Friday, May 18, 2007


Yesterday I drove up to Spring Green, WI, and took a tour of Taliesin, the home and studio and architectural school built and founded by Frank Lloyd Wright. Driving back home in the evening, after spending all day immersed in his buildings, the landscape, and his style of ornamentation, I have been feeling incredibly inspired.

I’ve always been a fan of his architecture. Now I am realizing how deeply I share many of his aesthetics. There are Japanese touches everywhere. Wright once said that going to Japan was an affirmation of his ideas. So the influence is strong. There are Buddha statues, and Hokusai and Hiroshige prints, everywhere. Apparently, there is a major collection of Japanese prints in a vault at Taliesin. I’d love to go through that someday. Wright designed over a 1000 unique fireplaces in his lifetime, some completely bilaterally symmetrical, many asymmetrical, following that aesthetic, which I also believe in, that asymmetry is more pleasing to the eye, more beautiful. Many of his fireplaces are incredible sculptures in their own way, as well as functional. Everywhere, in all the buildings: natural wood and stone materials, something I also agree with.

I think my favorite place on the tour was the auditorium at Hillside, the architecture school itself: this is the school’s remarkable and beautiful amphitheatre. Second is the living room at Taliesin, the residence itself. The object I was most drawn to, in both rooms, was a music stand built so that four players could sit in a circle, all see each other, and all face the stand. The stand’s center has lights that illuminate each place, and a holder for flowers in the middle. There are only 6 of these stands in existence, I was told. I think they’re brilliant; I’d love to have one, or a reproduction, and have players use it for house concerts. (I wonder if there are plans to ever reproduce such design masterpieces, for the rest of the world to enjoy.) In the living room there was also his daughter’s Celtic harp, and a special stool he built for her to use while playing harp: the only one of its kind.

Yesterday I also gained insight into Wright’s style of drawing and drafting: very gridlike, with regions of color and line. But it is in fact representational, but with shapes on a grid. The great curtain in the theatre represents dawn in the river valley: there are shapes for clouds, mist, the rise of the hill, and there on the brow of the hill, the house itself, with smoke coming from the chimney. But it’s all done with rectangles and fields of solid color. I never expected to appreciate Wright as a purely visual artist, but this insight into his drawing method provides me with new ideas for my own. Not in any imitative way, because it’s not my style at all, but like Mondrian in terms of abstract representation. In terms of interior decoration, ornamental design, it’s powerful, bold, and exciting. If you look at them closely, you see the natural forms are preserved, especially in his plant-inspired drawings and designs, but they’re stylized and made geometrical: reduced to abstract geometrical components, if you will, but retaining nevertheless their original forms and ahapes. Applying this aesthetic to fractal patterns found in nature, as well as to fractal geometry, one could quickly devise a new style of drawing, art glass, window ornament, and lighting fixture: integrated design aesthetic, of course.

The way Wright “broke the box” of the usual building rules is one of the things I like best: the L shapes of houses and walls; the use of corner entrances, so the main wall was mostly window; the stacking of shapes in asymmetrical arrangements; the strong use of diagonals to lead the eye; the long lines of views to the outside from the center of the building; rectangles and trapezoids instead of perfect squares; circular elements, that meet triangular elements. Wright also said that architecture was music, and music was so important to him that the ornamental features at Taliesin often evoke music: threes and twos, like the black keys on the piano; and the shaping of rooms to enhance musical performance by being acoustically balanced. There were numerous pianos there, and those incredible music stands.

I've been on fire with all of this for almost two days, now. I don't mind at all. I awoke this morning with images of Wright windows still in the back of my mind, and the low hangs of cantilevered rooflines, the corner windows and doors. And I still want to linger with these images, be immersed in them. This is an influence I am unafraid to absorb, to be possessed by. The whole Prairie School of architecture, for that matter. When Wright talked about organic architecture, he said it had three components: landscape, structure, ornament. I find the ornaments lingering in my inner vision, still, and I want to engage with them, for as long as they linger in mind. As I said, I am unafraid to be influenced by all this.

Now I need to do some research, and immerse myself in Wright's work. There are things there I am ready to absorb. If I had a career to start all over again, I would seriously consider applying as an apprentice architect at Taliesin. It was truly an inspiring day.

Update: Terry Teachout also responds to Frank Lloyd Wrights' architecture, in retreat. I agree that Wright's late houses, the Usonian houses, are among his best works, and certainly his most attractively livable. I got that same sense of livability in Taliesin itself.

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Blogger LAEvanesce said...

Good entry, and I agree; Wright's drafts certainly are works of art in themselves. By the music stands sound very interesting; it would be nice to set up with a central piece instead of sprawled out as separate entities. It's a shame they're not being reproduced (as far as I know).

(If you happen to have a picture of the stand or know where I can find one, I'd appreciate it; I looked around a bit and couldn't locate one.)

6:12 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

If you're into typography or design, there are several FLLW-inspired fonts over at P22 type foundry.

I think there are pictures of the music stands in one of the books on FLLW's designs; I knnow of a book on his furniture designs, but I don't own it, and would have to go look it up in the library. I didn't take any photos, no. They ask at Taliesin that you don't photograph anything inside the buildings, and I respected that. I looked online, too, with no luck.

It seems to me that marketing reproductions of the music stands would be a good thing, as I can think of many muscians who would enjoy using them, if they were reasonably priced.

1:22 PM  

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