Heinz tried numerous computer-modeling programs for more than a year before he found the ArchiCAD software program, which allowed him to conceptualize Wright’s roughly sketched plans in three dimensions in a way that felt comfortable and correct. Massaro’s contractor, Lidia Wusatowska-Leighton of C&L General Construction, toiled for months to get exactly the right consistency of concrete in order to create the mammoth grid holding the aforementioned skylights in a single pour. She also devised ingenious ways to get tons of materials and equipment to the island, like towing half-barrels of sand and gravel over three-foot-thick ice in winter.
The efforts show. The house reads in many ways as an exemplar of Wright’s mid-century style, when he was experimenting with triangles and hexagons as key elements of a new geometry. “He was at the zenith of his fame,” said Alan Hess, the author of Frank Lloyd Wright: Mid-Century Modern Houses, due out in October from Rizzoli. “He did more buildings in 1951 than he’d ever done before, and he was starting to go to greater extremes than ever before.”
Although its owner is riding the euphoria of finishing a bona fide showplace, the Petra Island house isn’t going to challenge Fallingwater as Wright’s domestic masterpiece. But it’s no slouch, either. “It’s one of Wright’s most dramatic efforts, right up there with Fallingwater,” says Robert Twombly, an architectural historian who has written a biography of Wright and is duly impressed with Massaro’s sincerity and Heinz’s scholarship. “To me the scale is too big,” he admits. “I feel a bit dwarfed, but it still shows that Wright could create a stunningly beautiful house.”
People can, and will, argue whether Wright himself would have been pleased with what’s now up on Petra Island. But given how much he loved attention and controversy, it’s a good bet the hubbub alone would have thrilled him.