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 They were akin to the outdated style of thinking which Wright was apparently so disdainful of and the reason why he couldn’t wait to leave Oak Park.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.
-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.
-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.