By Brian McIntyre, in Dublin. October 12th, 2015.
Frank Lloyd Wright was an arrogant sonofabitch – one of his most endearing qualities. I tire of false modesty, humble bragging and contrived understatement. Our culture does not seem to allow us hold a strong opinion or believe ourselves worthy of praise. It forces us to defer, to demur, to excuse and dilute. Having achieved something great, we must diligently set out to explain how we had almost nothing at all to do with it.
Frank Lloyd Wright, the great American architect who reshaped the meaning of buildings and their relationship to Nature (the capital N was all-important), knew what he knew. He was uninterested in the opinions of most people, believing that the ‘mobocracy’ did not know how to discern good architecture from bad. Yet, for all of its lack of taste, Wright believed the mob deserved to live in spaces fully united with their environment, rather than rooms inspired by trigonometry and efficiency.
FLW held that one should never build a house on top of a hill. The views might indeed be wondrous, but you create a disproportionate problem in return: you lose the hill.
Here is a sonofabitch from whom I learn.
He approached architecture – the highest art form, he said – with a deeply held philosophy that it be inspired by and work with Nature in a sort of spiritual union. He held that space should flow as a reflection of our fluid, analogue lives, and that all architecture (not just public spaces) should bow to this elemental experience. He rejected industrialisation, and its 20th century suburban progeny of picket-fenced monotony, as a rush to the lowest common denominator: the architectural equivalent to tinned spam, fizzy cola and white bread – accessible nutrition which would slowly reveal a dark side.
Frank Lloyd Wright did not despise convention. But he did question its veracity. His approach, constantly inquisitive and challenging, led him to an alternate world-view. His buildings were crafted; their interiors were open; the light entered with meaning and narrative; the ceilings were often low creating a counter-intuitive sense of expanse; and always, always the building communed with its counterpoint, Nature.
Mister Wright (only his three wives would call him Frank) lived to the age of 91, finding his most productive years occurring after 70. His great works of art – the mob may insist on calling them ‘buildings’, both private dwellings and public spaces – pepper the American landscape, acting as sentinels of integrated beauty through which man can live and know his connection to Nature.
True, many of those damned buildings leaked. Sure, some feel that the architect himself is too present within his crafted walls, forcing us to live the way he would have us live. Granted, the man was a charming charlatan who existed beyond his means, took little interest in his children and screwed his first employer once he got the necessary leg-up, in order to establish his own business.
And yet, what I wouldn’t give to work at his side, to dine at his table, or have him condescend to draft my home.