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Thompson Hotels Influencers Chicago X Christena Gunther


Building Community

Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright lived and built long before anyone coined the term “starchitect,” but he certainly fits the bill. Not only have his designs, from Fallingwater to Taliesin West, become iconic buildings, but his colorful life has also been the subject of biographies and inspired fiction—the popular 2008 novel, Loving Frank, imagined one of Wright’s clandestine affairs and its dramatic end.

Chicago’s Frank Lloyd Wright Trust aims to protect and promote the architect’s legacy. Wright’s home and studio in Oak Park are now National Historic Landmarks. The Trust offers tours around these and other of Wright’s local buildings that explore his achievements on both a global scale and through the smaller architectural details themselves. Christena Gunther, Director of Tour Operations and Guest Experience at the Trust, filled us in on what she loves about the architect and the city. Gunther also founded the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium in 2013 to improve accessibility for visitors with disabilities. In this work, she’s something of an architect herself, creating new spaces and opportunities to make Chicago a more inclusive place.

How did you first discover Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, and what continues to draw you to it?

I grew up in Wisconsin near two Wright homes, so he’s a name I’ve heard all my life. Wright was born in Wisconsin and lived there on and off for most of his life—he’s a figure that many Wisconsinites, like me, are proud to be associated with. Now, after living in Chicago for four years, I continue to be inspired by his legacy. What strikes me about Wright is just how modern and iconoclastic his approach was. Walking around his Home and Studio in Oak Park, which we often call a laboratory of his ideas, I find his designs new and modern more than 100 years after he created them. He was always experimenting and throwing convention to the wind.

Which cultural programs in Chicago are you particularly excited about this winter?

2017 marks a key year for us as we celebrate Wright’s 150th birthday! You can learn more here.

This winter we are busy preparing for the Trust’s Wright Plus Architectural Housewalk on Saturday, May 20, 2017. Wright Plus is an internationally renowned walk that features interior tours of Wright homes and those of his contemporaries in Oak Park. Included on the roster for this year is my personal favorite, the magnificent Arthur B. Heurtley House that represents Wright’s mature Prairie style. Registration is now open; the earlier you register, the more you save.

How do you divide your time between the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust and the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium? How do the roles inform each other? 

The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust is dedicated to welcoming all visitors to experience the wonder of Wright’s designs. My full-time job here is to facilitate a positive experience for everyone at our sites. In my spare time, I am involved with CCAC, which strives to empower Chicago’s cultural spaces to become more accessible to visitors with disabilities through free professional development opportunities. There certainly is overlap between the two roles because at the core of both roles are focused on creating a welcoming environment for everyone.

Chicago has such a rich architectural history. What are some of the most exciting new buildings or projects in the city, keeping the tradition alive? 

The forthcoming Chicago Architecture Biennial in fall 2017 is one way to imagine Chicago’s future through our city’s rich architectural past. I find it exciting to see new, vibrant projects, such as the Riverwalk, the 606, unveiled that bring together the public and activate previously underutilized spaces.