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The Wright Way

15.06.20

On this day in 1867, Frank Lloyd Wright was born in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin. That 19th-century date—which took place over 150 years ago—might come as something of a shock to fans of Wright’s prolific body of work. After all, his innovations in homes and design continue to be a mainstay within the industry’s lexicon, resonating with individuals the world over.

As article after article makes clear, Wright was an architect’s architect. In one iteration of a recurring feature titled “The Architect's Perspective,” the renowned (and highly versatile) John Lautner spoke about Wright to Architectural Digest for its September/October 1971 issue. “One of the main points that I learned from Frank Lloyd Wright, and he stressed it almost more than anything else, was that if you didn’t have the whole idea, you didn’t have anything,” Lautner, a student and mentee of Wright, told the magazine. “Frank Lloyd Wright contributed so many ideas that there are details of work, each one of which could create a whole new architectural style.” He also knew exactly how to handle potential clients who were primarily interested in living in past architectural styles. As Lautner recounted, “[T]hey’d say, ‘Oh boy, you’re an escapist, living way out here in the country.’ [Wright would] look at them, house in the suburbs, and say, ‘My God, you’re the escapist.’”

In the same column of the May/June 1972 issue, famed architecture photographer Julius Shulman noted that Wright’s designs were expensive thanks to their details, and that the man himself was not only one of architecture’s few gods but a senior-level one at that. He added, “Calling houses organic, [Wright] said they grow from the ground and soar upward into the sky, which is true, poetically, but a Frank Lloyd Wright house has more enclosure, more protection to offer.… Wright houses had fireside spaces, walls to lean against, to put furniture against.”

That same year, architect John C. Portman noted his admiration for Wright, while architect Lawrence A. Lapham called Wright “the greatest architect who ever lived.” At yet another point, interior designer T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings spoke of the “eternal values” present in Wright’s works.

Such praise spoken by others isn’t to say that the magazine didn’t devote its own spreads to showcasing Wright’s designs. In January/February of 1976Architectural Digest revisited one of Wright’s later works, which dates back to 1955. The house was reminiscent of Wright’s famous Prairie style without being beholden to it. Of arguably more importance is an article on L.A.’s famed Ennis-Brown House, which was built in 1924. Then-current owner Gus Brown mused to the magazine in 1979: “Where else could I ever find such a peaceful and beautiful home? Where else could I live, after having lived here?” Nowhere, it seemed. But it is another tidbit that perhaps best captures Wright’s own voice, and indomitable point of view. In the feature in question, a charming anecdote was recounted in reference to Wright’s furniture designs, after a client requested tall dining room chairs. “‘Aren't they old-fashioned?’ asked Wright. ‘No,’ [the client] replied. ‘We won't call them old-fashioned,’ Wright decided, ‘we will call them regal.’”

 

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