This Frank Lloyd Wright Home Was a Trailblazing Example of Accessible Design
by Jennifer Billock/Smithsonianmag.com
On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, stipulating that discrimination against individuals with disabilities, in any part of life, is illegal. Forty years before the act, though, Frank Lloyd Wright became one of the first architects to fully embrace a level of accessibility in housing nearing that outlined in the law with the Rockford, Illinois, home he designed for Ken and Phyllis Laurent. Wright was already an accomplished late-career architect by this time, known for structures like the Unity Temple, the lobby of the Rookery Building, the Robie House, Taliesin, the Arizona Biltmore Resort, Fallingwater and Taliesin West.
In 1946, Ken Laurent, then a 26-year-old World War II veteran, became paralyzed from the waist down when doctors accidentally cut a nerve on his spine while trying to remove a tumor. Over the next couple years, he spent weekdays at a rehabilitation center near Chicago, heading home to his wife, Phyllis, in Rockford on the weekends. But those weekends quickly turned frustrating as Ken and Phyllis struggled to adapt a standard house to Ken’s new life in a wheelchair. They needed something different.