Look Up! Wright was years ahead in ‘Ardmore Experiment’

Frank Lloyd Wright’s only big project in the Philadelphia area, with its high-profile address on Old York Road in Elkins Park, was the pyramidal Beth Sholom Synagogue, built in 1959.

Twenty years earlier, Wright designed his only other significant project in the area. Originally dubbed “The Ardmore Experiment” by the architect, the Suntop Homes, 152-158 Sutton Road, sit on a subdued, suburban street among a mix of more traditional middle-class houses of varying styles. Blocked by the more recent addition of garden fences and thick greenery, the Suntops fade into the landscape.

But Wright’s signature Usonian style is hard to miss.

The Tod Company commissioned four sets of the homes for Ardmore to increase single-family density in the burbs, but construction costs surpassed the developer’s budget, and only one set was erected.

The design is a pinwheel, with each unit facing a different direction. Each quadrant of about 2,000 square feet included a roof sundeck/terrace, utility and living rooms, mezzanine workspace, bedrooms, balcony, radiant heating in the floors, and a carport (for “modern motor-car convenience,” Wright’s plans explain). Construction materials were brick, concrete, wood and glass.

Over the years, two of the original homes were destroyed by fire, but were rebuilt with changes to the interior spaces.

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Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

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“Look Up: and check out Spruce Hill
“Look Up” and check out Green Street
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