April 9, 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Frank Lloyd Wright. Many argue that no other American architect/designer has had as lasting an impact on so many aspects of our modern world. But confronted with stories of his ego, his scandals, his leaky buildings, his lack of financial discipline--is Wright really relevant? Continue reading after the jump...
Of course you probably already know the short answer for me is "yes." However, the question also challenges me to not just blindly accept this as unquestioned fact, but instead examine it a little more and see why Wright is still worth considering 50 years later.
Frank Lloyd Wright has always been a challenging figure in our collective American psyche to grasp. Lauded as a genius and artistic prophet during his own lifetime by both friend and enemy alike, he was one of those rare beings that truly lived every second of his life--always pushing, always challenging, always creating. However, over time, what tends to happen with many historical figures like Wright is that qualities are idealized or faults exaggerated, depending on the mood of the time or the priorities of the culture.
50 years on, Wright is either
A) blindly worshiped as the end-all-be-all whose works should be frozen in time or
B) used as the punch-line to several architectural jokes and as the scape goat for several restoration-related problems or
C) his legacy is not known or considered at all.
To be certain, Wright was a deeply flawed human being--a fact which feeds his folklore and makes him fascinating to study. But, to reduce him down to an over-simplified version of either an architectural golden idol or a fault-laden, leak-prone narcissist is a dehumanizing affair and one that clouds the truly important aspects of what the public discourse should be about--the merit of his ideas.
So why is Wright relevant? Because we are finally catching up with him. Way ahead of his time in so many ways, we need the vision and wisdom contained in his ideas to help guide us into this "Brave New World" we find ourselves in.
When Wright died, the ideas that were so intrinsically tied to him also started to wane from cultural consciousness. As author Alan Hess discussed with us in Palm Springs, the period of time after Wright passed also meant the marginalization of Organic Architecture and allowed for a more corporate-minded, money-centric modern architecture to flourish and ultimately dominate the vision of what the American way of home and life was about. His passing in the late 50s was a greater loss for not having someone of such vision participating in our cultural discourse at such a crucial juncture in American history. The passing of Frank Lloyd Wright 50 years ago, in a way, also meant the true end of Transcendentalism, since I feel Wright was truly that movement's last, great thinker. It would take many decades for the country to rediscover the value in the ideas of that movement and especially the value found in Wright's own unique take on its principles of individualism, reverence of nature and belief in the power of a creative idea.
"Green" architecture, sustainability, unity, organic, natural--these ideas have dominated the American consciousness recently, thought they are far from new. People like Frank Lloyd Wright spent their lives dreaming up a better tomorrow, so that life and art would be indivisible. If we are willing to stop, look beyond the simplified or the salacious, we can discover what is relevant for each of us and what is possible for all of us.
These are just some of my reflections on this anniversary and would enjoy hearing your thoughts in the comments section below.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia