Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Stubborn Visionary

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright
On my flight from Vancouver to New York, I watched the last part of a Ken Burns documentary on Frank Lloyd Wright. It focused on his later years and death in 1959 so I missed the drama about his personal life that happened earlier.
He was married three times and had seven children, the second and third wives were mistresses before becoming the next Mrs Wright. According to the documentary it was his third wife, Olga Ivanovna who passionately believed in Wright and his philosphy and completely supported him in his work.
She encouraged him to set up his home Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin where they formed the Fellowship, where young architects not only helped Wright as draftsmen in designing Taliesin, but also literally built it with their bare hands. They also farmed and harvested the fields, living a communal life. The documentary also says Olga seemed to have a hand in deciding how people were coupled up romantically.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
In any event, during this time Wright was at odds with what other emerging architects like Philip Johnson were doing -- while they were focused on city centres and building skyscrapers with concrete and steel, Wright was more concerned about buildings integrating with nature, which he coined as "organic architecture".
Critics dismissed Wright as a has-been until they saw his outstanding project Fallingwater for the Kaufmann family in Mill Run Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh from 1934-37. As one former apprentice recalls the project, Wright and his staff visited the site many times, but he had not put any thoughts of the house design on paper in the weeks leading up to the meeting with his client.
However when Kaufmann called to say they were driving to the office, which would take a few hours, Wright immediately went to work, sketching everything out quickly and definitively, from the overview look of the house to the various angles and spacing, as if he had worked on the drawings for days.
The Guggenheim stands out with its curvaceous design
The client loved the project and an iconic house was born. Who would have thought of putting the house right over the waterfall? But when you look at the pictures it seems only natural to have it there, as the client's family enjoyed splashing around in Bear Run stream. Being in the home at night and able to hear the water running must be one of the most peaceful sounds in the world.
That commission put Wright back on the map and his next project was the S.C Johnson Administration Building which was also known as the Johnson Wax building (1936). It was a factory that had no windows and yet inside it was very airy with giant pillars inside that held the high ceilings, creating an almost religious feel to the place.
He also designed a Unitarian church whose exterior shape was inspired by two hands put together in prayer and a Greek Orthodox church that has a reflective pool next to it.
Wright's last project that consumed 16 years was the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The architect was determined to create a building that was a counterpoint to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to design something completely modern and contrasted with the straight lines along Fifth Avenue.
The interior of the Guggenheim is like a seashell
He came up with a seashell-like design, a circular ramp on which viewers can look at pieces of art. Critics and artists complained the works would not be hung straight and Wright had to battle City Hall to get the building approved and persuade the client to keep the project going as it was way over budget.
Towards the end Wright supervised construction from his home in Arizona and died six months before the Guggenheim was completed. Seeing the building after watching the documentary gives a greater appreciation to the maverick who defied his critics and was true to himself to the very end.

1 comment:

  1. stubbornness and perseverance or firm belief in oneself own conscience are difficult to differentiate.