal to build a Usonian style community, with five acre lots for each homeowner, named "TreeTops and Mountain Circles." They chose instead to keep the land private, and did so for nearly three decades.
In 2000, Thomas and Heather Papinchak purchased a neighboring home built for one of the Blum sons, which is now the TreeTops restaurant. Thomas, who owned a construction company and had a background in architecture, had an affinity for Wright's style and discovered that the homes had fallen into disrepair as rental properties. In 2003, the Papinchaks purchased the 130 acre Balter and Blum property, named it Polymath Park, and restored the two original homes. Shortly after, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's creations, a house built for Donald Duncan in Illinois in 1957, was at risk of being demolished to create a housing complex. Thomas Papinchak's construction company jumped at the opportunity to disassemble and rebuild the house at Polymath Park. The three homes opened for overnight stays and tours in 2007. The Papinchaks founded the nonprofit Usonian Preservation, Inc., to maintain the site.
In 2016, Polymath Park was given the opportunity to relocate another at risk Wright home, designed for the Lindholm family in Minnesota in 1952. Mäntylä House, meaning "of the pines," opened to the public in April 2019. Later that year in September, Polymath Park stepped in at the last minute to save another home, this one designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. in Minnesota. When the house, known as Birdwing, is relocated, it will make Polymath Park the only public site offering tours of works designed by father and son.
What is Polymath Park?, Polymath Park. Accessed April 2nd 2020. https://www.franklloydwrightovernight.net/about.
Duncan House, Polymath Park. Accessed April 2nd 2020. https://www.franklloydwrightovernight.net/duncan.
Balter House, Polymath Park. Accessed April 2nd 2020. https://www.franklloydwrightovernight.net/balter.
Blum House, Polymath Park. Accessed April 2nd 2020. https://www.franklloydwrightovernight.net/blum.
Mäntylä House, Polymath Park. Accessed April 2nd 2020. https://www.franklloydwrightovernight.net/lindholm.
Davidson, Lauren. Inside Polymath Park, Pittsburgh Magazine. September 22nd 2013. Accessed April 2nd 2020. https://www.pittsburghmagazine.com/inside-polymath-park/.
Pickels, Mary. Polymath Park opens second Frank Lloyd Wright home in Mt. Pleasant Township, TribLive. April 29th 2019. Accessed April 2nd 2020. https://triblive.com/local/westmoreland/polymath-park-opens-second-frank-lloyd-wright-home-in-mt-pleasant-township/.
Peter Berndtson, Architecture Archives, Carnegie Mellon University. Accessed April 2nd 2020. https://library.cmu.edu/ArchArch/collection/peter-berndtson.
Sinichak, Jessica. A Frank Lloyd Wright Masterpiece Gets a Second Chance, Pittsburgh Magazine. September 14th 2019. Accessed April 2nd 2020. https://www.pittsburghmagazine.com/a-frank-lloyd-wright-masterpiece-gets-a-second-chance/.
Palmer, Kim. Preservation group saves Minnetonka Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. house — and moves it to Pennsylvania, Star Tribune. September 13th 2019. Accessed April 2nd 2020. https://www.startribune.com/buyer-saves-minnetonka-frank-lloyd-wright-jr-house-and-moves-it-to-pennsylvania/560234122/?refresh=true.
Polymath Park, Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, https://www.laurelhighlands.org/listing/frank-lloyd-wright-at-polymath-park/559/