He’d Rather Be Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright

by Meryle Secrest
Harper Collins, 634 pp., $15.00 (paper)

Frank Lloyd Wright: Collected Writings:

edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, Introduction by Kenneth Frampton
Rizzoli/The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Vol. 3, 352 pp., $40.00 (paper)

Wright Studies, Volume I: Taliesin, 1911–1914

edited by Narciso G. Menocal
Southern Illinois University Press, 141 pp., $19.95 (paper)

Frank Lloyd Wright: The Lost Years 1910–1922: A Study of Influence

by Anthony Alofsin
University of Chicago Press, 397 pp., $55.00

Frank Lloyd Wright, Hollyhock House and Olive Hill

by Kathryn Smith
Rizzoli, 228 pp., $45.00

Barnsdall House: Los Angeles, 1920

by James Steele
Phaidon, 60 pp., $29.95 (paper)

The Wright Style

by Carla Lind
Archetype Press/Simon and Schuster, 224 pp., $50.00

About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright

by Edgar Tafel
Wiley, 326 pp., $34.95

Frank Lloyd Wright: Architect 20–May 10, 1994)

catalog of the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (February, edited by Terence Riley
Museum of Modern Art/Abrams, 336 pp., $60.00


We take from the art of the past what we need. The variable posthumous reputations of even the greatest artists and the unpredictable revivals of interest in even the most obscure ones tend to reveal more about those who make revisionist assessments than about those who are being reassessed. This is especially true in the building art, which, with its large social and political content, is subject to rapidly changing fashions seemingly at odds with the slow execution of architecture, the immobility of its artifacts, and the long duration of its presence on the landscape.

In the thirty-five years since the death of Frank Lloyd Wright, however, regard for him and his immense contribution to architecture has only risen and broadened. One reason for this seems clear. The present chaotic state of architecture—now as factional, contentious, beset by economic problems, and lacking in a sense of, higher purpose as American society generally—makes Wright appear in hindsight to have been above all a force for unity.

If Ludwig Mies van der Rohe refined architecture to what he took to be its essentials, if Le Corbusier reconceived it more thoroughly than anyone since Palladio, if Louis Kahn elevated architecture to a plane of timeless aspiration that had almost been lost in contemporary construction, Wright insisted that his buildings be organic—that is, unified in conception from the largest construction to the smallest detail. He rejected the celebration of discontinuity that has been a main characteristic of twentieth-century art from Cubism and Dada onward. In architecture that discontinuity has been expressed in the jagged, faceted shapes of Expressionist schemes early in the century, in the pastiches of historical motifs in Postmodernism in the 1980s, and in the fragmented, seemingly collapsing forms of Deconstructivist architecture today.

Philip Johnson’s wicked jibe that Frank Lloyd Wright was the greatest architect of the nineteenth century comes close to the mark, for Wright was indeed the last major exponent of ideas fostered by the design reform groups of the decades before and after his birth in 1867—in particular the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Aesthetic Movement, and the various schools of Art Nouveau. Those ideas included a belief in design as an agent for social improvement; the related conviction that good design should be available to all people; the repudiation of ornament if not conceived as an inseparable element of design; the quest for the fully integrated work of art, or Gesamtkunstwerk; and the need for men to master the machine in service of those goals.

Moreover, as the cultural historian and geographer William Cronon points out in his brilliant essay written for the catalog of the Museum of Modern Art’s forthcoming Wright retrospective, the architect’s huge debt to Emerson—particularly Emerson’s view of nature as the countenance of the divine—puts Wright firmly among the Transcendentalists, no matter how forward-looking so much of his thinking appears. When Wright used natural motifs in his work—such as sumac at the Dana house of 1902–1904 in Springfield, Illinois, hollyhocks at the…

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