Price Tower

Added by Esteban Marin, last update: August 31, 2012, 2:33 pm

Price Tower
Photo by Johnson Architectural Images, source:
510 S Dewey Avenue
Bartlesville, OK 74003
United States
36° 44' 51.9252" N, 95° 58' 34.9284" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Recreation (REC)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):
History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

Frankly Lloyd Wright's Price Tower was first conceived in an aerial perspective drafted c. 1929 - 1931, in which Wright titled the perspective "St. Mark's-in-the-Bouwerie Tower." The perspective envisioned three towers pulled together by St. Mark's Church residing at their center. However, Wright's vision failed to manifest due to the Great Depression and the financial crisis that made obtaining capital difficult. In 1952(a) Harold C. Price commissioned Wright in to design a company headquarters building that would be built in Oklahoma. Wright adapted his previous vision resulting in the Price Tower design that was submitted to Price, Sr. as a final draft on September 16, 1952. The design concept of the Tower is unique in that it emphasized a central core construction allowing for a cantilevered floor layout, hence the references to the Tower as a tree. Additionally, Price's requirements included not only storage and office space, but apartments in the upper levels of the Tower. The lower levels of the Tower were also slated to be used by other business entities other than H.C. Price Co. which was to generate additional income. Building construction began in 1953 (c) and ended 1956 (c). Furniture and appliances were all integrated into the design concept; material and aesthetic display mimic and or compliment the building's exterior in geometric form. On July 20th, 1953, with construction cost approaching $1.25 million, Wright changes the facade material to reduce cost. Additionally, on August 24 of the same year, Wright changed the basement and foot plans for the building; however, its difficult to say if this changed any aesthetic elements as originally conceived. Price, Sr also made several requests to Wright for changes in the furniture design; once on May 25th of 1955 and another June 22nd of the same year. What we have is a design concept that is altered by the realities of price-cost effects and the desires/demands of the client, however, this was one tension that never went beyond the main focus of the constructing the building itself. In 1981, H.C. Price Co. sold the Tower to Phillips Petroleum Company of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The building is used as storage facility for the Phillips Co. and suffers some deteriorative affects of neglect. By 2000, Phillips refurbished the Tower under the suggestions of the Bartlesville Museum, who received a leasing space in the Tower in 1990. In 1991, the Museums was reorganized as the Price Tower Art Center. By 2001, Phillips Co. donated the building to Arts Center that was then run by former chair Phillips Co, C. J. Silas. In 2002-2003 (c) eight floors of the Tower were remodeled that converted the space into a hotel and restaurant/bar. The top three floor have been restored to their original "look." In 2003, Zaha Hadid was commissioned to design an adjoining structure for the tower. In March 2007 (a), the Price Tower was designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Dates: Commission / Completion:commissioned c. 1952; construction begun on November 10, 1953, construction completed February 9th, 1956.
Architectural and other Designer(s): Harold C. Price, Sr.; Harold C. Price, Jr.; Culwell Construction Co.; Wendy Joseph Evans, Zaha Hadid
Others associated with Building/Site: Phillips Petroleum Company Bartlesville Museum C.J. Silas Price Tower Arts Center (formerly Bartlesville Museum)
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): 2000 (a) Phillips Co. refurbishes building 2002 - 2003 (c) 8 floors floors of building are remodeled into 21 hotel rooms, 1 restaurant, and 1 bar. 2003 new arts center constructed that adjoins to the Tower (approximate size of additional is 50K sq. feet) 2006 August (a) Floors 17, 18, and 19 are remodeled to original 1956 appearance.
Current Use: 1. Museum 2. Hotel 3. Restaurant 4. Bar 5. Store
Current Condition: Remodeled and refurbished interior; changes to interior style seem significant, but are yet to be exhaustively cataloged. The exterior facade utilized a copper metal sheathing that was installed as a permanent fixture to the exterior concrete walls. The glass plating used for the facade also has a particular color saturation in order to attract and reflect light in a particular shimmering manner. The selection of exterior glass was made by H.C. Price, Sr. and is known as "golden polish plate glass." The building lacks conventional symmetry and is marked by is more or less spatial complexity in that the building designed from the top would seem to suggest a star-like appearance. Running through the center of the building is the building's structural core in which the building draws its structural support from. This "taproot" construction is why it's sometime called a "tree", but notice the color of the building is also green. Additionally, because of the core support structure system, the floor and walls of the entire building are cantilevered, providing for large interior spaces and tall ceilings. The Tower is also a multifunctional-use building in that it serves the architects original conception; the Tower housed office space, a museum, and apartment. In keeping with this tradition, the recent upgrades have maintained and expanded the museums presence, added a restaurant/bar, and converted the apartment space into hotel rooms. The building for this reason follows both form and function as a multipurpose use building. Interestingly, the Tower is also one of only a very few highrises in Bartlesville, Oklahoma that is open to the public. The museum acts a civic and cultural cohesive in that the exhibitions provide educational enrichment. The hotel spaces also provide a much more intimate interaction between visitors and the building itself.
General Description:

16 stories, concrete and steel construction. Faced is copper and glass.

Construction Period:
Original Physical Context:
Technical Evaluation:

The Tower's design utilized a core support process, in that the building is structured around centered shafts that are anchored by a deep seated foundation mimicking that of a tree's taproot. The rest of the designed is based on this process, for the walls of the building are cantilevered from this core support structure. The outer walls are supported and hung from the floors, but not before the walls were clad in copper sheathing or rather distressed copper panels at the time of construction. The walls are cast in concrete which uniquely marks the construction for its use of rather comparatively new materials during its period of contruction. Additionally, the use of copper to gain its green affect and the golden plate glass for shimmer further mark its technical innovation. More importantly is the geometric design that is based on an equilateral triangle which guides the entire form of all other building characteristics. In this sense, because of the building's geometric proportions it really creates its own aesthetic vernacular. Note the aluminum window trimming and colored floor layout which in technical terms present the visual continuity of designed. Additionally, the built in furniture and other furniture couture bridges the building's exterior visual representation to the interior design. The geometric shape of furniture further emphasizes the functional intentions of the architectural design.


The building was intended to be a center for shopping, housing, and office space; this multiuse function in design highlights the Modern Movement's emphasis on cultivating social or community cohesion. Furthermore, the current redesigns amplify this central aspect of the architectural original intention.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
Price, Sr. wanted in central headquarter for company, but what was ultimately provided was a commentary on what public and private space should/coubl be. Wright's design was essentially a cultural proclamation that architectural design could have more than one funtional purpose: it could be visaully unique and stimulating, and could served both private and public domains. The private function entailed leasing space to companies and the public function would served by through the presence of the Bartlesville museum. In many ways then, the Tower was a democratic formulation.

The design is entirely Wright's, but his cantilevered process was utilized by other architects contemporaneously. The use of materials like concrete and steel were, however, also contemporary and common to the construction process of many other buildings. The geometric design, however, does not seem to hint on past aesthetic designs or vernaculars. Temporally, the Tower was conceived during a different historic era, pre-Depression, which can arguably lend to the notion that Wright's Tower was of an avant guard status in spite of being built in the late 1950s.

General Assessment:
The Tower possess unique design element and a exterior facade that is forward thinking. Particularly, the Tower is forward thinking in its used of glass and copper to obtain a unique coloring and geometric plane that seeminly has not hints toward a prior aesthetic design. The Tower in many ways represent a paradigmatic shift in design and construction concept especially for what its intended use was to become...both a recreational and administrative space!
Text references:

Montagut, Monica R., “The Tower Rises: A Chronology.” Prairie Skyscraper: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower. Anthony Alofsin, ed., NY: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. 2005.

Brown, Patricia L. "Built On Oil, Banking on Desing." The New York Times. Oct. 16, 2003.

Franham, Alan. "Stay At Frank's Place." Feb. 4, 2003.

Flom, Lorrie. "Renewing Wright." Carnegie Online. Fall 2004.

Wright, Franklyn Lloyd, The Story of the Tower: The Tree that Escaped the Crowded Forest. Horizon Press, New York, 1956.

Additional Images
Price Tower
Plan, Source:
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New York, NY 10023
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