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Finding Aid for the J.J. Polivka Papers, 1945-1959

MS 48

State University of New York at Buffalo. University Archives

420 Capen Hall
Buffalo, New York 14260
United States
Phone: 716-645-2916
Fax: 716-645-3714
Email: lib-archives@buffalo.edu
URI: http://library.buffalo.edu/archives

Finding aid prepared by Archives Staff, circa 1984, 1997; updated by Erin Verhoef, September 2006 and by Sarah Pinard, January 2015.
Finding aid encoded in EAD by Erin Verhoef, September 2006.
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid prepared using local best practices.

Please use the following URL when citing this document:

© 2006. State University of New York at Buffalo. All rights reserved.

Collection Overview

Title: J.J. Polivka Papers, 1945-1959
Creator: Polivka, Jaroslav Joseph, 1886-1960
Extent: 3 manuscript boxes 2 card file boxes (2.5 linear feet)
Language of Material: Collection material in English.
Repository: State University of New York at Buffalo. University Archives
Abstract: Papers of J.J. Polivka, internationally renowned Czechoslovakian structural engineer. Collection documents his collaboration with Frank Lloyd Wright on many of Wright's later projects including the Guggenheim Museum. Collection consists of correspondence, clippings, photographs and photograph negatives.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

[Description and dates], Box/folder number, MS 48, J.J. Polivka Papers, 1945-1959, University Archives, The State University of New York at Buffalo.

See the Archives' preferred citations instructions for additional information.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Elizabeth Houdek, Jan Polivka and Milos Polivka, children of Jaroslav J. Polivka, on November 7, 1982, through the good offices of Katka Houdek Hammond, of Buffalo, New York. Additional materials were donated by Katka Houdek Hammond, October 9, 1997.

Terms of Access

The J.J. Polivka Papers, 1945-1959 are open for research.


Copyright of papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the University Archives before publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Most papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures unless otherwise specified.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Archives staff, circa 1984, 1997.

Accruals and Additions

No further accruals are expected to this collection.

Biographical Note

The internationally renowned Czechoslovakian structural engineer and architect Dr. Jaroslav Joseph Polivka was born to humble beginnings in Prague in 1886. He worked his way through school and earned his undergraduate degree in engineering from the College of Technology in Prague in 1909. He then pursued graduate study at the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich, Switzerland and the Prague Institute of Technology, where he earned a doctoral degree in 1917. After serving in World War I, he opened his own architectural and engineering company and began to develop his skills in stress analysis. He became an expert in photo-elastic stress analysis, a technique that examines small-scale transparent models in polarized light.

Polivka won international praise for his design of the Czech Pavilion at the Paris Exposition of 1937, a collaboration with Czech architect, Jaromír Krejcar. Two years later, he worked with Kamil Roscot to design another Czech Pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Later that year, Polivka immigrated to the United States and took a position as research associate and lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1941, he and colleague Victor di Suvero co-invented a structural design technique that received a patent for improvements in structures.

It was not until 1946 that Polivka began to work with Frank Lloyd Wright, but once they established a business partnership, the two men worked together until Wright's death in 1959. Architect Ivan Margolius gives an account of the first interaction between Wright and Polivka in his book, Architects + Engineers = Structures:

In 1946 Wright (1867-1959) wrote an article in Architectural Forum about the difficulties he had with the steel company engineers who condemned his Fallingwater house (1934-1937) structural design. Wright wrote to Edgar Kaufmann, his client, saying: 'I should like this box [with this letter] put under the corner stone of your house when the cornerstone is laid. I want this done so that when the house is torn down, 2,000 years from now, people will learn what complete damn fools these engineers are!' Prague-born structural engineer Jaroslav Josef Polivka (1886-1960) responded to the article by sending Wright an enthusiastic letter: 'I am admiring you as an engineer, although, according to a quotation in the last Forum issue, these engineers are complete damn fools. You may be right since the engineers in their structural conceptions are very seldom guided by eternal laws of the Nature ... The average engineer knows only beams, girders, columns and any deviation from his every day tools is considered as unusual, crazy, or dangerous.' The letter brought in return Wright's invitation to Taliesin and opened a professional relationship that lasted until Wright's death. (41)*

Polivka worked with Frank Lloyd Wright on many projects, performing stress analyses and investigations of specific building materials. Although they collaborated on a total of seven projects, only two were actually built: the Johnson Research Tower, 1946-1951 and the Guggenheim Museum, 1946-1959. Frank Lloyd Wright died six months before the Guggenheim Museum opened in October of 1959. Jaroslav Joseph Polivka died one year later in Berkeley, California at age 74.

*Margolius, Ivan. Architects + Engineers = Structures. Chichester, West Sussex : Wiley-Academy, 2002.


1886 Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia
1909 Pursues Undergraduate Studies in engineering at the College of Technology, Prague, Czechoslovakia
1911 Pursues Graduate Studies in engineering at the Federal Polytechnic Institute, Zurich, Switzerland
1909-1911 Supervises construction of the Ohre Arch River Bridge, Bohemia, Czechoslovakia
1911-1916 Serves as Chief Engineer for the Societa Italiana Cemento Armato in Florence, Italy and Zurich, Switzerland
1917 Earns Doctorate of Technology of Science Degree from the Prague Institute of Technology
1917-1918 Serves in WWII as a conscript in the Austro-Hungarian Army
1919 Returns to Prague to open an office of architecture and engineering. Works for the Czechoslovakian Ministry of Public Works
1927-1928 Designs Chicago and Habich Buildings in Prague
1937 Designs and builds the Czechoslovakian Pavilion, in collaboration with Czech functionalistic architect, Jaromír Krejcar, for the Paris Exposition of 1937
1938 Designs the Rotterdam Corn Exchange, Holland
1939 Designs and builds the Czechoslovakian Pavilion, in collaboration with Kamil Roscot, for the New York World's Fair
Immigrates to America, avoiding World War II, and becomes a Research Associate and Lecturer at University of California, Berkeley. Founds a photo-elastic lab where he continues his work on stress analysis
1941 Collaborates with Victor Di Suvero on an invention of structural technique, applies for and receives a patent for improvements in structures
1945 Leaves University of California, Berkeley to continue independent design and research
1946 Writes a letter to Frank Lloyd Wright in response to an Architectural Forum interview, which begins a business partnership that lasts until Wright's death in 1959
1946-1959 Collaborates with Wright on Modern Gallery (Guggenheim Museum), New York, New York
1946-1951 Collaborates with Wright on Johnson Wax Tower, Racine, Wisconsin
1946 Collaborates with Wright on Rogers Lacy Hotel, Dallas, Texas
1949 Collaborates with Wright on V.C. Morris House (Seacliff), San Francisco, California
1949-1952 Collaborates with Wright on Butterfly Bridge, San Francisco, California
1950 Takes a part-times position as Research Associate and Lecturer at Stanford University
1956 Collaborates with Wright on Belmont Racetrack Pavilion, Long Island, New York
Collaborates with Wright on the Illinois (a mile-high skyscraper), Chicago, Illinois
1960 Dies at age 74 in Berkeley, California

Scope and Content Note

The collection spans the years 1945-1959 and contains correspondence, notes, drawings and clippings, which document the collaboration of J.J. Polivka and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Projects documented are the San Francisco Butterfly Bridge, the Johnson Research Tower, the Guggenheim Museum, the Morris House, the Rogers Lacy Hotel and the Belmont Pavilion.

Correspondence primarily concerns financial and travel arrangements.

The collection also includes drafts of letters and articles by Polivka including "What's It Like to Work with Wright," "The Aesthetics of Bridges," and "Are Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesins Educational Institutions."

Photograph subjects include Polivka, Wright, family, friends, and students at Taliesin West, as well as project planning.


Collection is arranged by format into six series: I.Correspondence II.Books and Periodicals II.Notes III.Drawings IV.Clippings V.Photographs

Container List

I.     Correspondence, 1945-1959

All folders contain correspondence and notes pertaining to projects.

Box-folder Contents
1.1 1945; includes patent for 1949 invention.
1.2 January-July 1946; includes letter of introduction, correspondence and notes regarding the Guggenheim Museum and Roger Lacy Hotel.
1.3 August-December 1946; includes invoices, further discussion of the Guggenheim Museum.
1.4 1947-1949; includes testimony and cost estimates for the Butterfly Bridge.
1.5 1950-1953, 1956-1957; includes correspondence about the Johnson Wax Tower, the Illinois, the Butterfly Bridge, the Belmont Pavilion.
1.6 January-February 1957
1.7 March-November, 1957; includes receipts, correspondence and press regarding the Belmont Pavilion, and a draft of Polivka's article, "What it's like to work with Wright."
1.8 1958-1959
1.9 Undated; includes "Aesthetics of bridges" written by Polivka, notes.
1.10 Correspondence with Frank Lloyd Wright, 1946-1957
Box-folder Contents
1.11 Frank Lloyd Wright inscriptions, circa 1946-1958: photocopies of title pages with inscriptions from Wright to Polivka.
5.1 Frank Lloyd Wright, "The Story of the Tower," 1956; Signed.
5.2 Frank Lloyd Wright, "Ausgefuhrte Bauten," undated
5.3-5.4 Frank Lloyd Wright, "The Architecural Tour", January 1948
5.5 Frank Lloyd Wright, "60 Jahre Lebendige Architektur," 1952
5.6 House Beautiful, "Frank Lloyd Wright - His contributions to the beauty of American Life," November 1955
5.7 "L'architettura," Cronache e Storia, 1959
5.8 "Fortune," August 1946
Box-folder Contents
1.12 Frank Lloyd Wright notes, undated
Box-folder Contents
1.13 Butterfly Bridge original sketches by Wright, undated
1.14 Drawings for Belmont Pavilion, undated
V.    Clippings

Series V contains newspaper clippings and magazine articles pertaining to Wright and his work with and without Polivka.

Box-folder Contents
1.15 Frank Lloyd Wright writings, 1949, 1953, 1956-1958
1.16-1.17 Frank Lloyd Wright general, 1941, 1946-1949
2.1-2.3 Frank Lloyd Wright general, 1950-1959
2.4 Lloyd and John Lloyd Wright (FLW's sons), 1936, 1946, 1951, 1956, 1957
2.5 Polivka "Technocracy and the Engineer," 1956
2.6 Sullivan, Louis H., 1950, 1956, 1957
2.7 Architecture and construction: general, 1944, 1949/1958
2.8 Arizona Capital (FLW), 1956-1957
2.9 Baghdad, Iraq (FLW), 1952, 1957-1958
2.10 Beth Shalom Synagogue, Philadelphia (FLW), 1954, 1957
2.11-2.14 Butterfly Bridge, 1945-1958
2.15 Guggenheim Museum, 1945-1946, 1948-1958
2.16 Hartford, Connecticut Theater (FLW), 1949
2.17 Johnson Research Tower, 1946-1951 , 1957
2.18 Marin County Civic Center (FLW), 1957
2.19 Morris, V.C. (FLW), 1948-1949
2.20 Price Tower (FLW), 1953, 1956, 1957
2.21 Robie House (FLW), 1957
2.22 Usonia and mass-produced housing (FLW), undated
2.23 Other projects, 1947, 1950
2.24-2.25 Taliesin Stationary [blank], undated
VI.    Photographs

There are extensive photographs of the interior and exterior of Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and architecture school. All references to "Mrs. Wright" in photograph captions are referring to Frank Lloyd Wright's third wife, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright.

Photographs are numbered and have individual envelopes. If there are multiple copies of photographs, duplicated images are housed together in the same envelope. Box 4 contains the negatives for photographs in the same order.

Box-folder Contents
3.1-3.17 Unidentified people, 1949-1951, undated
3.18-3.68 Students and friends at Taliesin West, 1949, 1957,undated
3.69-3.73 Mirca Polivka (Polivka's wife), 1957, undated
3.74-3.76 Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, undated
3.77-3.85 Frank Lloyd Wright, 1949, undated
3.86-3.116 Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West, 1957, undated
3.117-3.132 J.J. Polivka, 1957, undated
3.133-3.146 Arizona, 1957, undated; includes landscape photographs.
3.147-3.226 Taliesin West (exteriors), 1957, undated
3.227-3.255 Taliesin West (interiors), 1957, undated
3.256-3.269 Biltmore Hotel, Camelback, AZ, undated
3.270-3.276 Grand Canyon, circa 1947, undated; includes photographs of Polivkas.
3.277-3.280 Airport, undated
3.281-3.287 Boulder Dam, undated
3.288-3.291 Berkeley, California, 1950, undated
3.292-3.296 Orinda House, undated
3.297-3.300 Hanna House, 1948-1949
3.301-3.313 Butterfly Bridge, 1952; includes photographs of proposed design model.
3.314-3.316 Guggenheim Museum, 1957
3.317-3.327 Guggenheim Museum model, undated
3.328-3.381 Color photographs, 1949-1953
4.1-4.381 Corresponding negatives for photographs, 1945-1959

Search Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the Library's online catalog.


Buffalo and Western New York Architecture Collection (State University of New York at Buffalo)
State University of New York at Buffalo. University Archives
Wright, Frank Lloyd, 1867-1959

Subject Terms

Architectural criticism
Architectural design--United States--20th century
Architectural drawing--United States--20th century
Architectural photography--United States
Architectural practice--United States
Architecture, Modern--20th century
Architecture--Composition, proportion, etc.
Architecture--United States--History--20th century
Decoration and ornament, Architectural--United States
Group work in architecture--United States
Polivka, Jaroslav Joseph, 1886-1960--Correspondence
San Francisco Butterfly Bridge
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum--History
State University of New York at Buffalo--Archives
Structural analysis (Engineering)
Structural design
Taliesin West (Scottsdale, AR)--Pictorial works
Wright, Frank Lloyd, 1867-1959

Genre Terms

Architectural drawings (visual works)
Negatives (photographic)

Related Resources

Related Darwin D. Martin-Frank Lloyd Wright Collections

MS 22.1 , Frank Lloyd Wright Correspondence with Michael Meredith Hare, 1933, 1940
MS 22.2 , Darwin D. Martin-Frank Lloyd Wright Collection, Reference Files, 1904-2010
MS 22.3 , Graycliff Construction Photographs, circa 1926-1938
MS 22.4 , Blueprints of the W.W. Davies Residence, Louisville, Kentucky, Undated
MS 22.5 , Darwin D. Martin Photographs, circa 1860s-1970s
MS 22.6 , Darwin D. Martin Family Papers, 1878-1935
MS 22.7 , Darwin D. Martin Correspondence with O.S. Lang, 1904-1921
MS 22.8 , Frank Lloyd Wright-Darwin D. Martin Papers, circa 1888-1979
MS 22.9 , Larkin Company Plans, 1904, 1912
MS 22.91 , Darwin D. Martin Digitization Project, 2006-2008
MS 22.92 , Darwin D. Martin Digital Images, 1860s-1970s
MS 68 , Graycliff Conservancy, Inc. Collection
3/1/445 , Friends of the Darwin D. Martin House, Records,1966-1982

SEL TG260 T743 1958
Torroja Miret, Eduardo. Philosophy of Structures.Berkeley, University of California Press, 1958. [contributors include Jaroslav Joseph Polivka and Milos Polivka]