A Delicate Balance: The Legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright
A Delicate BalanceThe Legacy of Frank Lloyd WrightTwentieth Century HumanitiesProfessor Will AdamsValencia College
Frank Lloyd Wright Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was an Americanarchitect, interior designer,writer, and educator, whodesigned more than 1,000projects, which resulted inmore than 500 completedworks. Wright promoted organicarchitecture and was aleader of the Prairie Schoolmovement of architecture.
Frank Lloyd Wright“What is architecture anyway? Is it thevast collection of the various buildingswhich have been built to please thevarying taste of the various lords ofmankind? I think not. No, I know thatarchitecture is life; or at least it is life itselftaking form and therefore it is the truestrecord of life as it was lived in the worldyesterday, as it is lived today or ever willbe lived. So architecture I know to be aGreat Spirit….Architecture is that greatliving creative spirit which fromgeneration to generation, from age toage, proceeds, persists, creates, accordingto the nature of man, and hiscircumstances as they change. That isreally architecture.”
Frank Lloyd Wright Wright was born on June 8, 1867. He started his formal educationin 1885 at the University ofWisconsin School for Engineering. In 1887, he stopped his educationwithout taking a degree andmoved to Chicago, where he wasconsecutively a part of twoarchitectural firms. In 1893 he started his ownarchitectural practice. Wright designed more than1,000 projects, which resulted inmore than 500 completed works.
Frank Lloyd Wright Frank Lloyd Wright is considered themost influential American architectof the 20th century. His legacy is an architectural stylethat departed from Europeaninfluences to create a purelyAmerican form, one that includedthe idea that buildings can be inharmony with the naturalenvironment. He blended ancient architecturalelements, such as columns, with newconstruction technologies, such asreinforced concrete, to create hisbuildings.
Wright’s Home & Studio The Frank Lloyd Wright Home andStudio at 951 Chicago Avenue inOak Park, Illinois, served as Wrightsprivate residence and workplacefrom 1889 to 1909 – the first 20 yearsof his career. It was here he raised six children withhis first wife, Catherine Tobin. Innovatively, Wright used his homeas an architectural laboratory,experimenting with design conceptsthat contain the basis of hisarchitectural philosophy.
The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972and declared a National Historic Landmark four years later.Wright’s Home & Studio
Wright’s Home & Studio In 1898, Wright added astudio, described by a fellowarchitect as a workplace with"inspiration everywhere." In the Studio, Wright and hisassociates developed a newAmerican architecture: thePrairie Style, and designed 125structures, including suchfamous buildings as the RobieHouse, the Johnson WaxBuilding & the Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum.
Wright’s Philosophy Wright practiced what is knownas organic architecture, anarchitecture that evolvesnaturally out of the context,most importantly for him therelationship between the siteand the building. Wright’s creations took hisconcern with organicarchitecture down to thesmallest details. Wright believed that design andart should be an integral part ofour lives.
Between 1901 and 1911Wright worked on aseries of suburbanhouses called PrairieHouses.These houses were lowbuildings with shallow roofsand often with an openinterior plan. Many of thedesign elements found inthese structures can be seenin modern suburban houses.
He evolved a new concept ofinterior space in architecture.Rejecting the existing view ofrooms as single-function boxes,Wright created overlappingand interpenetrating roomswith shared spaces.Wright conceived virtually everydetail of both the external designand the internal fixtures,including furniture, carpets,windows, doors, tables andchairs, light fittings anddecorative elements.
Wright’s Philosophy Wright fully embracedglass in his designs andfound that it fit well intohis philosophy of organicarchitecture. Glass allowed forinteraction & viewing ofthe outdoors while stillprotecting from theelements.
Wright’s Philosophy Finally, Wright’s biggestinnovation was his use ofthe cantilever to createstructures of supremestrength & balance thatseemed to float, free ofsupport. A cantilever is a projectingstructure, such as a beam,that is supported at oneend by a fulcrum andcarries a load at the otherend or along its length.BeamFulcrum
THE ROBIE HOUSETHE JOHNSON WAX HEADQUARTERSTHE SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUMFALLINGWATERWright’s Masterworks
The Robie House5757 South Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago Illinois
The Robie House The Robie House on theUniversity of Chicago campusis considered one of the mostimportant buildings inAmerican architecture. It was created by Frank LloydWright for his client FrederickC. Robie, a forward-thinkingbusinessman. Designed in Wrights OakPark studio in 1908 andcompleted in 1910, thebuilding is both a masterpieceof the Prairie Style andrenowned as a forerunner ofmodernism in architecture.
The Robie House Typical of Wrights Prairie houses,he designed not only the house,but all of the interiors, thewindows, lighting, rugs, furnitureand textiles. As Wright wrote in 1910, “it is quiteimpossible to consider the buildingone thing and its furnishingsanother. ... They are all merestructural details of its characterand completeness.” Every element Wright designed ismeant to be thought of as part ofthe larger artistic idea of thehouse.
TheJohnsonWaxHeadquarters Another prominent building ofWrights is the Johnson WaxHeadquarters in Racine, Wisconsin. This building’s construction tookplace from 1936 - 1939. Much like the Robie House, thestructure took heavy advantage ofthe strength and versatility ofreinforced concrete. The colors that Frank Lloyd Wrightchose for the Johnson Wax buildingare cream (for the columnsand mortar) and "Cherokee red" forthe floors, bricks, and furniture.
TheJohnsonWaxHeadquarters The interior columns were aunique reverse of what istypically seen with a wide,lily-pad top that narrows asit approaches the base. In a fairly radical move thebuilding had very fewexterior windows, insteadrelying on plastic tubing tobring in and diffuse outsidelight. The overall result was astyle that had never beforebeen seen.
TheSolomonR.GuggenheimMuseum The Solomon R.Guggenheim Museumin New York Cityoccupied Wright for16 years, from 1943 untilhis death in 1959. Today it is probably hismost recognizedmasterpiece ofarchitecture.
TheSolomonR.GuggenheimMuseum The building rises as a warmbeige spiral. Its interior is similar to the insideof a seashell. Its unique central geometry wasmeant to allow visitors to easilyexperience Guggenheimscollection of nonobjectivegeometric paintings by taking anelevator to the top level andthen viewing artworks by slowlywalking down the spiral.
Unfortunately, when the museum was completed, anumber of important details of Wrights design wereignored, including his desire for the interior to bepainted off-white. Furthermore, the Museumcurrently designs exhibits to be viewed by walkingup the curved walkway rather than walking downfrom the top level.
Fallingwater What can be considered Wrightsmost famous building,Fallingwater, was constructed from1935 to 1939, in Mill Run,Pennsylvania. In this house he took advantage ofreinforced concrete to create aflowing, cantilevered design. His goal with the design was to putthe inhabitants of the house in asclose contact with nature aspossible. A stream flows right through thestructure and is accessible fromwithin the house.
Fallingwater Fallingwater is a man-madedwelling suspended above awaterfall. It offers an imaginative solutionto a perennial Americanproblem: how to enjoy a civilizedlife without intruding upon thenatural world. Especially in the United States,which had once possessed infiniteacres of unspoiled land,technological progress almostalways comes at the expense ofnature.
FallingwaterTHE AMERICAN LANDSCAPE A long tradition of Americanlandscape painting haddeveloped partly to satisfy citydwellers with restorativeglimpses of the countrysidethey’d left behind. With Fallingwater, Frank LloydWright went one step further—designing a house nestled into amountainside, with views thatmade the house appear to bepart of nature itself.Asher Durand, Kindred Spirits, 1848
FallingwaterFallingwater has beendescribed as:“The best-known privatehome for someone not ofroyal blood in the historyof the world."
Fallingwater Fallingwater wascommissioned by Edgar J.Kaufmann, founder of aprominent Pittsburghdepartment store. To escape the pressures ofbusiness, Kaufmann andhis family regularly leftthe city for their sixty-acre woodland retreat inthe Allegheny Mountains.
Fallingwater By 1935, the Kaufmanns’ countrycabin was falling apart, andWright was invited to designthem a new weekend residence. Kaufmann undoubtedlyenvisioned a house overlookingthe most outstanding feature ofthe property, a mountainstream cascading overdramatically projecting slabs ofstone. Wright believed that a countryhome should become part of thelandscape.
Fallingwater Perched over a waterfallon Bear Run in the westernPennsylvania highlands, therural retreat has also beencalled the fullest realizationof Wrights lifelong ideal ofa living place completely atone with nature. He studied the site fromevery point of view beforemaking the audaciousproposal to build the houseon the side of the cliff.
Fallingwater The waterfall itself would beinvisible from the interior butwholly integrated into theplan, with a stairway from theliving room giving directaccess and the rush of fallingwater always echoing throughthe house. Wright had never beenconstrained by convention,but even for him, the designfor Fallingwater is a stunningfeat of invention and one ofthe most original andgroundbreaking concepts inthe history of architecture.
Fallingwater A traditional country housewould have been set backfrom the road on amanicured lawn with apleasing view of the wilderregions that lay safely beyondits boundaries. Wright reversed that idea. Fallingwater, a large, lowstructure hovering like aboulder over the falls, seemsalmost as much a part ofnature as apart from it.
Fallingwater is like a piece of abstract art from the 20th century. It’s been simplified into basic, essential shapes. What is the dominant shape you see?
Every element of its design is meant to blur the distinction between thenatural and built environments, to integrate the residents into the outdoors. Reinforced-concrete, cantilevered slabs carry the house over the stream.
Deeply recessed rooms, fieldstone floors, and unusually low ceilings create theimpression of a cave—a private, sheltered space within the natural scheme of things.
From the living room, a suspended stairway leads directlydown to the stream.
On the third levelimmediately above,terraces open fromsleeping quarters,emphasizing thehorizontal nature ofthe structural forms.
Fallingwater is constructed on three levels primarily of reinforcedconcrete, native sandstone and glass. Soaring cantilevered balconies are anchored in solid rock. Walls of glass form the south exposure, and a vertical shaft ofmitered glass merges with stone and steel to overlook the stream.
If, through light and sound and structure, Fallingwater evokesthe feeling of existing in the unspoiled American wilderness,everything else about it is unmistakably modern.
Fallingwater The house is a marvel oftwentieth-centurytechnology. Although it provedimpractical for all sorts ofreasons, it was thearchitect’s (if not the client’s)dream house. As a result of this, Wrightwould not permit a singlealteration to his originaldesign.
The most striking element of the design – and the biggest engineeringchallenge – is the series of reinforced concrete terraces, cantileveredabove the rocky ledges and parallel to the natural lines of the site.
Although firmly anchored in solid rock, the terrace platforms appear to defygravity; Wright compared them to trays balanced on a waiter’s fingers.
Between the terraces are rooms with glass walls—transparentboundaries between inside and out.
Walls not made of glass are built of locally quarried stone, and the massive, centralfireplace is composed of boulders removed from the site to make way for constructionbut restored to form the hearth, the traditional heart of a home.
As the distinguished scholar and architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtablehas observed, the effect of Fallingwater “is not of nature violated, but ofnature completed—a dual enrichment”.
Left: A recessed stairwell leading to Bear Run from the living room. Top right: Cantilevered portico covering the entrance driveway. Bottom right: Living room fireplace, showing the living rock built into the hearth.