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Iconic Architecture in Heartland

The Midwest might change the way you look at architecture.

Throughout the region, distinctive buildings have been brilliantly combined with practical functionality. Imaginative designs that play off nature and the surrounding environment warrant a stop on any group itinerary.

Frank Lloyd Wright made a name for himself with organic architecture, which can be seen firsthand at his Taliesin Estate in rural Wisconsin. Outside and inside, Kansas City’s glamorous Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts wows visitors with 27 dramatically angled cables that support the building’s soaring south-facing glass ceiling and lobby. Light, transparency and the properties of glass also play off each other at the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art.

In Minneapolis, the Guthrie Theater’s royal-blue exterior promises an equally striking interior. And for something entirely different, the Victorian-era Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island welcomes guests to sit on an iconic porch which, at 660 feet, is the longest in the world.


Taliesin Estate

Spring Green, Wisconsin

Nestled in a rural valley with rolling hills, prairies and towering oaks, Taliesin Estate was designed to sync with the landscape. Architect and owner Frank Lloyd Wright succeeded in that endeavor. Taliesin served as a real-life model for Wright to explore design concepts, structural assemblies and materials. The estate served as his work, living, farming and classroom space.

Tours begin at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. Groups can choose from two options. On the Hillside Studio and Theater Tour, guides trace the site’s history and tell about the 1880s co-educational boarding school that Wright’s aunt established there. Visitors see the 5,000-square-foot drafting studio that Wright called an “abstract forest,” the theater, the assembly hall and the dining room.

The Taliesin House Tour showcases Wright’s home, where he developed many of his ideas. He continually added and changed the house over a 48-year time frame up until his death. His personal drafting studio remains a tour highlight, and his window-lined living room overlooks the valley.

“He left the crown of the hill untouched and built the house so it wrapped around the hill,” said special events and media coordinator Becky Rex. “As people approach the house, they’re actually looking down onto it. The beautiful courtyards and gardens were also incorporated into his designs.”

In the Taliesin Bookstore, windows look out over the Wisconsin River. The store sells home furnishings, decorative arts and numerous publications about Wright. Group lunches can be arranged in the Riverview Terrace Café.


Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

Kansas City, Missouri   

Rising dramatically in Kansas City’s skyline, the $326 million Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts was designed by Moshe Safdie and officially opened in 2011. The venue has two performances spaces, which share the Brandmeyer Great Hall lobby. The hall’s glass roof cascades into a 65-foot-high by 330-foot-wide glass wall that affords expansive views of the Crossroads Art District. Sleek white staircases circle from the lobby to the balcony, which overlooks the hall. Both areas serve as a gathering place on performance nights.

“The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts was designed with the audience and artist experience in mind,” said Paul Schofer, president and CEO of the Kauffman Center. “The expansive glass lobby of Brandmeyer Great Hall is known as our front porch for the arts and invites our community to connect with the arts in a whole new way.”

Inspired by Europe’s great opera houses, the 1,600-seat Helzberg Hall features vineyard-style seating on the stage’s four sides. Home to the Kansas City Symphony and other innovative programming, the stage extends into the hall. The hall’s visual centerpiece is a Casavant Frères pipe organ, one of the nation’s finest concert hall organs with 5,548 pipes. Concert-goers can sit under the massive organ in the choir loft and alongside the orchestra for an intimate musical experience.

A proscenium arch soars above Muriel Kauffman Theatre’s 5,000-square-foot stage. Home to the  Kansas City Ballet and  Lyric Opera of Kansas City, the theatre presents a diversity of entertainers and performances from pop to country, Broadway productions and comedy shows. For productions requiring translation, a personal monitor with the Figaro supertitle system is mounted on each seat back

Front-of-house tours can be tailored to a group’s interest to include acoustics, architecture and operations. Brandmeyer Great Hall also provides spaces for group dinners and receptions. On-site catering can accommodate a breakfast buffet, boxed lunch or an elaborate dinner.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.