Wright’s Curious Public Image

fllw_archives_18This photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright is very unusual. Wright did not smoke. He didn’t even drink until his late life.

There is a wonderful apocryphal story about Wright’s dislike for smoking.

Ayn Rand was a great admirer of his and sent a copy of The Fountainhead  to him for his enjoyment. He never actually read it and instead displaced the responsibility to one of his students. Eventually, a meeting was arranged.

When Rand met Wright at Taliesin East, she was wearing a new dress she had bought just for the occasion. She also smoked to excess and this bothered Wright so much that he tore the cigarette from her mouth and threw into a nearby hearth, where it was consumed by fire.

I imagine Rand was titillated by the experienced but I doubt Wright felt the same way. When she likened his architecture to Le Corbusier, she instantaneously lost his approval. (THE AFFRONT!!!)

Until that moment, Wright had tolerated smoking at Taliesin East, but decided to ban it from thence onward.

Like Edison, Wright was a shameless self-promoter and carefully cultivated the persona he wanted the public to see and, ultimately, admire, Smoking simply was a part of that image and Wright apparently did not mind betraying his personal beliefs for success.

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In Honor of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 148th Birthday

Since today is Frank Lloyd Wright’s 148th birthday, I saw fit to express some gratuitous praise for the well know architect and to draw attention to a few of his lesser known, but highly accomplished, designs.

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As many of my friends will tell you, I am a great devotee of anything architectural and, of the many architects I admire, Frank Lloyd Wright is one of my favorites. Wright is one of those personalities one either loves or hates and Wright made certain people had ample reasons to feel either way about him. He was notoriously difficult to work with and meticulous about his designs–to the point that he would specify precisely how furniture could and, more importantly, should be arranged in the homes he designed. On client even had the audacity to move her sofa and when she invited Wright over for dinner the first thing he did was to put it back where he had intended to be. One cannot help but wonder if this was a major motivation for him to design built-in furnishings.

Despite these shortcomings, Wright rarely failed to charm his clients. Neither debt nor bank nor bad review could deter him from his work and over his long career he designed around one-thousand structure and built about half of them. A number of which have been nominated for inclusion as a world heritage site. If successful, this could place his work among the rank of the pyramids at Giza, the Taj Mahal, the Tower of London, and the Grand Canyon. Considering the substantial amount of praise his works have received over the last century, it’s not surprising that his buildings would be nominated.

It’s hard for me not to enjoy his most well-known works—such as Fallingwater, the Robie House, or the Guggenheim museum—but there are a number of lesser known Wright structure that have become personal favorite of mine and should, in my humble estimation, be more widely appreciated.

The Marin County Civic Center

In the summer of 2013, my husband and I took a trip to San Francisco. While we were there we visited two Wright structures, the V. C. Morris gift shop and the Marin County civic center, but while both were marvelously beautiful, the civic center impressed me most of all.

When I first saw photographs f the Marin County civic center, was not particularly intrigued by it but when I saw it in person my impression utterly changed. The whole of the structure appears like a futuristic monstrosity. Though it is large, it seems rather light and delicate. The building fits nicely into it surroundings. It bright blue roof reflects the clear skies above, the golden motifs and gates hearken back to the California gold rush, and the many varying arches playfully imminent the hills that surround and carrying the building.

Richard Carter, who wrote a large commentary on Wright works, doesn’t care much for the Marin County civic center but, while he criticized it for its lack of restraint, I found it very picturesque and true to Wright’s romantic sensibilities. Nothing about the building impressed me as being dull but thoroughly imaginative.

When Wright first discussed preliminary plans for the construction site of the civic center, his clients offered to have the hills level and site render flat. Wright refused and opted instead to suspend the building across them. The effect is bot impressive and fun. The building features several broad arches that span the distance between the various hills upon which the building sits. The roof of these arches are illuminated by semi-spherical lamps of various sizes and appears like dew drops. In the center, one can see up into the central corridors through the open balconies and to the skylight above.

Like many of Wright’s designs, the civic center also has a meticulously planned motif. In this case it’s circles and one can see how thoroughly this form is integrated into the layout and decoration of the building. Even the cement walkways leading up to the building are curved, like sergeant of a circle, and terminated in circular landings fitted with curved benches. The court rooms are curriculum and the overhead lamp mirror the lamp under the aches in both shape and variation of size.

When I had left for San Francisco, I had not particular feelings about the Marin County civic center but I left a devote admirer. It is, without a doubt, one of my favorite of Wright designs.

The Yodokō Guest House

Wright’s Imperial hotel is well-known, not only for it breathtaking appearance but because it was one of the few building in Tokyo that survived the 1923 earthquake. Unfortunately, the building was dismantled in the 1970’s and partially removed to a historical park. Only the main atrium and reflecting pond exist but I am grateful that we still have some portion of the building still in existence because its design is particularly unique among his works. Although it bears some similarities to the Hollyhock house and his various textile block houses, many of it decorative motifs are unique to his works in Japan.

Currently, there are only two other surviving Wright structure in Japan, the Yodokō guest house and the Jiyu Gakuen girls school. The guest house resembles the Imperial hotel in many ways but is unique in that much of the interior is strictly inspired by traditional Japanese interior design, making it one of the rare cases where Wright put aside his peculiar aesthetics for another. Despite this, however, Wright still injects the interior with his characteristically dramatic fireplaces, windows, and peculiar furniture. This combination of new and old, traditional and untraditional design, makes this building not only of particular interest among his many works but uniquely beautiful because of it. Wright integrates the past and present with care and imagination, rendering the building as a whole both inviting and visually stimulating.

Someday, I hope to visit both the guest house and the remains of the Tokyo hotel but for now I will have to enjoy through the many pictures people have generously shared online.

The Pottery House

Apart from the strangely barren-looking Community Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri, the Pottery house is one of the few Wright buildings I was surprised to find he was responsible for. Under closer inspection, it bears all the characteristics qualities of Wright’s meticulous and frequently demanding aesthetic. It is the only Wright structure to utilize adobe and, considering that this house is situated in Sante Fe, New Mexico, it’s an appropriate choice for the extreme annual variations in climatic temperatures.

What I find so striking about this house is it surprisingly simply but complex design. The living spaces flow easily and intuitively but if you look at the house from above or from a floor plan a distant shape appears, revealing Wright’s typical flare for integrating his designs with a characteristic motif or shape.

This video nicely showcases its many charming features and attests to effective design, much due to it thick and formidable adobe walls.

Considering how many buildings he designed throughout his lifetime, it’s understandable why some of his structure are much less known then others. Some buildings, on the other hand, I can easily understand. *Coughs* Such as the Community Christian Church or the home he designed for Ayn Rand. *Shudders*

Stripping: A Much Misunderstood Thing

It may sound rather taboo to say this but I have recently taken up stripping.

Get it? Stripping ... linoleum.

Get it? Stripping … linoleum.

Actually, I find it rather apPEALing, if you know what I mean.

Hopefully, the reader will excuse my dreadful punning and find some consolation in the fact that I use up most of my puns on my husband as a test audience.

Ever since my parents bought their current house in 2008, we been busy gradually fixing this and that. Stripping the linoleum off my bedroom floor is one of the ways I’m trying to help my parents out with the repairs. Unfortunately, in the last four years, college has intervened and made it more difficult for me to complete the task–but finally, at long last, I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel! Most of that ugly stuff is gone and the original wood floors are looking pretty good. The only other problem is getting the dried glue residue off. So far the best method is sanding but that can be very exhausting. Totally worth it though!

In the last three years we’ve managed to, as Quentin Crisp might have said, riddle our home with standards of living. When our water heating broke, sending hot water flooding into my closet and damaging some of the hardwood flooring, we had to go four or six months without hot water. The doom that came to our water heater had some something awful to the hot water pipes as well! Fortunately, we live in southern California and this catastrophe occurred during the spring and summer. We had the plumbing totally renovated the following fall and just in time before cold showers would have been just unbearable

We  have also had a few broken window replaced, the wiring complete redone, and central heating and cooling installed. Although the house once had radiators, they were gone by the time we arrived, and no other systems were every incorporated. I have spent several unbearable summers in this house because of it. Ironically, I’m currently in the process of gradually moving in with my in-laws (I much prefer the word invasion), so I won’t have as many opportunities to enjoy the cool air. My in-laws have central heating and cooling but it use is a rather controversial subject between my mother- and father-in-law. Well, unless my young niece is present and then it goes on.

C’est la vie, I suppose!