5 февр. 2012 г.

Frank Lloyd Wright (biography)

 Frank Lloyd Wright

If there is any one architect about whom the proverbial John Q. Public knows something, it is surely Frank Lloyd Wright. People who have not read a word of his writings do not hesitate to invoke his name.
Many who are not the least a word bit familiar with the principles of organic architecture crave to live in a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Simon and Garfunkel have even sung about him. It is no exaggeration to say that there is something of the legendary about Frank Lloyd Wright. Further, Frank Lloyd Wright was a legend of sorts even in his own time. In no small part, this was due to Wright 's flair for self promotion and scandal-ridden personal life, as is made clear in a recent biography of Frank Lloyd Wright, Many Masks. But Frank Lloyd Wright 's genius and originality played a much greater role in the creation of the Frank Lloyd Wright legend.

Frank Lloyd Wright 's beginnings (Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 1867) were not especially promising. His father was a talented minister, more notable for his setback than his accomplishments. The family warmth that Frank Lloyd Wright would later seek to reflect, and create in his early prairie houses simply was not present in his own home. Nor was rootedness, another desideratum of the mature Frank Lloyd Wright, a distinguishing feature of his childhood. By the time Frank Lloyd Wright was seven, he had moved a number of times. His record as a student at the University od Wisconsin, Madison, was hardly an inspring one. There is a notion that Frank Lloyd Wright was predestined to becom a great architect and that the catedral prints his mother hung over his crib provided him with early inspiration. This myth has recently been laid to rest. No one doubts, however, that the Froebel blocks that Frank Lloyd Wright 's mother gave him to play with greatly inspired the budding architect.
Nonetheless, after a stint with the architectural firm of Joseph Silsbee, well known for its work in the Queen Anne style, Frank Lloyd Wright signed up as a draftsman with the indomitable Louis Sullivan. The latter, admittedly, was more noted for his commercial than for his residentioal architecture. He was also more given to ornamentation than the young Frank Lloyd Wright. Still, Sullivan left an indelible imprint upon his assistant. Although Frank Lloyd Wright would break with sullivan after a few years and not speak with him for many more years, he always remained in the older man's debt. It was Sullivan who taught Frank Lloyd Wright that the form of a building should express its underlying function. Largely because of Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright early on developed a contempt for the beaux-arts architecture that was so popular in the late Victorian United States. It was Sullivan who compelled Frank Lloyd Wright to recognize that architecture was as much a social manivestation as it was an art. Most of all, Sullivan provided an example of daring, creativity, and independence of thought.

Sullivan, of course, was not the only influence on Frank Lloyd Wright. His Unitarian upbringing undoubtedly had some effect on both his views and his work. When Frank Lloyd Wright lived in the prosperous Chicago suburb of Oak Park, III., near the turn of the century, Frank Lloyd Wright was in close touch with a number of Unitarian ministers. One such minister, William C. Gannett, wrote a book that made a powerfull impression on Frank Lloyd Wright. Gannett's The House Beautiful (1987) made a bold plea for simplicity and gracefulness in housing design. The Unitarian influence on Frank Lloyd Wright was not limited to housing, as Oak Park's Unity Temple (1906) and the much later Unitarian Meeting House (1947) of Madison. To Frank Lloyd Wright, all architecture was "a sermon in stone". He truly believed there was the a realm of the divine within nature and that it was the architect's duty to capture it, even if that meant spitting againist wind. It is a small wonder then that Frank Lloyd Wright has been dubbed a "minister of reform".
he Orient also exerted a profound influence on Frank Lloyd Wright. Japanese art made its U.S. debut at the 1876 Centennial. Seventeen years later, Japanese architecture would have its turn when the Ho-oden Palace was put on display at the Chicago World's Fair. Frank Lloyd Wright was undoubtedly familiar with these examples, but his own attachment to things Japanese did not become apparent until his trip to Japan in1905. The young architect became quite taken with Japanese printmakers, who in his eyes caught the essence of natural materials in rare and beautiful fashion. But Frank Lloyd Wright was also enamored of Japan's architecture. The Ward Willitts home (1902) of Hihgland Park, III., clearly betrays the influence of Japan. So too, of course, did the Imperial Hotel (1922) in Tokyo, a seemingly indestructible edifice, which survived a severe earthquake during the 1920s only to be demolished years later. One commentator has gone so far as to suggest that the praire style with which Frank Lloyd Wright distinguished himself in the early years of this century could more accurately be termed the Japanese style.
That is a slight exaggeration. Frank Lloyd Wright 's prairie style was fashioned in the main as an indigenous U.S. response to what Frank Lloyd Wright perceived as an architectural wasteland. Just as his contemporary, John Dewey, rebelled againist the classical tradition in philosophy, Frank Lloyd Wright lashed out at the neoclassical hegemony in architecture. Such architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright held, was hopelessly derivative and shamefully un-American. That is to say, it was more reflective of the Renaissance than it was of the U.S. physical and cultural landscape. The architecture of the Renaissance, according to Frank Lloyd Wright, was little "but the bare bones of a life lived and dead". Even the genuine article Frank Lloyd Wright viewed suspiciously. As if to drive home the point that the Greek way was not, or rather sould not be, the American way, Frank Lloyd Wright added that Greek architecture was itself largely a sham. Admiring though Frank Lloyd Wright was of Greek sculpture and the Minoan architecture of the island of Crete, Frank Lloyd Wright believed that the more typical work of the Hellenistic period was insufficiently sensitive to the natural environment and largely indifferent to the importance of using native materials. What was more, form had no real connection with function in the architecture of the ancient Greeks. Their architectural efforts were, in a word "pagan poison".
The architecture of the late nineteenth-century United states, of course, was not purely a copy of the classical and Renaissance. But there was enough of the old wine in the new bottles to horrify Frank Lloyd Wright. (The work of McKim, Mead and White comes to mind most immediately.) Frank Lloyd Wright was especially aghast at the cornice, which in his mind symbolized all that was false and meretricious in architecture. Cornices slapped nature in the face, but served no useful function whatseover. They were dangerous to boot. Perhaps even more significantly for Frank Lloyd Wright, th cornice "had much-much too much-foreign baggage in its train, ever to be allowed to come back to America.
The note of cultural nationalism souded here is reminiscent of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the transcendentalist sage who had made a similar plea for an American literature in the age of Andrew Jackson. The similarity is probably not fortuitous because Frank Lloyd Wright read and admired Emerson. But Frank Lloyd Wright was insisting that the Unites States emancipate itself from its European fetters, Frank Lloyd Wright was also suggesting, in the wein of progressive historian Frederick Jackson Turner, that the Midwest no longer look to the Eastern seaboard for inspiration. With its closer ties to Western Europe, the East had at least some justification for its aping of the old. The Midwes had no such excuse.
Enter the praire style. It is perhaps best to delineate the architectural features of this style before enunciating the doctrine behind it. Those who make the pilgrimage to Oak Park are atruck by, among other things, the wide doorways and freely circulating rooms, the neat and lengthy exterior trim, and the amount of window space, not to mention the overhanging eaves and gently sloping roofs. Each of these served a wider purpose. The open plan reflected Frank Lloyd Wright 's long standing aversion to boxiness. ("The box is a Facist symbol", Frank Lloyd Wright started with characteristic hyperbole during an interview in the early 1950s.) The trim gave a certain unity and continuity to the Frank Lloyd Wright homes, and the expanded fenestration invited nature inside. The eaves provided shelter from the outside world, a principal concern of Frank Lloyd Wright 's during the Oak Park years. Frank Lloyd Wright 's preoccupation with privacy was even more evident in the entrance to his homes they were often exeptionally difficult to locate. It should be noted that at this stage in his career Frank Lloyd Wright was more interested in familial than in individual privacy. To many a sensitive soul in this period of rapid and often jarring social change, the nuclear conjugal family was indeed a haven in a hostile world, to use Christopher Lasch's term. Frank Lloyd Wright captured the warmth and his sensitively designed fireplaces; the hearth, in his eyes, was the perfect symbol for family togetherness. Perhaps harmony within the home was more aspiration than actuality for Frank Lloyd Wright, as several of his own mariages would be racked by scandal and intrigue.

ther aspect of Frank Lloyd Wright 's prairie style work merit attention. The gently sloping roofs for which Frank Lloyd Wright is so famous intentionally captured the contours of the prairie. "The horizontal line", Wright insisted, "is the line of domesticity". This was a significant statement, given that Frank Lloyd Wright saw himself primarily as an architect of the home. But there was more to the prairie style than horizontal lines.
A critic put it well in saying that "Wright took the fashionable American house of the early nineties, with its high-pitched roof and spindly chimneys, its numerous dormer windows and its crazy turrets and towers, and brought this wild, shambling, pseudo-romantic creation, half Pegasus and half spavined selling plater, down to earth". A Frank Lloyd Wright biographer has noted that the architect spoke frequently of "marry(ing)" his homes "to the ground". This earth-hugging quality of Frank Lloyd Wright 's early domestic architecture reflected his desire to integrate home and nature, as did his use of earth tones within the home. The itch to integrate went further, however. For not only was the house never to be treated in isolation from the external environment, but also furnishings in the household were not to be viewed apart from one another or apart from the home. Thus Frank Lloyd Wright build furniture into the house as much as feasible. Moreover, Frank Lloyd Wright insisted on using native materials in their natural form for both the exterior and interior of a home. For one, such a tack would cut costs considerably. More importantly, though, homes built with such materials would have the stamp of authenticity upon them. Besides, Frank Lloyd Wright quueried his audiences, why paint wood when its beauty lies in its natural essence, not in its bastardization? This then was the meaning of organic architecture. Needles to say, it was applicable to much more than the U.S. prairie.
There are two splendid domestic monuments to Frank Lloyd Wright 's organic architecture. The first, which harks back to the Oak Park years, is the Robie House (1907). It has been described as "one of the seven most notable houses ever built in America". With its gracefulness, its link to the natural environment, and its sense of wholeness, the Robie House is the perfect embodiement of the prairie style. The other home was designed and build in the thick of the Depression and is at or near the top of the list. This is, of course, the Edgar Kaufmann residence (1936) at Bear Run, Pa., otherwise known as Fallingwater. It would be hard to improve on a Frank Lloyd Wright biographer's enraptured hymn to this masterpiece:
In its startling departure from traditional modes of expression, (Fallingwater) revealed an aspiration for freedom from imposed limitations, and in its successful partnership with the environment, it was a guidepost to humanity's proper relationship with nature. Fallingwater was also a resolution of dichotomies. At the same time strikingly substantial and dangerously ephemeral, it is securely anchored to rock and ledge, but seems to leap into space Fallingwater is a study in opposites - motion and stability, change and permanence, power and ephemeralness - that make the humen condition a paradox of welcome adventure and anxious uncertainty.

Organic architecture implied much more than the reform of architecture. Indeed, as Frank Lloyd Wright fashioned it, it meant the reform of the entire society. Or, to put it another way, Wright hoped to reform society through architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright even went so far as to suggest that his homes would have a positive effect on the divorce rate. (He never specified how long it would take for his buildings to produce such a neneficial effect.) Certainly, Frank Lloyd Wright believed he could have a salutary impact on the workplace. His justly renowned Johnson Wax Building (1936) in Rancine, was calculated to improve the morale and productivity of the employees there. Apparently, it had precisely that effect. No less ambitious was Frank Lloyd Wright 's effort to construct a utopian city.
It has been started that Frank Lloyd Wright belonged to "the anticity party in American thought". Here, Frank Lloyd Wright had plenty of company, for hostility to the city has run like a red skein through our culture. Thomas Jefferson, whom Frank Lloyd Wright greatly admired in spite of the former's toleration of cornices, saw the city as a cancer sore upon the body politic. Twentieth-century U.S. architect were scarcely more nuanced in their view of cities. "The modern city", Frank Lloyd Wright often quipped, "is a place for banking and prostitution and very little else". Considering his rather dim view of bankers (an animus Frank Lloyd Wright shared with Henry Ford), it is a wonder that Frank Lloyd Wright brothered to draw a distinction here. In any event, Frank Lloyd Wright saw the typical U.S. (and presumeably European) city as overgrown, overcrowded, and exceendingly impersonal. For him, the modern city was, in a word, unnatural. But Frank Lloyd Wright was not any more pessimistic about cities than Karl Marx was about capitalism. Marx held that capitalism bore the seeds of its own destruction, but that human agency should accelerate the inevitable. Frank Lloyd Wright believed that the demise of the U.S. city was ineluctable and that Frank Lloyd Wright could provide a gentle assist.

Frank Lloyd Wright reserved his choicest epithets for New York City. His ire was especially aroused there by the abundance of skyscrapers, "an exaggerated superconcetration that would have shocked Babylon". Not only did skyscrapers engender congestion and pollution, but by blocking out sun and light, they turned Manhattan into a perpetual "City of Night". Worst of all, the skyscraper "has no higher ideal of unity than commercial success".
Antipathetic to the city though he was, Frank Lloyd Wright at the same time took advantage of what urban, environments had to offer. Virtually all of his books, for instance, were published in New York City. If not enamored of urban civilization, Frank Lloyd Wright nonethless was fond of urban diversions. His most memorable urban structure, the Guggenheim Museum (1957), completed just two years before death, is situated in the middle of Manhattan. About as emphatic a rejection of post-and-beam architecture as is possible, the Guggenheim imaginatively blends structural solidity with visual fluidity. It has been said of it that the viewer is constantly kept "on the road". The city that Frank Lloyd Wright despised, ironically enough, now has as major landmark one of the architect's most daring creations.
Againist the specious unity of New York City (and lesser cities) Frank Lloyd Wright counterposed his own urban vision. Frank Lloyd Wright 's Broadacre City was hardly a city in the conventional sense of the term. Yet it cannot be gainsaid that his ideal city possessed characteristics that were urban as much as they were rural and or suburban. Perhaps it is misleading to use the standard terminology in describing Broadacre. It was more akin to a "new town" than to either city or suburb. The Jeffersonian aspect of Broadacre City was apparent at the outset. Just as Jefferson had hoped that every American would have a vine and fig tree, Frank Lloyd Wright dreamed that each would be able to grow their own food. In the Broadacre scheme, citizens of different social classes would rub elbows much more than was usual in the United States, and much more, for that matter, than they would have in Frank Lloyd Wright 's earlier blueprints for planned communities. Aesthetic considerations, not surprinsingly, were paramount. Industry was an integral part of Broadacre City, but it had to be light, and clean. Utility wiring was required to be underground. Most important of Frank Lloyd Wright, though, the new city would avoid the bane of centralization.
Frank Lloyd Wright 's individualistic vision has had its detractors, of course. Broadacre paid insufficient attention to mass transit in the eyes of many city planners. But this omision should have surprised no one. Frank Lloyd Wright strongly believed, after all, that the automobile was "the advance agent of decentralization. Perhaps with the Broadacre vision in mind, it has been asserted that Frank Lloyd Wright "had great faith in the democracy of the free enterprise system". Such a statement misses the distinctive nature of Frank Lloyd Wright 's political vision.
Frank Lloyd Wright may have been some extent the inspiration behind Howard Roark, the architect-protagonist of Ayn Rand's cult classic of the 1940s, The Fountainhead. But his individualism bore little resemblance to the novelist's laissez-faire utopia. To be sure, Frank Lloyd Wright and Rand both harbored an elitist disdain for the mobocracy. Yet the architect countenanced a far greater degree of government intervention in society than Rand. As a young man, Frank Lloyd Wright listened with rapt attention to the quasi-populist utterances of William Jennings Bryan. Still later, during the Progressive era, Frank Lloyd Wright befriended Robert LaFollette, the very avater of progressive reform and the foe of monopoly everywhere. (It should be noted that all natural monopolies in Broadacre City were to be publicity, that is to say, govermentally, owned.) During the 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright backed Franklin Roosevelt's semicollectivist New Deal, although he broke with the President over the coming of the war. Frank Lloyd Wright 's sympathy for Roosevelt;s domestic aims had many sources. Perhaps the rough similarity of Roosevelt's Greenbelt towns to Broadacre City was one of them. Finally, in sharp contrast to those who worshipped at the shrine of St. Ayn, Frank Lloyd Wright distrusted the profit motive. So disgusted was Frank Lloyd Wright with it, in fact, that Frank Lloyd Wright briefly became a Stalinist fellow traveler in the late 1930s.

A profound antiauthoritarian streak remained within him, however. It surfaced in the 1940s with his stout defence of conscientious objection, and it reappeared in the following decade with his fierce denunciation of McCartyism. In more subtle ways, this facet of Frank Lloyd Wright was present in his architecture as well.
It is instructive that Frank Lloyd Wright completed only one government building within the United states. That structure, the Marin County Civic Center (1959), just north of San Francisco, California slammed the door on the dome, which Frank Lloyd Wright regarded as both pretentious and autocratic. Significantly, those wings at the building devoted to the coercive aspects of government (ie, law enforcment) were eclipsed by those portions of the center that emphasized public service. This was individualism, but with a difference. It certainly had little in common with the individualism of the Randian right.

If not the stereotypical rugged individualist, then was Frank Lloyd Wright a modernist? He is often lumped with Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe as one of the master builders of modern architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright 's work appeared alongside that of the above-mentioned architects in the International Style Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932. Both Frank Lloyd Wright and the modernists wanted, and put into place, an architecture expressive of the modern age. Both stressed the interdependence of form and function. Gropius acknowledged Frank Lloyd Wright 's influence on him, but Frank Lloyd Wright did not return the compliment. (Tom Wolfe provides an amusing sketch of Frank Lloyd Wright 's antipathy towards Gropius in From Bauhaus to Our House.)
However, several of Frank Lloyd Wright 's homes in the Los Angeles area, in particular the 1927 La Miniatura, suggest the influence of cubism, surely an integral component of architectural modernism in the 1920s. Still, we cannot dismiss Frank Lloyd Wright 's own protestations that organic architecture was not coterminous with modern architecture. In his mind, the work of the modernists was cold, sterile, and impersonal. Moreover, they turned their backs on nature, whereas Frank Lloyd Wright rushed to embrace it. As architects who were more at home in the modern city, they produced buildings with more of an urban cast than did Frank Lloyd Wright. The tatter's Usonian homes, in fact, were conceived as a self-conscious response to Le Corbusier's Citrohans. The circles and hexagons of which Frank Lloyd Wright became increasingly fond late in life might have been an attempt to escape from what Frank Lloyd Wright viewed as the iron cage of modern architecture. Finally, there was little sense of irony in Frank Lloyd Wright 's work. The same cannot be said of the modernists, and especially of their postmodernist successors. Frank Lloyd Wright admittedly paved the way for modernism in architecture, but Frank Lloyd Wright emphatically distanced himself from that movement.
Frank Lloyd Wright can be criticized on a number of counts. For one, Frank Lloyd Wright relished playing the role of the misunderstood and neglected genius even as Frank Lloyd Wright was being showered with accolades by his profession. For another, Frank Lloyd Wright failed to realize that the decline of the city, which Frank Lloyd Wright cheerfully prophesied on a number of occasions, did not necessarily augur well for U.S. civilization. It certainly did not augur well for the more impoverished inhabitants of U.S. urban areas. There were also some tensions in Frank Lloyd Wright's thinking that were never adequately resolved. Frank Lloyd Wright always claimed to be speaking for the community as a whole, and yet Frank Lloyd Wright consistently, and sometimes brazenly, flaunted his independence of it. More importantly, Frank Lloyd Wright never squarely faced the question of whether it was possible to have an organic architecture in a society that was itself hardly organic. And finally, Frank Lloyd Wright never explained just how to arrive at his prized destination, Broadacre City. Frank Lloyd Wright 's blithe indifference to questions of power and politics suggested most Americans would be left behind at the station.

Whether burying him or praising him, it must be conceded that Frank Lloyd Wright remains a paradoxical figure. A rebel in both his public and private life, Frank Lloyd Wright still designed many buildings that assumed a woman's place was in the home. Although Frank Lloyd Wright was an individualist by temperament, the learning environment at his Taliesin North and West was scarcely calculated to foster genuine individuality. For all his love of the land, Frank Lloyd Wright built only one house or a farmer during his long and productive career. Frank Lloyd Wright was a functionalist whose own furniture made him "black and blue." Frank Lloyd Wright preached a gospel of organic architecture, and yet his building designs for Baghdad in the late 1950s were remarkably inorganic. Frank Lloyd Wright was a critic of what is called "grandomania," although Frank Lloyd Wright sometimes displayed that trait himself. Frank Lloyd Wright was an arch foe of the skyscraper, but just before his death Frank Lloyd Wright began designing a mile-high structure for the state of Illinois. His Usonian homes were meant for people with relatively low incomes, but they sold most frequently to professionals with rather high incomes. Frank Lloyd Wright despised conspicuous consumption, but now that he is dead his homes have become status symbols. Last, Frank Lloyd Wright wedded an appreciation of new technology with a notion of community that bordered on the nostalgic. The description of Frank Lloyd Wright as "a nineteenth-century man using twentieth-century methods" was surely on the mark.
Frank Lloyd Frank Lloyd Wright has indubitably left his mark on this age. But it is not merely the mark of an architect. Speaking before an audience in London during the late 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright stated that "[e]very great architect is - necessarily - a great poet". Whether or not this is true of every great architect remains a matter of debate. There are few, however, who will not see in that statement an apt description, perhaps the most apt description, of Wright himself.
1. B. Gill, Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright. G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1987, passim.
2. Ibid., p. 28.
3. R. M. Crunden, Ministers of Reform: The Progressives' Achievement in American Civilization, Basic Books, Inc., New York,1982, pp. 134-138.
4. Frank Lloyd Wright, The Future of Architecture, New American Library, New York, 1953, p. 129.
5. Ibid., p. 138.
6. Ibid., p. 131.
7. Frank Lloyd Wright, The Living City, New American Library, New York, 1958, pp. 251-255.
8. Ref. 4, p. 29.
9. C. Lasch, Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged, Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1977.
10. Ref. 4,p. 191
11. L Mumford, The Brown Decades: A study of the Arts in America, 1865-1895, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1971, p. 76.
12. R.C. Twonbly, Frank Lloyd Wright: His Life and His Architecture, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1979, p. 136.
13. Ibid., p.386.
14. Ibid., p.278.
15. M. White and L. White, The Intellectual Versus the City: From Thomas Jefferson to Frank Lloyd Wright, Harvard University Press and the MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1962, pp.4, 189-199.
16. Ref. 12, p. 324.
17. Ref. 4, p. 169.
18. Ref. 4, pp. 170,180.
19. H. Muchamp, Man About Town: Frank Lloyd Wright in New York City, the MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1983, passim.
20. V. Scully, Jr., Frank Lloyd Wright, George Braziller, Inc.; New York, 1985, p.31.
21. Ref. 4, p. 192
22. C. Jencks, Modern Movements in Architecture, Penguin Books, New York, 1986, pp. 135-136.
23. P. Blake, The Master Builders> Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1976.
24. T. Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, New York, 1981, pp. 52-53.
25. Ref. 12, p. 414
26. Ref. 20, p. 11