Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Wright This Way

Drove to Chicago, all things know, all things know.

But wait. Let’s back up. We’ll start in Los Angeles at Barnsdall Park where the recently renovated Hollyhock House pulled an all-nighter free-for-all; literally, it was open all night and free to get in.  I couldn't resist that plus there’s been a lot of anticipation because the place has been closed for years. It’s Frank Lloyd Wright in his Mayan revival, although, I think that’s a bit superficial. I mean, definitely, you can see the Mayan Temple on the outside but I think the genius of Wright is on the inside.  The interior volumes are thrilling. Maybe that’s just me but I find really thoughtful architecture thrilling. That quality does not translate into photos, I don’t think, but anyway, here you are:

You're welcome!
This is the west facade and those are the living room windows.
This court yard is 180° from the above. 
Inside, at last. The living room with a view of the city on one side and courtyard on the other.

Night view of the courtyard and the eponymous hollyhocks.

Closer and closest.

Dining room and kitchen beyond.

Little did I know, because it wasn't planned at the time, but a short while after seeing Hollyhock House I would see where it all began for Wright in Oak Park, IL.  And just like Sufjan Stevens I really did drive to Chicago (from South Bend, Indiana –a story for another post).  I love to visit Chicago but always in the past have stayed close to The Loop, which is all I knew until now. Of course I knew about Oak Park but thought, oh that’s so far away. It’s really not, although when Wright first moved there all his windows facing north looked to open prairie. That’s hard to picture today. What you can see in his home and his studio is a relentlessly creative mind germinating one idea after another and it continues around the corner and down the street. 

A shot only possible in the winter, though winter is long in Oak Park.

Front and side of FLW Oak Park. The side view highlights the evolution of his thinking and  expanded practice.

Here's the master bedroom and flanking murals. No doubt the Native Am. figures were inspired by the prairie view.

The playroom from both sides. Wouldn't you love to?
Detail of the playroom mural.
I know the broad strokes of Wright’s life but seeing so much of his work all at once really whetted my appetite for more. Actually my interest goes back to my teenage years since I considered the possibility of enrolling at Taliesin. I wish I still had the application materials. My recollection is that the packet was beautifully designed and printed on fine stock. I was a little shocked and intrigued by some of the requirements. There were specific instructions about what to bring to wear, how to dress for dinner, and there was the requirement that each student design and build his own habitation. Actually, I saw some of those little “forts” scattered about the property at Taliesin West in Scottsdale when I visited years ago. 

The studio with it's low overhead drawing boards and soaring central atrium.

The walking tour just around the corner.

Long story short I became a painter rather than an architect but as readers of this blog know I have often combined my painting with architecture. It was gratifying to hear from the tour guide at the Wright home that FLW really preferred art be a part of the architecture rather than a framed pictures hung on the wall. I think architects who feel that way may be as rare as Wright. I don’t understand that but I think that’s pretty true. What do you think?


  1. I find the necessity of building one's own room intriguing on several levels. Certainly Wright or his teaching successors would quickly have seen what they had to work with, And your posting has made me wonder what I would have built as a young man, and what I would build today. Hhmmm. While I am a fan of FLW's architecture, I would have consigned his furniture to storage. It seems to me that he saw the furniture as an extension of his architecture, without regard to actual comfort.

    There was a great Wright documentary on PBS about 20 years ago. Possibly the most amazing fact from it was that in the early years of the 20th century, Wright was viewed as a 19th century architect, and all washed up.

  2. Hi Mark,

    A room? Actually a free standing structure that you had to spend a certain amount of time in. A month? Something like that. Sleep in it anyway.

    Yes, I decided not to get into the furniture which is sculptural but by and large notoriously un-ergonomic.Still given more years he might have evolved on that too since his architecture went through such dramatic changes.

    Has it been 20 years? Yes, he was practically washed-up. The creation of a school saved him financially and revived his career.

    Btw Alan Weintraub who photographed my place in S.F. years ago has become perhaps the preeminent photographer of Wrights work with several titles to his credit. Before the trip to Chicago I contacted him and he said his favorite work is the George Sturges House which is owned by Jack Larson (known for playing Jimmy Olsen in Superman TV series).

    1. I believe I know Alan Weintraub's photographs of your S.F. place. If they are the same ones that you posted and which also appeared in magazine format, I saved the pdf. They made me delve further and further into your blog and I spent a full evening happily absorbed in Waterman World.

  3. what a great post! I love the murals and the use of gold in them, and I love that the art is designed into the architecture. (I also studied to be an architect but wound up in the site-specific art thing.)

    Mark-- I recall that documentary too and thinking, "oh they always say something is 19th century if it happened before WWI." I may have audibly snorted as well.

    1. Thanks Lynne! Yeah I knew about the stain glass, bas-relief, and other decorative proclivities of Wright but was not aware of his inclusion of murals. It makes the case for this blog, that murals belong with architecture.


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