Analysis: Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright was called “the greatest American architect” long before that opinion was affirmed by the American Institute of Architects in 1991. His trademark style integrated graceful geometry, long lines, and simplified massing in expressing his innate creative imperative and clear inner visions for architectural designs that would elevate the spirit of their natural and urban settings. Some of his most famous works were achieved late in life, at ages when ordinary folks are retired and living on pensions. Among his masterworks were: the Guggenheim Museum, the Imperial Hotel, Midway Gardens (concert hall), Fallingwater (a residence), Taliesin (his home, studio, and school), Unity Temple (a church), and the Johnson Wax Building (office building). 

As a prerequisite to hiring Wright, in the 1890s, a top Chicago architect offered to finance Wright’s schooling at a prestigious European institution (École des Beau Arts) which trained students in classical architecture. Wright, who had not completed high school, declined the offer. He preferred to take his education directly from recognized masters at work and through a hands-on approach to learning. Wright did attend one university part-time for a year in order to acquire knowledge of engineering, but he never earned any diplomas or degrees in his entire life. In 1955, at age eighty-eight, he received a more than deserved honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts. 

Wright began his lifelong design career as a draftsman, rendering the designs of others while borrowing their established conventional concepts for his own early work. His first independent commission, Winslow House, drew heavily on his employer’s design conceptualization to which he added his unique creative touch. This approach held true for many later projects—not, we think, because he lacked the ability to do innovative work even then, but because he was acknowledging certain marketplace realities. It seems clear to us that he always desired to produce the bold, uncluttered, geometric designs that began to emerge from his mind and hand by about age thirty (1897). 

As Louis Henri Sullivan’s assistant, Wright was influenced by Sullivan’s aesthetic dictum: “”It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical… that form ever follows function.” Yet we see Wright’s work as expressing a variation on the law that “form follows function.” PluribusOne™ has coined it: “form and function follow vision.” Vision borne of desire precedes everything, and that is true, to a fault, with Wright’s designs. The structural flaws present in Wright’s best works betray his insistence on achieving his personal vision, even if the office building ceiling leaks because the right construction materials had yet to be invented, and even if the ceilings in some of his homes are not high enough to accommodate people taller than he. 

For us, Wright was a kindred spirit, similarly attuned. Although our meta-natural art was not influenced by Wright, whose work was not well known to us at the time, a subtle resonance can be seen in our meta-organic Noetitek House Art™ concept when compared to his designs after the destruction of Taliesen in 1914. Wright’s favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson quote was: “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist,” the quote recently mentioned in our October, 2013 post: “A Prescription for Rebellion.” However, his mystique has become mythologized and hyperbolized, a phenomenon that he set in motion as a tireless self-promoter.  

For example, the story of his Fallingwater design breakthrough has it that after a meticulous site study he “did nothing” for months until just before his client arrived to approve a final proposal. Nothing? It is absurd to believe that he planned and made the elaborately detailed drawings of this “most important building of the 20th century” in less than three hours. We can only surmise that Wright, who had taken credit for others’ work in earlier years, cleverly kept his own most masterful creations under lock-and-key until contract signing. Total secrecy would have been the most practical and effective way to protect design ideas in those days before encrypted computer files and flash drives.

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