I always liked Frank Lloyd Wright. I have a theory that lots of ideas somehow get converted into their opposite as they propagate through the community. Thus for instance the theory of the second best in economics was a theory which showed that if you were in a second best situation, then following policies that looked like what we now call first best policies actually makes things worse.
Yet the way the language of first and second best is used in a lot of policy analysis now, second best is generally a pejorative. One can argue that there is some wisdom in this. But it also traduces the original theoretical work on the theory of the second best. (I wonder why they call it the theory of the second best, since it’s a theorem. But I digress.)
I think something similar has happened with Frank Lloyd Wright. Hes regarded as the father of modernism by many. Thats how I learned of him when I did him in years eleven and twelve art history in school.
Then I recall going and visiting the Robie House in Chicago. (If youre ever in Chicago whatever you do try to visit as much FLW architecture as you can. Theres a whole suburb Oak Park I think its called with about twenty FLW houses in it all magnificent. PS. It is called Oak Park and here’s a link to some pictures).
Anyway, when I walked into the Robbie House I was completely blown away. I guess I had thought of Wright as a cool dude whod fallen in love with the nice clean lines that became modernism. Well they are nice clean lines, nice low slung prairie homes.
But the first thing that strikes you is the vestibule which is on a different scale from the rest of the house. Thats because it was a kind of decomression chamber between the outside and the inside. Something that comes immediately down to a human scale to intimate the human scale of the house.
I’d thought all Wrights obsession with spheres and cubes and other geometric shapes was of a piece with what became modernism. Perhaps. But what struck me was the passion with which the place was designed. Everything considered with a view to its effect on the person in the room. All the materials, all the shapes so intimately bound up with each other and with the viewer.
Childrens rooms too. They were high enough to be functional for adults to enter, but they were built on the scale of children. Anyway, I’m aware Ive not been too eloquent here just giving vent to an enthusiasm. But if you get a chance to see FLWs buildings, take it up.
In the meantime, one of the things that I always marvel at is the amount of original architects work that gets taken up designing things that are no damn good not functional, not pleasant and often not even particularly cheap. I wonder in my naiveté why its so incredibly rare for people to build facsimiles. I’d be happy to live in a copy of a FLW house any day. I’d be happy if Mirvac rolled them out around the suburbs and developments. Walter Burley Griffin houses and those of others would be welcome. Perhaps there are copyright issues. But I guess the demand just isnt there. Its too bold a declaration of ones own inability to do any better.
In any event, I was in town on Friday checking out a lighting shop when my eye fell upon an early modernist construction. I wasnt quite sure what it was. Anyway I asked the attendant in the shop who designed it and she said Frank Lloyd Wright.
The pictures above show the three designs you can buy in Australia from Euroluce of Frank Lloyd Wright. The two freestanding items are lights of a sort, but the lighting is not very functional theyre more like light sculptures. Theyre quite magnificent and made from Japanese cherrywood in Japan by a firm that used to make lights for FLW himself.
The downlight was lovely too. You can see them firsthand in Euroluce’s catalogue (pdf 20 megs!)