Frank Lloyd Wright instructed, inspired architect from Bombay

Firoz Mistry traveled from his native India to study at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's school in the Arizona desert. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Firoz Mistry traveled from his native India to study at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s school in the Arizona desert. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Firoz Mistry was a practicing architect in his native Bombay, India, when he traveled halfway around the world to apprentice with the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Mistry learned about Wright in his first year in architecture school in India, when someone showed him a magazine article about Wright’s Fallingwater, a home built over a waterfall in Pennsylvania in the late 1930s.

“Since I saw that, I started looking for all the books our library had on Mr. Wright,” he said.

In his third year of study, Mistry heard of a student who was on his way to America to study with Wright. Mistry dreamed of doing the same, but his parents could not afford the tuition.

Mistry graduated and went to work in Bombay, where he developed a reputation for designs of buildings and furniture in Wright’s style. “I talked about Mr. Wright so much that they called me little Frank Lloyd Wright,” he said.

When Wright was 89, Mistry saved $1,000 for the tuition. A client paid for his ticket to Arizona.

On Feb. 8, 1957, Mistry became one of 50 students at Taliesin West, Wright’s studio and architectural laboratory, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Wright’s students, called apprentices, learned by doing.

“One of my first projects at Taliesin was to build my tent,” Mistry said. “We had a 10-foot by 10-foot slab, and they gave us a metal frame and a tent that you zip. You had to build what you sleep on, what you put your clothes in, everything.”

All of this was part of Wright’s philosophy of learning how things are put together.

“His whole philosophy is what I loved about Mr. Wright,” Mistry said. “In our college, it’s mostly with books. Almost 80 percent of college professors never built a building, and they are teaching.”

At the time, one of the major projects at Taliesin West was to build a theater. The apprentices went into the desert to pick up stone and built the theater from the ground up.

“You had to work on construction,” Mistry said. “I did carpentry. I worked on masonry.”

While he was at Taliesin, Mistry did working drawings for the Guggenheim Museum, which opened in New York City in 1959.

In August of his second year of the two-year apprenticeship, Mistry ran out of money. Gene Masselink, Wright’s right-hand man, gave him enough money to last through October, when Mistry was contacted by Fred Barksdale, an architect in central Louisiana.

Mistry took a leave of absence from Taliesin to work for Barksdale in Alexandria, but was let go after a year. During his time there, he met his wife, Faye.

Then he heard that Wright had died. With no possibility of returning to Taliesin, he and Faye were married and moved to Shreveport, where he took a job with architect Lester Haas.

A hospital design created on his own time for a $10,000 competition didn’t win first prize but did win an award.

“Lester was very impressed with it,” Mistry said. “He said that I was wasting my time in Louisiana. The kind of work I’m inclined to do is not to be found except in big cities and in internationally known architects’ offices.”

Haas contacted Bill Smith with the world-famous New York architectural firm of Edward Durell Stone. “Bill Smith came to Shreveport to interview me,” and gave him a job.

While in Stone’s firm, Mistry built Windham College in Putney, Vt.

He said Stone’s firm had “messed up” a contract for one building, and the client was going to sue. “Mr. Stone asked me to see what I can do,” Mistry said.

He built five dormitories, a student union, a library, a classroom building, the science building and a fine arts center.

His work with Stone, from 1961-68, also included designing the Billy Graham Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and the renovation of pianist Victor Borge’s home in Greenwich, Conn.

Baton Rouge architect Ralph Bodman hired Mistry away from Stone’s office, but let him go within a year because there wasn’t enough work, Mistry said.

While teaching at Miami-Dade Community College, now Miami Dade College, he attended the opening of a Washington, D.C., exhibit about Usonian houses, designed by Wright for middle-income families.

“I ran into several people I had worked with at Taliesin, including Wesley Peters,” Mistry said. “He said, ‘Why don’t you come to Taliesin?’”

So, after 30 years, Mistry returned to Taliesin for three summers.

He retired from the college in 1991 and moved to Quincy, Fla., where he built his dream home in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. The couple moved in 2005 to be near Faye Mistry’s Louisiana family. “We loved Baton Rouge when we were here,” she said.

“We came on June 1, 2005, and brought you two snowstorms and one Katrina,” he said with a smile.

Using the skills he learned from Wright, he designed and made all of the furniture in his family room as well as other pieces throughout his home.

Mistry, 82, says nothing in architecture can compare to Wright’s “daring spirit.”

“He defied convention. He defied any pre-established rules when you could make new rules,” he said. “He defined the lifestyle of our living today. Almost every house you can walk in today, I can show you where Frank Lloyd Wright is in that house. The idea of the kitchen open to the living room was his idea. The open living room, what you call the family room, was his idea, his influence.”


Information from: The Advocate,

Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP-WS-08-18-10 1530EDT