I recently hunted down and purchased an often read and well worn copy of the January 1938 Architectural Forum. It is an important issue in the Frank Lloyd Wright published canon and is peppered with fantastic historical photographs, Walt Whitman quotations and Wright soliloquies on life, culture and of course...architecture. I found the section highlighting the first Jacobs House in Madison, Wisconsin especially enlightening and I wanted to share it with all of you. Mr. Wright stated:
"In our country the chief obstacle to any real solution of the moderate-cost house-problem is the fact that our people do not really know how to live, imagining their idiosyncrasies to be their "tastes," their prejudices to be their predilections and their ignorance to be virtue where any beauty of living is concerned."
This struck me as something as painfully true today as it was in 1938. All one has to do is drive down any street in America to come face-to-face with what passes for the "home" today. Obscenely large, inefficient, ugly boxes with ridiculous amalgamations of gables for roofs and windows pointlessly punched out of walls. The American public is hypnotized into believing that these vinyl-sided monstrosities are a symbol of affluence and success. The bigger and more ghastly a home can be, the assumption is the better life will be. No thought is given to how a family actually functions, or what a home should really symbolize and thus be designed to function as. So, they build energy-gobbling super-structures filled with empty, pointless rooms that reflect the empty, pointless lives of the people that inhabit them.
I think our society would do well to stop and reflect inward on what our priorities really are. Spiraling property costs coupled with record foreclosures and bankruptcies should be the wake-up call we all heed. We need to ask ourselves: What should a house really be about? Are we living for a house or in a house?
Frank Lloyd Wright goes on to say in that issue of The Forum: "I am certain that any approach to the new house...must be a pattern for more simple and, at the same time, more gracious living: new but suitable to living conditions as they might so well be in the country we live in today. This needed house of moderate cost must sometime face reality. Why not now? The houses built by the million...do no such thing. To me such houses are "escapist" houses, putting on some style or other, really having none. Style is important. A style is not. There is all the difference when we work with style and not for a style."
Now, one could argue that the very name of this blog invites criticism on being slavish to "A style." Not so. We at PrairieMod aren't suggesting that we all try and ape the historical Prairie Style in our lives and homes. Instead, we suggest focusing in on the ideas and ideals of what the progenitors of the Prairie School and the Craftsman Movement were practicing in those "styles" and find ways to incorporate them into our modern world. It's not the quarter-sawn wood table that is important...it's what that table says about the individual environment that one integrates it within. It doesn't have to be a faithful replica of a Niedecken style table, or an expensive Stickley style table. So long as the table is chosen to harmonize in some way with it's environment and is beautiful and well crafted it will exemplify the styles championed by the Prairie School and Craftsman Movement.
Styles come and go, but the ideas of some transcend the items and structures they are associated with. "Prairie" and "Modern" are just words that in and of themselves don't mean too much. As "styles" they evolve into each other historically (Prairie, USONIAN, Modern...they are all interrelated in some way) and fall in and out of vogue. Instead, we at PrairieMod want to keep the focus on the ideas and less on a particular "style". We will try and make this a 21st century forum to showcase books, art, products, places and ideas that fit with our own particular take on the new cultural movement we affectionately refer to as "Prairie Modern." Hopefully we'll do it in style.