In 1950 the Chahroud's asked Frank Lloyd Wright to design a house for them on their newly acquired island in Lake Mahopac, N.Y. Their instruction to him was to "design the house of his dreams" and there is indication that Wright did just that. However, the Chahroud's couldn't afford to build the home so the survey work Wright commissioned for the site and the initial design sketches were filed away until Barbara and Joe Massaro bought the heavily wooded 11-acre island in 1991. The Massaros were aware the drawings existed and eventually decided to build the home. Wright also designed a small wood guesthouse for the Chahroud's and that building still stands on the island near the main home.The house is "site specific" because two rock outcrops pass through the home. One of them, known as "whale rock" because of its shape, reaches 12 feet high, 12 feet wide, and 60 feet long. It acts as a wall leading to the entrance of the home and one wall of the kitchen. A "tail rock" serves as a wall of the dining room and a wall of one of the bathrooms where the shower is located. Wright's survey locates and orients the house to these outcrops. The location also provides for a cantilever slab out over the lake.
The house is truly a concrete home-the floors, walls, roof, and even the kitchen countertops-are all concrete construction. The contractor, Lidia Wusatowska-Leighton, owner, C&L General Construction, Mahopac, N.Y., says that no drywall was used.
Securing permits for a home that cantilevers over the edge of a lake isn't easy to achieve anymore and it took Joe Massaro several years to accomplish. He is sure that the only reason he got the permits was because it was a Frank Lloyd Wright design and because he promised to remain faithful to the plans. The task became his hobby, keeping at it until he had all the permits in hand.
The initial design sketches Wright provided the Chahroud's showed the concept but with few details. So Massaro's first challenge was to find an architect to create the working drawings. That search led him to Thomas A. Heinz AIA, Mettawa (Libertyville), Ill. Heinz has published 30 books on the subject of architecture, most about Wright's works. Heinz says this house presented unique challenges because it had to fit on a 3-D sloping rock going downhill to the lake. There were also two rock outcrops going right through the house. He credits the use of a recent version of ArchiCAD design software for helping him design a virtual 3-D representation of the house, connecting it to the uneven landscape. He included the data from Wright's original land survey and says it was amazingly accurate. The 3-D drawing helped Massaro and Heinz understand how the building elements came together and how the house fit on the site. By plotting two-dimensional planes through this drawing, Heinz also was able to produce plan view dimensionally correct working drawings-all working drawing sheets relating dimensionally to each other. Because of the complexity involved in the construction, Heinz provided 3-D drawing views and details to the contractor to help workers understand what the building elements should look like and how they fit together.
Wright's original design drawings didn't specify the structural materials to be used for the construction so that had to be determined. The long floor span of the living room and the cantilevered deck extending past the shoreline of the lake were the primary governing factors. Laminated wood beams, steel beams, and concrete were each considered. Wright had extensive experience with concrete so that may have been what he intended. But the engineer of record for the project, Augie Mosiman, from Albuquerque, N.M., affirmed that concrete would be the best and easiest material to use. Post-tensioned reinforcement (PT) also would be necessary-an established reinforcing method not available to Wright in 1950.