Jenn Thornton 2017-06-08 21:08:35
Iconic buildings across the country stand as a testament to the architectural talents of Frank Lloyd Wright, who would have turned 150 this year. Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright was an American original, if not a mirror of America itself—determined, individualistic and complicated. In his seven-decade career, Wright proved himself both poet and pragmatist, a person of prodigious gifts and radical ideas whose architecture constituted a powerful declaration of his uncompromising vision for American design. Born in 1867, Wright was raised in rural Wisconsin, where he was immersed in “Welsh culture, literature, history and religion, all of which shaped [his] liberal world view,” says David Bagnall, curator and director of interpretation for the Frank Lloyd Trust in Chicago. When Wright set out on his own, first to Madison, Wisconsin, then to Chicago in 1887, he carried within him the deep love and sympathy for the land that he developed in his youth. After working under major architect of the era Louis Sullivan, Wright broke with his mentor under breach of contract and established a successful practice in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, becoming standard-bearer of the Prairie School—a low, horizontal architectural style reflecting the flat, spacious landscape of the American Midwest. In this vernacular, Wright designed, among other landmark works, the Frederick C. Robie House and Unity Temple, both of which celebrate the essential tenet of what he called organic architecture: a harmony between structure and site. This philosophy also “centered on the belief that beautiful design was critical to a vibrant culture and stressed the importance of art and design to one’s quality of life,” Bagnall says, adding that in approaching architecture inclusively, “Wright’s work exhibits an extraordinary unity of design.” Things were not always so harmonious in Wright’s personal life, however. Shunned in Chicago after taking up with Martha “Mamah” Borthwick, the wife of a client, Wright exiled himself to Europe before resettling on family land in Spring Green, Wisconsin, where he built his home, Taliesin. There, Borthwick, her children and four others were killed by a household servant, the victims of a horrific attack and fire. Inconsolable, Wright rebuilt Taliesin in Borthwick’s honor and threw himself into his work. Though he secured a few important commissions, including the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, Wright spent years wandering a creative and financial wilderness. Then came Fallingwater, the Pennsylvania masterpiece Wright designed in 1935 for a prominent client in desire of a weekend home. In siting the structure above a stream, the property’s defining feature, Wright showed the depth of his ingenuity and unorthodoxy. So completely extraordinary, Fallingwater led to Wright being featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1938, which helped kickstart one of the most prolific periods in his career, during which he finished his series of middle-class Usonian homes and produced designs for the SC Johnson Administration Building in Racine, Wisconsin, and the cylindrical Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. In 1959, the seemingly inexhaustible Wright died, having designed more than 500 buildings. Not all of them have survived, but what Wright built for himself—a legacy as a true American visionary—endures. On Display MOMA pays tribute to the famous architect in this must-see exhibit. “FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT AT 150: UNPACKING THE ARCHIVE” Through Oct. 1; The Museum of Modern Art “The evolution of the practice and theory of architecture in 20thcentury America was so stamped by Frank Lloyd Wright that modernism in this country cannot be understood without engaging with his work,” says Barry Bergdoll, chief curator for the Department of Architecture and Design at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Fostering this engagement is the museum’s major exhibition, “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive.” Arrayed as an anthology, the exhibit examines Wright’s exploration of new geometries, materials and spatial types. Approximately 450 works, from architectural drawings and models to letters, textiles and more open up a critical examination of a foremost American thinker. (moma.org)
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