For this particular project I choose Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was born in Richland Center or nearby Bear Valley Wisconsin. There is some speculation as to where exactly, but this area was vastly prairie and lacking true and absolute boundaries. He was the son of a musician, who had left his family behind when Wright was a very young child. He spent a predominant amount of his childhood with his mother, Anna, and her sisters on a farmland area near Spring Green Wisconsin. The area was recognized for, and still is, the rolling lush hills and beautiful open fields required for the farming and dairy industry that supports the majority of the states revenue.
Wright briefly attended the University of Wisconsin and had shown a tremendous aptitude for drawing. When he left Wisconsin, in 1887, he was in search of a larger and more modern environment that would allow him to practice the area of art that he had specialized in, engineering and architectural design. He took work at the architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan, where he refined his skills and then left to pursue his independent architectural life. Wrights life was interesting, including his marriages.
Due to the divorce from his first wife, with whom he had six children, he found himself losing business due to the scandalous behavior associated with that. Although he did marry twice more, I imagine that being a father of 6, married for twenty years was very important to his social standing. The first relationship was after his divorce was brief, and he then went on to marry his third wife Olgivanna. He would always refer to her as his true love, the woman with which he was able to express his artistic feelings in a restful and nurturing environment. It was nineteen twenty seven and he was ready to create. He returned back to Spring Green and started the construction of his home / studio.
There, he built a home and studio that he called Taliesin after a Welsh word meaning "shining brow", a reference to the building's situation, clinging to the brow of a hill. Tragedy struck in 1914, when a servant at Taliesin murdered Cheney, her two children, and four other people, and set the house on fire. Wright began rebuilding Taliesin soon afterward. From the Taliesin location, Wright took on apprentices in his architectural principals. Those students who came to study with Wright, also learned to farm the land at Taliesin. A little barter for education was another ingenious way for Wright to be able to work and write as his heart desired.
And as his passion dictated. In the mid nineteen thirties, Wright fell in love with the simplistic and serene lines of the desert. When he was visiting Scottsdale, he purchased some land and decided to build there. So when the winters in Wisconsin came, Wright and the students went to Arizona to continue working. Can you imagine being able to inspire the top art students in your state to live and farm your land, just to work with you? What could be a more fabulous opportunity to be able to fully understand the architecture that you are drawing by living in it and creating it as the "master piece" Wright envisioned?
During this time Wright was lecturing and writing, with a book called "The Future of Architecture" published in 1953. So where in his life to this point was he genius? I would have to say that the original building design he was doing from Taliesin was as beautiful as any painting ever done. Wright carefully avoided doing anything that would have been considered a personal style or a mass production idea.
Through all his designs, he used the principals that he termed "organic architecture". What this meant was that every building should relate harmoniously to its natural surroundings and that a building should not be a static, boxlike enclosure but a dynamic structure, with open, flowing interior spaces. Did you know one of the definitions of dynamic is ever changing? This is something to keep in mind regarding his work.
There are homes that he designed with walls that are moveable, or removable! Do you see genius yet? To achieve these organic designs, he used geometric units, or modules, that generated a grid. The first modules were squares, but Wright later used diamonds, hexagons, and other geometric shapes, upon which he laid a free-flowing floor plan. Another device Wright favored was the cantilever-a long projection (often a balcony) that was supported at only one end. The grid and the cantilever freed Wright's designs from being merely boxes with openings cut into them.
During the 1890's, Wright proved his mastery of the architectural ideas of the time. Instead of pursuing those ideas, he decided to use his uncommon view of organic architecture to develop the prairie house-a long, low structure that hugged the Midwest prairie. The flat low level ground provided him a perfect "canvas" to build on, and with its shallow roof, (basically flat, think Japanese when your visualizing this) the lines of the house were predominant. Wright loved long clean lines, and disliked basements. So beginning with the William Winslow house (1893) in River Forest, Illinois, his first solo project as an architect, his buildings were put directly on the ground. No cellars, no crawl spaces.
The first prairie house, the Ward Willits residence (1901) in Highland Park, Illinois, followed a cruciform, very much like a cross shaped pattern, plan based on a grid of 39 inch squares. (Why 39 inch squares? I have no idea, but I did look for an answer, as it was a strange number to me. I was truly hoping there was a deeper meaning to it but oh well!) There is a fireplace facing into the middle of the living room at its center. The entrance to the house forms one arm of the cross. Opposite of it, on the other arm, is the dining room.
The living room expands to one side, the kitchen and servants' quarters to the other. The cross, or many variations of it, was Wright's favorite layout and design of this period. So you are now asking why is this genius? Well Wright was able to do something he called compression of space.
Typically this was done in a vestibule or any entrance way of a structure. His thinking was that if you aesthetically compress an area, then when you move into the living quarters of a home, you are faced with an explosion of space. Wrights living spaces normally included heights of one and a half to two full stories. But as the compression effect plays into this, even the fronts of the homes had small and very intimate exterior entrances that began the illusion of space. Imagine seeing a building with a portico, small and roofed, with dark heavy doors. This feels warm and inviting.
Despite the fact that he designed with a minimalist eye, the wood and surfaces all reflected an earthy sense of well being. (I think I have found my forte in the area of understanding art! It's in the architecture for me!) As Wright was designing what we would come to now know as the "great rooms" of our houses, he was also looking at how the lighting and other fixtures of the homes would flow or follow the design he had created for them to be in. I feel that some of his most beautiful work was done in the lamps he made from stain glass. These typically looked almost Tiffany like, but had a more subdued flavor of colors.
See, I also feel that in his designs he sought out the practicality of the piece, not just the usefulness or the beauty of it. In 1908 Wright designed a smaller prairie house, in River Forest, Illinois, for Isabel Roberts, his office bookkeeper and the daughter of an earlier client. Modest in price, it was America's first split-level house, with bedrooms a half story up from the living room and the kitchen a half story down. The most famous and most well regarded home of Wright's prairie architecture is the Frederick C. Robie house on Chicago's South Side. This long, three-story structure stands no taller than the surrounding two-story houses. A roof cantilever extends 21 feet from the western wall of the house over a western facing patio area.
When you think about these cantilevers, think about almost a plank like walk that reaches out from the structure. While I was looking at some of these, I couldn't help but wonder if the whimsy of a pirate ship was on his mind? On the south side of the home, 14 glass doors open onto a main-floor balcony, which provided covering and a shade like effect for the 10 windows and 4 doors on the ground floor below it. A shallow roof overhang allows the sunlight to enter through the first floor doors in winter but keeps the suns blazing rays out in the hot summer months. At mid day in the summer months, sunlight just reaches the foot of the glass doors, keeping the remaining portions of the house in shade! If you have ever lived in the Mid West, you can appreciate the value of filtered light.
Typically the summers here required people to seek areas that offered relief to the heat and humidity. What Wright was trying to do, was incorporate elements that would allow air and movement from the south to the west to create a naturally cooling effect. Please also consider that air conditioning was not the norm at this time. Wright also traveled extensively to Tokyo and partook on the building and design of the famous Imperial Hotel. It was here that Wright truly refined his styles including concrete blocking that he called textile block system. He also designed homes he called Uso nian style, (United States of North America with an i for a more appeasing sound), which used the l shape design we all have probably lived in at some point in our lives.
The design has a flow that puts the "noise" of the house on one leg, and the bedrooms off to the quiet individual leg. Think about the floor plans you have lived in? How many can you relate to the styles that were influenced by Wright? Another generally unique aspect of this particular design was that it is the first representing modest housing costs. This design was duplicated in over fifty houses that he built, and at times the owners themselves would pour the concrete blocks to cut the cost of building significantly. This was known as democratic house designing as it could reach the masses, not just the wealthy.
Wright was a very sought after designer who was asked to design the Guggenheim. There was a lot of controversy regarding his designs due to the fact that some of the suspensions like cantilevers were so extended, they seemed to defy gravity. Modern contemporary architects were not sure if these structures would maintain or crumble with time. At the Guggenheim, he used a series of ramps that people claimed were not able to properly show art works. I have not been there, but I have always heard that it is beautiful. Another of one of his most famous works of the later period of his life was a behemoth of a structure that is in southwest Pennsylvania called Falling water.
There he was able to exemplify the beauty of the environment by building a glass and cantilevered structure that seems to melt into the rocks and bluff behind it. It is an amazing piece that received critical acclaim as a design, but again the cantilever issue was a fault according to some designers. Wright was also a philosophical man who had a deep and gentle nature about him. He has created some of the most simplistic forms and made them function, never for the sake of pure profit, but with the motivation of an impassioned artist creating for joy. There are a few quotes of his that I feel helps to understand his emotions for the work he loved. "The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes".
He was 92 when he died. As well as, "I believe in God, only I spell it Nature". I believe that these were indicative of why he felt that the aesthetic over all appeal of his work needed to include the nature he built on. When looking at his homes, it is not unusual to see a tree growing through the middle of a room! It was not planted by Wright, but merely accommodated for by the structure around it.
He embraced nature by following the free flow format he envisioned so well, not merely designing as common or current structures have been done. Would you call him genius? Yes, I would. Understanding now how he changed the way we use the definition of space, living and otherwise, is amazingly simplistic and revolutionary in our time. I can't think of one house that I have lived in that has not had an element of Wrights incorporated. Long lines of windows, laid out singularly straight, yet complex by the panes being four squared instead of one.
There are small details I can see in this area that were taken directly from the Prairie School of Architecture, Wrights beloved creative teaching environment. In closing I would like to ask that you look around your area, and see if you notice any of the themes that are typically now associated with Wrights style. Target has a collection of house design products by a gentleman named Michael Graves. I was in that store the other day, and found myself wondering if this man had some genius to his work. The lines and Japanese layered hanging effect of this particular lamp made me start thinking about the similarities to the style of Wrights! I couldn't believe that I had made this association, and also that it invoked feelings of awe in me.
After all it was just a lamp at Target, but I could see where this designer was heading, and why it was low, a darkly painted iron base with a simple and straight flat topped shade made of an oyster paper. Thanks Mr. Wright for inspiring even after you are gone.