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History of Architecture (AP313) | Essay | 2014

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Organic Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright

Term Paper for History of Architecture (AP313)

Prannay Dhingra
Roll Number: 16
Sushant School of Art and Architecture

Frank Lloyd Wrights architecture spanned a 72-year career that began in the late
1880s and continued until his death in 1959. From the start of his independent
practice, in or about 1893, Wrights work went through several phases and focused
on such themes as nature, organicism, the Midwestern Prairie, modernism, and the
search for an American identity through architecture. His designs ranged widely
from apartment buildings, religious buildings, speculative developments, and entire
new community plans.
His design system utilized basic geometric shapes---squares, circles, and
trianglesanchored by grids and proportioned according to the materials and
methods of construction that constituted his buildings. He related the meaning of
his work to the order of nature, believing that the correlation of physical form to
nature would elevate the spiritual condition of humankind. His buildings and
designs were metaphors for technology, nature, and democracy.
Wright barely acknowledged modernism as the major cultural phenomenon of his
lifetime. The complex phenomenon of modernism encompassed literature, the
visual arts, music, and politics, and its preoccupations ranged widely to include
perceptions of space, time, myth, parody, originality, the role of outcast, attacks on
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religion etc. There appear to be some fundamental interests like functionalism,
abstractiona new language of formand a social program.
In functionalismthe concept that there is a rational relationship between the form
of a object and its purposeWright identified form and function as one and the
same which implies that building structure, materials, and method of construction
melded together to create an organic whole suited to human needs.
Organic Architecture
In the latter half of 19
century, the effort to create a modern architecture began to
come together from disparate ideas. These efforts were identified with the
development of skyscraper. The technological development of tall buildings was the
hope that a new modern architecture would also represent the American identity
and set of values distinct from those of European modernism.
Yet, Wrights work was often very different from many other modernists. This is
because of Wrights concept of Organic Architecture. For Wright, true modern
architecture & organic architecture were synonymous.
His concept of organic architecture evolved from set of architectural principles in
the 1890s into a lifestyle by the 1930s. Wright formulated six major design
principles in defining the organic architecture.
1. Simplicity and repose should be the measures of art.
In this he wrote, a building should have as few rooms as possible; openings
should be integrated into the structure and form; detail and decoration
should be reduced; and appliances, fixtures, pictures, and furniture should
be integrated into the structure.
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2. There should be as many different styles of houses as there were styles of
A man who has individuality has a right to its expression in his own
3. A building should appear to grow easily from its site and be shaped to
harmonize with its surroundings.
His designs for the gentle hills of the Midwest west characterised by low,
sloping roofs, sheltering overhangs, and terraces. If a building had no natural
features to draw upon, he believed it should be as attractive as possible.
4. Colours require the same conventionalizing process to make them fit to live
with that natural forms do.
A method of abstracting form to its essentials, to colour and to plant forms
as sources of design motifs.
5. Nature of materials
Wood should look like wood, showing its grain and natural colour, and same
apply to brick, stone, and plaster. Wright considered these materials as
friendly and beautiful.
6. A house that has character stands a good chance of growing more valuable
as it grows older while a house in the prevailing mode, whatever that mode
may be, is soon out of fashion, stale, and unprofitable.
Buildings should have qualities analogous to the human qualities of sincerity,
truth, and graciousness.
Wrights organic principles provide the fundamental links between him and other
modern architects. They establish the basic tenets of his architecture:
functionalism, technology, metaphysics, social purpose, and a language of
architectural forms.

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So here I stand before you preaching organic architecture: declaring organic
architecture to be the modern ideal and the teaching so much needed if we are to
see the whole of life, and to now serve the whole of life, holding no traditions
essential to the great TRADITION. Nor cherishing any preconceived form fixing
upon us either past, present or future, butinsteadexalting the simple laws of
common senseor of super-sense if you preferdetermining form by way of the
nature of materials... Frank Lloyd Wright, An Organic Architecture, 1939 (2)
Frank Lloyd Wright introduced the word organic into his philosophy of architecture
as early as 1908. It was an extension of the teachings of his mentor Louis Sullivan
whose slogan form follows function became the mantra of modern architecture.
Wright changed this phrase to form and function are one, using nature as the best
example of this integration.
Although the word organic itself refers to something which has the characteristics
of animals or plants, Frank Lloyd Wrights organic architecture takes on a new
meaning. It is not a style of imitation, because he did not claim to be building forms
which were representative of nature. Instead, organic architecture is a
reinterpretation of natures principles as they had been filtered through the
intelligent minds of men and women who could then build forms which are more
natural than nature itself. (2)
Organic architecture involves a respect for the properties of the materials (for
example, Wright rejected the idea of making a bank look like a Greek temple).
Organic architecture is also an attempt to integrate the spaces into a coherent
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whole: a marriage between the site and the structure and a union between the
context and the structure. (3)
Throughout his 70 year career, Frank Lloyd Wright published articles, gave lectures,
and wrote many books. The philosophy of organic architecture was present
consistently in his body of work and the scope of its meaning mirrored the
development his architecture. The core of this ideology was always the belief that
architecture has an inherent relationship with both its site and its time.
When asked in 1939 if there was a way to control a clients potentially bad taste in
selecting housing designs for his Broad acre City project, Wright replied, Even if he
wanted bad ones he could find only good ones because in an organic architecture,
that is to say an architecture based upon organic ideals, bad design would be
unthinkable. In this way, the question of style was not important to Frank Lloyd
Wright. A building was a product of its place and its time, intimately connected to a
particular moment and sitenever the result of an imposed style.
In 1957, two years before his death, Frank Lloyd Wright published the book, A
Testament, which was a philosophical summation of his architectural career. In an
essay entitled The New Architecture: Principles, he put forth nine principles of
architecture that reflected the development of his organic philosophy. The
principles addressed ideas about the relationship of the human scale to the
landscape, the use of new materials like glass and steel to achieve more spatial
architecture, and the development of a buildings architectural character, which
was his answer to the notion of style. (4)
During the later 1920s and 1930s Wright's Organic style had fully matured with the
design of Graycliff, Fallingwater and Taliesin West.
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Figure 1: graycliff, Buffalo, New York

Wright was asked to design a house of sunlight that would also admit fresh
breezes. The result was Graycliff, a mid-career example of Wrights concept of
"organic architecture" where barriers are broken between buildings and the outside.
Built between 1926-31, Graycliff is one of Wrights most significant designs of the
1920s, and shares several innovative architectural elements with Wrights most
famous dwelling, Fallingwater in Pennsylvania
(designed a decade later). All three Graycliff
buildings are constructed of local limestone and
feature bold sand-stucco planes with red stained
cedar shingle roofs. (3)

Falling water, for Edgar Kaufmann in southwestern
Pennsylvania, hangs over a waterfall using the
Figure 2: Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania (1937)

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architectural device known as the cantilever. Wright described his architectural style
as "organic"--in harmony with nature, and though Falling water reveals vocabulary
drawn from the International style in certain aspects, this country house exhibits so
many features typical of Wright's natural style, the house very much engaged with
its surroundings. The construction is a series of cantilevered balconies and terraces,
using limestone for all verticals and concrete for the horizontals.
Indeed, Wright placed the houses occupants in nature in a way that requires a
special effort to partake of her beauty: in order to see the waterfalls, people must
move onto the terraces and lean over the balconies. Wright had placed the house
not on the slope looking down to the falls, but directly over them. He not simply
wanted to look at the waterfalls but to live with them.
If we look at the features of fallingwater is in the detail of the balcony edges and the
parapet edges throughout the house. He was also famous for the color perspectives
and also the concrete gently wrapped around both edges and corners. Such details
demonstrate Wrights igneous blending of structure and form. (5)

At Taliesin West, because of the comfortable year-round climate, Wright was able to
integrate the outdoors with his indoor spaces. He designed high sloping roofs,
translucent ceilings, and large, open doors and windows that created a subtle
distinction between the home and the environment. Taliesin West, Wright's winter
home and studio complex in Scottsdale, AZ, was a laboratory for Wright from 1937
Figure 3: Scottsdale, Arizona, USA

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to his death in 1959. Now the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and
archives, it continues today as the site of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of
Architecture. (4)

1. Hess, Alan. Frank Lloyd Wright: Natural Design, Organic Architecture: Lessons for
Building Green from an American Original. s.l. : Rizzoli (October 16, 2012).
2. Disare, Monica. pittsburg post-gazette. [Online] august 2013.
[Cited: 28 march 2014.]
3. Wright, Frank Lloyd. In the Cause of Architecture, Organic Architecture Looks at
Modern 1908-1952. New York : s.n., 1908-1952.
4. Wright, Frank Lloyd, 1867-1959 and Museum, Solomon R. Guggenheim. Sixty
Year of Living Architecture. New York : [New York] : Solomon R. Guggenheim
5. Larkin, David. Frank Lloyd Wright: the Master works. London : Rizzoli
International Publications, 1993.
7. Wright, Frank Lloyd. [Online]
8. . frank lloyd wright foundation. [Online]
2012. [Cited: 28 march 2014.]
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