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*