Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Architect Who Endures

On the way to a group weekend outing (our running-walking group) at Nemacolin in Laurel Highlands in Western Pennsylvania, we headed first to see two of Frank Lloyd Wright's great houses--the renowned Fallingwater and the nearby but somewhat less famed Kentuck Knob.

Fallingwater was a fantastic idea that Wright managed to execute when in his prime; Kentuck Knob was a modification of his later-career emphasis on usonian houses: very practical, affordable designs. One of the guides did mention that Wright was not very attentive to cost in terms of charging the client but he did expand Kentuck Knob's original design to suit the owner's wishes. The changes were all good because his "low-priced" house was very tight and almost tiny--some of the hallways and bedrooms are still very narrow or small.

Fallingwater of course is the house you've seen pictures of that hangs out over a cascading stream. Except for the one big room on the first level, none of the rooms is huge but the terraces outside each are wonderful and expansive. I did observe that there are plenty of stone stairs in the narrow passages--Wright believed in compression (the hallways) opening up into expansive rooms or areas.

Much of his work is similar in all his designs--he designed his own furniture to fit into the houses and his horizontal designs are still artistically sound and attractive. It was interesting to learn that he did change his ideas--the flat roof he used in his Prairie style houses evolved to the slanted roof of Kentuck Knob, which solved the continuous problems his clients encountered with the flat roof that usually leaked.

I've seen many of his houses in Oak Park and Riverside, Illinois, from the outside, and his Unity Temple there, as well as the synagogue in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, where my aunt, uncle, and cousins resided nearby. I remember people saying that his synagogue design was too small. His Guggenheim Museum at 89th St. and Fifth Ave. in New York is a triumph. I also toured his western headquarters, Taliesin West near Scottsdale, Arizona.

He did have a huge ego, much like Ayn Rand's Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, who supposedly was modeled after him. He often had lower doorways and ceilings because he was a short man. But his designs had a wonderful style that was his own, especially the use of stone and horizontal patterns in the many Prairie-style homes he saw built. There's clearly good reason why we go out of our way to see his buildings and tour their insides as well. It is a rare chance to see what a true artist accomplished.

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