Sunday, December 30, 2012

Frank Lloyd Wright-a 20th Century Genius

Western Pennsylvania doesn't have many claims to fame. With the exception of Pittsburgh, it's very much a rural vast land with small towns scattered throughout. However, the one stunning claim to fame that it does have, a site that is known throughout the world, is Fallingwater, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's most impressive designs due to its natural setting. In 2010 I finally visited it and was blown away by the design, the incredible landscape that the house was literally molded into, and the touches that Wright personally added to countless details of the house, both inside and out. After my visit there I became mildly obsessed with Wright and read T.C. Boyle's novel The Women, an account of the four women (he was married four times) who loved him. From a husband/father standpoint he was pretty terrible. However, from a strictly architectural standpoint he was pure genius. Fallingwater spurred my desire to visit other Wright properties, since in the course of his life he designed over 1000 buildings. Although I've not visited nearly as many as I would like, in addition to Fallingwater I've also toured Kentuck Knob, a property that is less than 10 miles from Fallingwater and his house and studio in Oak Park, Illinois, a place where some say his architectural vision truly began.

His house and studio in Oak Park

What I loved most about Oak park was that within this small village there exists the Frank Lloyd Wright/Prairie School of Architecture Historic District, a residential neighborhood that is home to 80 properties that were designed by Wright. In an area as historic as Oak Park, it was incredibly easy to identify the Wright properties since they differed so much in look from the more traditional style homes. They were akin to the outdated style of thinking which Wright was apparently so disdainful of and the reason why he couldn't wait to leave Oak Park.

One of the many homes in Oak Park that Wright designed

This list is innumerably long but these are the top three Wright properties I would like to visit next:

-Taliesin (near Spring Green, Wisconsin)

Taliesin was the summer home of Wright, its construction began in 1911, two years after he left his first wife to be with another woman. The area Taliesin is located in held roots connected to his maternal family; the valley had been originally settled by his mother's family during the American Civil War. As a young boy, Wright's mother had sent him to the valley every summer. Taliesin is the name of a Welsh bard (Wright's ethnic background was Welsh) whose name means "shining brow" or "radiant brow." He positioned the home on the "brow" of a hill, a beloved favorite of his dating back to childhood, rather than on the peak so that Taliesin would appear as though it arose naturally from the landscape. Tragically, in 1914 Taliesin burned to the ground, a result of a fire deliberately set by a servant whom Wright had recently hired. Seven people were also murdered by the man, including the woman who Wright had left his first wife for. Wright would rebuild the house, dubbing it Taliesin II but it was subsequently destroyed by fire again. The rebuilding of Taliesin III began once more and is the structure that visitors tour today. It's been said that Wright used Taliesin as a means of cultivating his ideas of organic architecture; sand from the nearby Wisconsin River was mixed into the stucco walls to evoke the river's sandbars. Wright's connection with Taliesin remained strong for the rest of his life and he even purchased the surrounding land, making his estate boast more than 500 acres.

architecture.about.com
-The Frederick C. Robie House (Chicago, Illinois)

The Robie House, as it is commonly known, was designed and built in the early 20th century and is thought to be one of the greatest testaments of Wright's Prairie style, the first architectural style that was distinctly American. A house in this style often features a two-story height with wings and/or porches of one story, combined with its site to offer a low, horizontal appearance with the central portion of the house usually being higher than the adjacent wings. Like many other Wright properties, Wright designed the interiors and all of the fixtures in the Robie house. The Robie House is the only building Wright designed that he visited not once but twice to save (it was threatened with demolition on two separate occasions). Today it is part of the University of Chicago campus.

gowright.org
-Guggenheim Museum (New York City)
While I've been to New York City dozens of times I've never  visited the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. I suppose it makes sense since the Upper East Side of Manhattan is not a neighborhood I've been to too often. However, the museum is a building I would definitely like to visit not only for its impressive collection of art works but also for the fact that it is one of Wright's most astounding designs. In 1943 he was asked to design a permanent structure for the growing art collection of the Guggenheim Foundation. It took him 15 years, 700 sketches and six sets of working drawings to create the museum. The building is cylindrical in shape, is wider at the top than the bottom and features a unique ramp gallery that extends from just under the skylight in the ceiling in a long, ongoing spiral along the outer edges of the building until it reaches the ground level.

hamptonjitney.com



3 comments:

  1. I love this post! I never tire of reading about Frank Lloyd Wright or of looking at his beautiful designs! I even took a 2 semester course on Wright at college.

    I have visited Fallingwater and the Guggenheim. I don't know how to adequately explain it, but they both seem to have a "life force" beyond brick and mortar. They have an indescribable presence to them that most other buildings lack.

    Seeing the Guggenheim as you come out of Central Park is breathtaking! It still has a futuristic quality about it. Photos don't do it justice. It is a work of art in itself.

    Great choices for your future visits to Wright's magnificent homes! In addition to the ones you mentioned I would love to visit the Dana-Thomas House and Hollyhock House.

    I particularly love the Robie House. It's ingenious design lets the owners enjoy the view of the street without allowing prying eyes to see into the home, since it is situated so close to the sidewalk. I also love the way the front door is "hidden" from view.

    The history of Wright's life is fascinating! He was a scoundrel, but also, as you said, an architectural "genius". I have often wondered why Hollywood has never attempted to put Wright's life on film.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A course on Wright would have been so fascinating. I loved "The Women" and that was just fiction so I'm sure a course in academic would have been that much even better!

    Every time I see photos of the Guggenheim, especially of the buildings immediately around it I am awestruck on how abnormal yet spellbinding it looks.

    It was so hard to chose but as I didn't want my post to turn into a novel, I selected the three I was most familiar with although the list is innumerable on great designs of his around the world.

    Last but not least, a film on him would be great. It really is odd that Hollywood has never ventured down that path because his personal life was so incredibly Hollywoodesque!

    ReplyDelete
  3. It was a fascinating course! It not only dealt with Wright's buildings, but it went into detail about his career and his private life. It was very thorough. James Dennis who restored the Jacobs House lectured to our class about it.

    I was really young when I visited The Guggenheim, but I never forgot how I felt when I saw it for the first time! You'll love it!

    I'd love to see a movie about Wright if it is done well without unnecessary embellishments. Wright's scandalous life doesn't need it!

    ReplyDelete