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Wright's wrongs

2005-01-12 19:12:19.857259+00 by Dan Lyke 9 comments

I have ragged on Frank Lloyd Wright before here, but oddly the topic of bad architecture seems to be in the zeitgeist; within the past few weeks I was using him as an example of why I despise most of the practice of architecture, and now Columbine talks about some of his failings as an architect and points to 2blowhards: Frank Lloyd Wright Isn't God, which coins the Best. Phrase. Ever. to describe the phase in which he designed the Marin County Civic Center[Wiki]: "...his Ming-the-Merciless period."

[ related topics: Bay Area History Architecture Architecture - Frank Lloyd Wright ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2005-01-12 21:40:37.691608+00 by: petronius [edit history]

I have a agree with you on old Frankie Wright.My folks live near Oak Park IL, where Wright lived and worked, and he provides a nice cottage industry for the town. Of course, back when he lived there they were probably happy to be shut of him. I've done the local tour, and been to both Taliesins and a few other sites. Some things are really cool. The corner windows at Fallingwater are the most delightful architectural surprise I've ever seen. But the article does point out the other stuff, like the famously low ceilings. the leaky roofs, and the anti-orthopedic furniture. His Prarie Style never really evolved much. I guess living in a Wright house is like owning a great work of art: wonderful, but the responsibilities are enormous. A few years ago a guy in Oak Park who had bought a Wright many, many years ago found out that nobody would even paint the place for under $20k, even if he got permission from the landmark committee.

Another point is the Wright cult. If you visit Taliesin they talk like acolytes of great guru, with hushed reverence. In the meantime all his famous textiles and rugs were fraying and unraveling. Very strange.

Now, if you want to see the same sort of thing, go north of Phoenix AZ and visit Arcosanti, the living experiment of late 1960's culture hero and crank architect Paolo Soleri. Most stories are like this one, reverent and worshipful. However, a more realistic description is found here (scroll down). I've been there, and it's more of a hippie encampment than a village of the future. I saw it 20 years ago, and it was becoming a visionary slum then.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-01-13 04:39:17.551953+00 by: meuon

I live in a very 'architectural' contemporary designed house. In fact, the architect lives 2 houses down the street. I love the look and feel, from an aesthetic point of view, but it is missing MANY things from a comfort and function level. Especially now that Nancy has moved in. The worst: Bathroom. No cabinets or shelves and poor lighting. Pocket doors work great for some things, not bathroom and shower doors.. Architects don't use toothbrushes and toothpaste, or women who have different types of soap and shampoo's.. or teenage kids.. or..

In fact, I'm not sure where architects live. Except for the guy down the street, and that house has been for sale since I bought mine a year ago.. too 'high style' for the local market.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-01-13 15:30:00.392474+00 by: Nancy

#Comment Re: made: 2005-01-13 15:30:53.480289+00 by: Nancy

And I have the injuries to show for it. I sliced my finger on a razor this morning digging in a drawer for my toothbrush!! OWIE :-(

#Comment Re: Soleri and Arcosanti made: 2005-01-13 16:03:03.040335+00 by: other_todd

Very interesting comment that. I used to be very interested in Soleri, because part of my brain says that arcologies are what will essentially happen in the future whether we want them or not. Soleri, at one point, seemed to be the only person saying, "They're coming regardless so we might as well design them the way we want them NOW, rather than have them happen by circumstance and in a way everyone hates."

I had forgotten he was a Wright student. Anyway, I think that Soleri IS giving thought to usability, where I'm not sure Wright ever did. Soleri's problem, as far as I can tell, is 1) money and 2) if you try to build a NEW arcology from scratch then you have to give people a very powerful inducement to move to it and commit to that way of life, which he has not done.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-01-13 19:48:43.324265+00 by: Dan Lyke

Part of my loss of idealism is that I've come to believe that all attempts to improve a system nead to be applicable as evolutionary changes, not just revolutionary ones. Yes, sometimes you have to go out into the desert and start building from scratch, but if, fairly quickly, you don't start integrating those ideas back into the culture in general, and building a system which exists within the larger culture, then that revolutionary system is quickly going to either fall below critical mass, or is going to make the same mistakes and fall into the same patterns that the general culture did.

Every account I've read of Arcosanti makes it sound like they're repeating a lot of the same mistakes of every commune since at least 1600, and that the hero worship is getting in the way of evolving any of Paolo Soleri[Wiki]'s ideas to serve individually tailored needs.

For an architect I think is pretty good who borrowed some of Frank Lloyd Wright[Wiki]'s ideas, try Joseph Eichler[Wiki]. He's much maligned for subdivisions which have, as their primary face to the street, garage doors and blank walls, but that model of putting the front yard within a courtyard makes what has devolved to be a presentation space into usable family and friend gathering areas, and rather than being isolated, the people I know who live in those neighborhoods tend to know all of their neighbors because the buildings provide really nice socializing spaces.

I have issues with those who treat his work as canon, the homeowner's associations which do the "Eichler didn't put his air conditioners on the roof, so you shouldn't be able to" thing, but as a basic cheap structure that replicated nicely and that evolved into a usable part of a community, his houses seem to have worked rather nicely.

#Comment Actually ... made: 2005-01-13 21:37:04.610614+00 by: other_todd

I take back some of that. I did a lot of web poking on Soleri today and I'm now prepared to revoke the comment that he cares about usability. Oddly enough. In fact that may be part of Arcosanti's problem. There's a lot more here but it is growing into a very LONG essay (damn my brain!) which I'm sure you'll see after it gelatinizes, probably over the weekend.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-01-13 22:00:13.937143+00 by: petronius

When we visited Arcosanti in the 1980's my wife noticed the plethora of steps in the place, which reminded me of a concrete version of an Italian hill village. She asked the guide about people in wheelchairs, and the guide said that in a place without cars there would be fewer people who needed them, which struck me as a very unsatisfactory answer. Maybe if Soleri had more cash he could fix the problem, I dunno. What hit me about the place is that after seeing his books about giant arcologies and huge, graceful space habitats, its something of a letdown to find this slightly crumbled hodgepodge. His visions certainly outstrip his budget.

By the way, Arcosanti was used as a movie set for Nightfall, a perfectly dreadful SF film from 1988, based (God, how loosely!) on the Asimov story and starring the inimitable David Birney. No matter how they cut, the director can't hide the fact that his civilization covers only about 3 acres.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-01-14 14:52:35.293413+00 by: meuon

I finally spent some time poking at Arcosanti today.. Neat place. I am reminded of visits to places of fantastic architecture and design. But by individuals who are expressing their own inner vision, And built them 'Just Because'. Not as some answer to societies problems.

There are some truths in Soleri, his basic 'urban implosion' thought is good. but it looks like another "visionary" who is running on inertia and our hopes that there is a better way out there, somewhere.