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J.J. Polivka papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MS-0048

Scope and Contents

The bulk of the collection spans the years 1939-1959 and contains correspondence, notes, drawings, clippings, and publications—many of which document the collaboration of J.J. Polivka and Frank Lloyd Wright. Notable 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 between Polivka and Wright primarily concern financial and travel arrangements. There is also a considerable amount of research material, which consists of correspondence between Polivka and other professionals of the time. Additionally, the collection 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 within Series IV include Polivka, Wright, family, friends, and students at Taliesin West, as well as project planning.


  • 1918-1983
  • Majority of material found within 1939-1959


Language of Materials

Collection material in English.

Terms of Access

The J.J. Polivka papers, 1918-1983 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.

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.


Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia
Pursues Undergraduate Studies in engineering at the College of Technology, Prague, Czechoslovakia
Pursues Graduate Studies in engineering at the Federal Polytechnic Institute, Zurich, Switzerland
Supervises construction of the Ohre Arch River Bridge, Bohemia, Czechoslovakia
Serves as Chief Engineer for the Societa Italiana Cemento Armato in Florence, Italy and Zurich, Switzerland
Earns Doctorate of Technology of Science Degree from the Prague Institute of Technology
Serves in WWI as a conscript in the Austro-Hungarian Army
Returns to Prague to open an office of architecture and engineering. Works for the Czechoslovakian Ministry of Public Works
Designs Chicago and Habich Buildings in Prague
Designs and builds the Czechoslovakian Pavilion, in collaboration with Czech functionalistic architect, Jaromír Krejcar, for the Paris Exposition of 1937
Designs the Rotterdam Corn Exchange, Holland
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
Collaborates with Victor Di Suvero on an invention of structural technique, applies for and receives a patent for improvements in structures
Leaves University of California, Berkeley to continue independent design and research
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
Collaborates with Wright on Modern Gallery (Guggenheim Museum), New York, New York
Collaborates with Wright on Johnson Wax Tower, Racine, Wisconsin
Investigates engineering of "tap-root" foundation
Collaborates with Wright on Rogers Lacy Hotel, Dallas, Texas
Investigates Thermolux Glass for hotel exterior
Collaborates with Wright on V.C. Morris House (Seacliff), San Francisco, California
Collaborates with Wright on Butterfly Bridge, San Francisco, California
Takes a part-times position as Research Associate and Lecturer at Stanford University
Collaborates with Wright on Belmont Racetrack Pavilion, Long Island, New York
Collaborates with Wright on the Illinois (a mile-high skyscraper), Chicago, Illinois
Dies at age 74 in Berkeley, California


6.26 Linear Feet (11 manuscript boxes, 2 half manuscript boxes, and 3 negative storage boxes)


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, and the proposed Butterfly Bridge. Collection consists of correspondence, clippings, drawings, publications, photographs and photograph negatives.


Collection is arranged by format into seven series: I. Correspondence, II. Books, III. Notes, IV. Drawings, V. Clippings, VI. Photographs. and VII. Research materials. Series VII. is further arranged into two sub-series, A and B.

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.

Additional materials were donated by Ronald M. Polivka, grandson of Jaroslav J. Polivka, January, 2022. Materials were received by mail in the University Archives, January 14, 2022.

Accruals and Additions

No further accruals are expected to this collection.

Related Resources

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.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Archives staff, circa 1984, 1997. Additional description added and finding aid revised by Grace Timper, February 2018. Additional description added and finding aid revised by Jessica Hollister, March 2022.


Finding Aid for the J.J. Polivka papers
Finding aid prepared by Archives Staff, circa 1984, 1997; updated by Erin Verhoef, September 2006; updated by Grace Trimper, February 2018; updated by Jessica Hollister, March 2022.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives Repository

420 Capen Hall
Buffalo New York 14260-1674 US
716-645-3714 (Fax)