During the 1920s, as the five remarkable projects featured in this exhibition show, Frank Lloyd Wright developed architectural prototypes of far-reaching consequence. Exploring advanced building technologies and untried geometric patterns, he conceived rural and suburban building complexes that effectively restructured their sites in a manner calculated to heighten their natural grandeur.
In earlier designs, Wright had approached settings more tentatively, with linkages achieved through such architectural extensions as loggias and terraces that left the sites themselves less changed. Now a new, more persuasive unity between building and site resulted, one in which roads and other movement systems were skillfully integrated on an unprecedented scale.
The exhibition focuses on these five projects - a prototypical suburb, resorts, an automobile objective, a desert retreat. Although none was ever realized, they embody Wright's changing views of the fundamental relationship between building and land.
As these experiments in rethinking relationships of building to land progressed, Wright began to question the nature of the American city and to predict its gradual dispersal. While he remained sympathetic to certain aspects of cities and designed major components for them, for him the answer lay not in a rejection of the suburb but in its acceptance.
His designs of the period, whether for interconnected dwellings, isolated resorts, or recreational facilities, offer compelling prototypes for suburb-coherent architectural ensembles that unified their settings and celebrated order without sacrificing a sense of expansive freedom. Building on his growing awareness of new leisure opportunities in modern society and his fascination with the perceived wilderness, Wright envisioned nothing less than a new landscape, shaped in response to his own interpretation of American ideals.
The complex geometries that Wright explored in these projects of the 1920s reflected far more than superficial pattern. In Wright's approach they expressed special qualities of place. As his writings attest, he believed in the primacy of nature and in its underlying order, which he saw as essentially Euclidean. Buildings were not meant to mimic their settings but to signal human presence through sympathetic alliance.
In his most evocative descriptions of landscape, it was this geometric order he perceived - cosmic in spirit, architectural in nature, often suggestive of ancient building, often experienced while in motion across the land. It lay with the architect to extract and clarify these forms, shaping them, when necessary, to complete an order imperfectly revealed. These were means by which to represent the underlying order of the cosmos and to achieve a stronger connection to it.
In such ways, Wright sought universal meaning through attachment to place, varying his geometries not only to establish an indivisible bond with each specific location, but, more importantly, to complete that location's underlying structure. He remained sympathetic to his favorite nineteenth-century writers and to an earlier, more distant history by honoring a belief in the spirituality of nature, a belief which led him to reexamine issues of design that had been long unstudied. Yet he invigorated this approach by incorporating advances of his own era, so that mobility and a new awareness of natural, evolutionary change became part of his ideal landscape.
He thus effected connections with both place and time, envisioning a profound, richly layered architecture through which each place became more fully revealed as part of an ordered universe.
David G. De Long,
Professor of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania
Hypothetical Study Models
Five models were prepared for this exhibition by George Ranalli, Architect and Professor of Architectural Design at Yale University, in consultation with David G. De Long, the exhibition's curator. Each model presents an interpretation, based on design drawings. In most cases there was ample material in the drawings to make accurate and direct constructions.
Wright's process was often so complete that even preliminary design drawings provided a wealth of design information, anticipating the complete building. In designing the models, two concerns were primary: that they describe Wright's ideas and yet remain clearly analytic. The scale chosen (1" = 50') and the extent of the site shown in the model (approximately 1/2 mile by 1/2 mile - 0.8 km by 0.8 km) were determined so as to reveal the interrelationship between Wright's building and the land, and to maximize the understanding of Wright's extraordinary ability to work with the terrain.
Rendering both the buildings and the surroundings in the same type of material was meant to convey a sense of the relatedness of building form to site. The models were built starting with a grid of plywood planes that established the contour profiles; veneers of birch plywood were then cemented to this grid. The veneer was cut to receive each building profile: each of the buildings modeled rests upon an underlying base that also contains all the terracing and outdoor space indicated in Wright's designs. The veneers, carefully lapped to achieve the overall site size, were wood-filled and sanded.
The models of the buildings themselves were made in basswood to the level of detail present in Wright's drawings. Despite the small scale, much detail could be built into each model: their elevations convey a sense of the effect intended in each building, down to the lapped wood, masonry blocks, decorative patterning, complex window frames, and other design elements employed by Wright.
The Hypothetical Study Models were created for the exhibition by George Ranalli, Architect,
with Aaron McDonald and Nathaniel Worden, model makers.
This exhibition was organized jointly by the Library of Congress, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
This exhibition is part of the project to establish a Center for American Architecture, Design, and Engineering at the Library of Congress. For more information, please call or write to:
C. Ford Peatross
Prints and Photographs Division
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20540-4730
(202) 707-8695; FAX (202) 707-1486