HONORING A MASTER: Frank Lloyd Wright—celebrating the birth of an architectural Titan

Frank Lloyd Wright in 1954, photographed when he was late 80’s—but still going strong and working on new designs.  Photo by a staff photographer for the New York World-Telegram and Sun newspaper, courtesy of the Prints and Photographs division of the Library of Congress.

Frank Lloyd Wright in 1954, photographed when he was late 80’s—but still going strong and working on new designs.

Photo by a staff photographer for the New York World-Telegram and Sun newspaper, courtesy of the Prints and Photographs division of the Library of Congress.

A FORCE OF NATURE

Frank Lloyd Wright endlessly spoke about (and celebrated) Nature—particularly nature’s importance as the teacher for designers. Wright—also a prolific writer—is an abundant source of quotes about this, as in this example:

“Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day’s work. Follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain.”

But in the world of architecture, Wright himself was a “force of nature”: for nearly three-quarters of a century he was innovating and exploring all aspects of architecture and urbanism, and his activities extended to every aspect of design: interiors, landscaping, furniture, lighting, textiles, the decorative arts, sculpture, graphics—and he even designed some futuristic vehicles for land, water, and air! His concerns extended to larger issues of ecology and lifestyle.

Especially relevant for today is that, of all the great Modern architects, he was the first “Green” one—both in integrating low-energy-use principles into his designs, as well as in the long-term value of his buildings. A Wright building, well-maintained, could last 100’s of years (or longer), a most responsible use of “embodied energy”—both in beauty and resources!

A TITANIC EFFECT

Wright influenced generations of architects during his long life—and continues to do so. Here at the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation we’re especially aware of his impact: a key moment in Rudolph’s development was his visit to Wright’s Rosenbaum House, in Florence, Alabama.

Here is Rudolph recalling it:

I was twelve or fourteen when I first saw a Frank Lloyd Wright house. That was in Florence, Alabama. I forget how I knew about this house, but I did, so I got my parents to drive over. I lived in Athens, Alabama. My father was head of a school there, a rural school, a Methodist girls’ school. I have probably told you about the piano hinges and cantilevered roof, no? The cantilevered roof, I suppose, was about eighteen feet. I had never seen anything like that. Well! I was completely delighted with the whole idea that this would hold Itself up, and I didn’t understand it at all. There it was. I always thought the car looked a little funny, but I loved the roof. The interior of the house was in rather typical Usonian style. I had never seen detailing like that, the idea of storage units, of which there were many of various kinds, being such an important element in the house. I specifically the piano hinges, which I thought the most beautiful things I had ever seen. I still do think they are beautiful, and idea of the clerestory lighting. quite open above, and the way the light goes onto the ceiling and comes back down. I remember disliking and not understanding the narrowness of the passageways. That seemed terribly constricted to me. I also remember the built-in furniture and how completely satisfying it was. especially the couches. There are very few architects whose work I would go out of my way to see, but I would always go to see anything, even the worst, of Wright’s.

Young Paul Rudolph, at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosenbaum house in Florence, Alabama—a visit that had lasting impact on his views (and practice) of architecture.  Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Young Paul Rudolph, at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosenbaum house in Florence, Alabama—a visit that had lasting impact on his views (and practice) of architecture.

Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Rudolph went on to say of Wright:

You must understand that all my life I have been interested in architecture, but the puzzle for me, in many ways, is the relationship of Wright to the International Stylists. Now perhaps for you that seems beside the point, or very, very strange. It has a little bit to do with when you come into this world, and that is when I came to grow. Wright's interest in structure was, to a degree. a psychological one. I am fascinated by his ability to juxtapose the very heavy, which is probably most clear, almost blatant, too blatant, in Taliesin West with the very, very light tent roof. It isn’t that his structures are so clear, because they are not. It is that he bent the structure to form an appropriate space. He would make piers three times the size that they needed to be in order to make it seem really secure. Or he would make the eaveline two or three inches deep by all sorts of shenanigans, from a structural point. My God, what did to achieve that, because he thought it ought to light. I would agree with him in a moment, but the International stylists would not. Well. they did and they didn’t. It was the bad and ones who did not. They didn’t know how, didn’t know why.

[Quotes are from: “Paul Rudolph—Excerpts from a Conversation” which appeared in Perspecta 22, 1986]

CELEBRATING WRIGHT

Over his long life (and after!) Wright has been celebrated in many ways, including the creation of 3 dozen house museums and endless exhibits, books (including some novels in which he’s the featured character), and TV documentaries—and there’s a line of Wrightian scarves, lamps, posters, hardware, journals… The US Postal Service even put Wright and his work on postage stamps 4 times—probably the record for any American architect.

Two of the four stamps, devoted to Wright and his work, created by the United States Postal Service.

Two of the four stamps, devoted to Wright and his work, created by the United States Postal Service.

To celebrate his 152nd birthday, you might want to seek-out a “Wright site” to visit. Since Wright built all over the US (and internationally), chances are that there’s one to visit that’s not far from you. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust has put together a list of publicly visitable sites in the US: https://flwright.org/researchexplore/publicwrightsites

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation offers a list of “5 Ways to Celebrate Frank Lloyd Wright’s Birthday”: https://franklloydwright.org/5-ways-to-celebrate-frank-lloyd-wrights-birthday/

And for those who really want to “take him in,” this link will take you directly to the recipe for his favorite birthday cake! https://franklloydwright.org/frank-lloyd-wrights-birthday-cake-recipe/