I’ve never been a big fan of the Prairie Style of architecture; conforming to one design aesthetic, from structure to style, from rooftop to windows to walls, carpet to furniture to dinnerware feels more socialistic than democratic. In fact, for years I wasn’t really a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright.
It has always been a challenge separating the brash, outspoken, self-serving man from the architectural genius. By his own admission Wright professed, "Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change."
Okay, so I didn’t hold back; but there is still more Wright than wrong when it comes to the 20th century’s most influential architect. And what do you know; I’m willing to share my thoughts (the good, the bad, and the ugly) on the matter. Right here, right now.
Happens every time I tour one of FLW’s homes, in this case his own home in Oak Park, Illinois; I come away with a deeper appreciation for the man’s genius despite the man's personal shortcomings. I promise to try to stick to the genius qualities.
The artistic iconoclast was single minded in his struggle to overcome any obstacle that might prevent his vision from being realized. The romantic Wright often managed to convince his clients to throw away their belongings in favor of the simplicity he promoted (apparently it took Liliane Kaufman, mistress of the FLW’s famed Fallingwater design, three years to overcome her misgivings about living with the reality of FLW’s vision of an uncluttered cantilevered weekend home straddling a waterfall), all the while cajoling said clients to spend more money than they had ever intended on the house of their dreams. The original estimate for building Fallingwater was $35,000. The final cost for the home and guest house was $155,000. Never mind 70 years later restoration of the structural issues befitting designs on the leading edge of technology ran $11.5 million.
Holy hunk of change. But I digress.
Today’s post is all about FLW’s Oak Park home. No leaks or cracks that I could tell; then again both home and studio were restored, beginning in 1974, two years after the home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, fifteen years after the death of FLW. The thirteen year project cost a mere $3.5 million, pittance in comparison to Fallingwater's restoration.
“What was the matter with the kind of house I found on the prairie?” he asked. “Just for a beginning, let’s say that house lied about everything. It had no sense of Unity . . . To take any one of those so-called ‘homes’ away would have improved the landscape and cleared the atmosphere . . . My first feeling therefore had been a yearning for simplicity.”
The famed architect wasn’t one to hold back either!
Wright redefined the fixed solid core as open space, a modern space in which one room simply flowed into another, a space this 21st century homeowner tends to take for granted 100+ years after his revolutionary design.
Remember, electricity was just beginning to shed light on those otherwise dark domestic spaces called home at the turn of the century; 1930 to be more precise. All those revolutionary windows literally brought Wright and his followers out of the dark ages.
Holy hygiene, that’s a long line of people standing in the way of taking care of business.
No restrictions when it came to a sense of wonder, curiosity, imagination.
Wright was always about beauty and simplicity. Indeed, there is much to be said when it comes to focusing on those truths. Wright said it best with this quote.
“The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes. If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.”
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