America’s Most Well Known Architect

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Friday, June 8th was an important day in the world of architecture – it was the 145th anniversary of the birth of America’s most well known architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright is known for his innovative designs, organic approaches to architecture, and for his rather egotistical manner. He once said, “Early in life, I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.”

His arrogance comes as no surprise to those who have been inside one of Wright’s homes or buildings. He took architecture into a realm no architect had gone before, used materials in new ways, and planned homes down to the furniture, light fixtures, and even the clothes that the occupants would wear. Wright’s homes are like a Mozart symphony: they need all of the pieces in order to have the right feel. If you take the woodwinds out of a Mozart symphony then the sound is all off. With Wright-designed homes, if you take out the matching furniture or rugs then the feeling of the place is off.

Wright’s principles of organic design were reflected in his home and building designs. They have been used and adapted by other architects and continue to be found in buildings the world over. A working knowledge of the nine principles can be a great help to any architect, especially when working on first designs.

The first of Wright’s Principles of Organic Design is a kinship, or relationship, between the building and the ground – they should be streamlined, clean, and quiet. Often his houses were set slightly lower into the ground in order to make the house feel like it’s a part of the earth, not built on top of it. Second is decentralization – Wright felt a need to pull away from the city and design buildings that could take part with Nature. Third: the character of a building should be natural, and in tune with the life around it as well as the life (people) that will be in it.

The fourth principle, “tenuity” & continuity, is found in Wright’s cantilevers, which use tension to extend space, making it a natural way for the inward space to be extended into the outward space. Interpretation, the fifth principle, uses depth as an element of space, bringing the outside in and the inside out. Principle six is space – Wright used glass and steel to create a home that was also a work of art. His art glass windows are one of the most recognizable features of a home designed by Wright.

Wright’s seventh principle is Form – as the architect said, “…an architect will never be content to design a building merely (or chiefly) for the picture it makes – any more than a man would buy a horse merely by its color.” Shelter, the eighth principle, involves figuring in the client as a factor in the design of the building, and creating a structure that brings the outside in while still providing a private shelter for the occupants. Principle nine is materials – Wright believed that all materials should be used for their proper purpose. He didn’t want wood or bricks to be made to look different from their nature; they should look like they naturally do.

Wright’s focus was not on how many rooms were needed or how much money was spent (which consequently caused him to almost always go over budget), but instead was on how each room felt, how the rooms worked together to create an organic whole, and how the building as a whole worked with the surrounding area to add to, not subtract from, the landscape. He felt that, “No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill, belonging to it. Hill and house should live together, each the happier for the other.”