This important to acknowledge in order to understand why

This essay will
discuss Frank Lloyd Wright’s understanding of nature. First by looking at how
he first became interested in and began to comprehend nature during his
childhood, then looking at his writings in later life and examining whether his
Fallingwater project built in 1935 embodies his understandings of nature.

 

Born on 8th June
1867 in Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright ‘has a strong claim to be North Americas
greatest architect’ (Wilkinson, 2009). He is considered to have changed the way
we live and build today with his ‘Organic’ Architecture, which sees buildings
grow from their site and feature natural materials. Wright was a very advanced
architect for his time; this can be attributed to his understanding of nature
in architecture. There are many key influences in Wright’s early life, which
have impacted on this understanding. These are important to acknowledge in
order to understand why nature plays such a fundamental role in his thinking.

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His key influences
began with his mother’s family, the Lloyd Joneses. His maternal grandparents
were religious revolutionaries who emigrated from Llandysul, Wales to America
in 1844. They were freedom-seeking refugees seeking the promise of a new start
in America, bringing with them their attitude of ‘Truth Against The World’ (Lloyd
Wright, 1932). His mother’s family were Unitarian,
which is an open-minded approach to faith encouraging individual freedom,
equality, rational thought and where everyone has the right to reach their own
conclusions. His family’s belief was ‘the idea of life as a gift from a divine
source’ (Lloyd Wright, 1932) and that nature
illustrates the perfect creations of God, so nature is sacred. In Celtic tradition, society was built around the mother’s
family not the father’s, so ‘without question Wright’s mother’s family was of
the upmost importance in shaping his world-view’ (McCarter, 2006) and making
nature the forefront of his thinking from the beginning of his life.

 

During his first ten
years, Wright’s family lead a nomadic life, moving five times before finally
settling in Madison, Wisconsin where his mother’s family continued to live. It
was after moving back with the Lloyd Wrights that he first became exposed to
nature. He spent every summer getting up early and working long hours with his
uncle labouring on the farm as a ‘small boy of eleven was learning to experience what he heard, touched, or
saw’ (Lloyd Wright, 1932). These exhausting
hours meant Wright spent a lengthy time each day surrounded by nature, he
reminisced with clarity ‘The modelling of the hills the weaving and fabric that
clings to them, the look of it all in tender green or covered with snow or in
full glow of summer that blurts into the glorious blaze of autumn’ (Frank Lloyd
Wright, 1943). Wright was exposed to nature during his childhood, which had a
lasting effect on him throughout the rest of his life, contributing to the
reason he holds such respect for nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wright’s mother had
wanted him to become an architect since before he was born and had a huge
influence in encouraging him on the road towards the profession and his
fascination with nature. She started by hanging etchings of English Cathedrals
above his crib when he was a baby, and then introduced Wright to Froebel’s
kindergarten training. Wright said this training was ‘like flying seeds carried
on the wings of the wind to fertile ground’ (Lloyd Wright, 1932), which
illustrates how important he thought this training was for his younger self.
Froebel’s training involved instruction manuals and 20 training gifts that were
spatial and tactile ways of learning by encouraging young children to take
objects apart and reassemble them in order to form spatial relationships.
Wright recalls building with Froebel’s ‘smooth shapely maple blocks with which
to build the sense of which never afterwards leaves the fingers: so form becomes feeling’ (Lloyd Wright, 1932).

 

Froebel’s training focused on learning from nature, and that
spiritual and material aspects of life were one. It teaches children how to see
geometries behind all things in the physical world both natural and manmade
which Wright fondly remembers learning through the ‘geometric by-play of those
charming checkered color combinations!’ (Lloyd Wright, 1932).  This training enabled Wright to make sense of
the time he spent in nature on the farm with his uncle. It was a good education
for a young architect, and the Froebel’s stress on nature contributes to Wright
beginning to understand nature from a young age.

 

If Wright’s mother
had not yet done enough to influence her son, one of her favourite
Shakespearian quotes was ‘And this our life exempt from public haunt, finds
tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in
everything.’ (Shakespeare, 1603). This is the idea that nature is where
everything good derives and how much you can grow by paying attention to the natural
world. After investing so much time in influencing Wright to become an
architect she placed high expectations on him to be a successful from a young
age.

 

Wright didn’t disappoint his mother and had his big
breakthrough in 1901 when he began working on ‘Prairie Houses’ which were
Wright’s first big attempt to combine nature and architecture. The Chicago
prairie influenced these houses, which is why they radiate outward from the
central hearth. They are low to the ground with a horizontal design, reaching
out into the surroundings with balconies and porches so the house and landscape
blend together. Willits House, Chicago built in 1901 was the first of the
‘Prairie Houses’ to be built, the period then lasting until 1910. ‘Prairie
Houses’ redefined the American home. However they were built for rich clients
and Wright wanted to produce architecture that was more ‘democratic’.

From his youth Wright
had an aversion to classical architecture. When he was twenty-five he was given
the opportunity to study classical architecture in Paris and Rome for six
years. This would have been paid for by Daniel Burnham, followed by a
guaranteed job in his office; Wright declined and stayed in America to develop
his own style. He didn’t want to study the mathematical symmetry in classical
architecture, which was seen as ‘the divine order of life’ (Lloyd Wright,
1945). He believed that architecture reflects the civilisation it is a part of,
so in his view, these grand mathematical buildings show how disconnected and
ignorant these civilisations are of the natural world and asserted that
‘Continual reference to the principles of nature is the only education – the
only safe way to attempt at civilisation. The organic way.’ (Lloyd Wright,
1945).

 

 

Wright’s belief was
that one must be aware of the balance of nature to have a balanced
civilisation, which he thought was the way to make a civilisation excel and
last. He thought humans do not make civilisation integral with Nature and
instead focus on Human Nature, which
is not the same thing, and is the reason attempts at society often result in
conflict between humans and Nature. While remaining in America the style he
created, derived from nature, was ‘organic’ Architecture, which ‘is the
Architecture of Democracy’ (Lloyd Wright, 1945).  He viewed democracy as the only sensible way
forward for any culture or civilisation that did not want to fall into disorder
and believed that  ‘ethics in line with
principles of Nature never go wrong’ (Lloyd Wright, 1945), so a culture or
civilisation based on these ethics would understand how to live in balance and
harmony. It is due to Wright’s unique understanding of nature developed
throughout his life, which enabled him to create this new style of
architecture. Organic Architecture creates the opportunity to exist in
environments that are connected physically and spiritually by the natural
world, as the style ‘develops from
within outwards in harmony with the conditions of it’s being’ (Lloyd Wright,
1914).

 

Architects before and
after Wright have claimed the word ‘Organic’ in architecture. However Wright proposed
five resources that must be utilised in order to create his ‘Organic’ style. The
first of which is the interior space concept of having a ‘deeper more intimate
sense of reality in building’ (Lloyd Wright, 1954). So when designing a
building, one should look at the site and think first how spaces will fit, and
then naturally design the structure around it. An organic building should
evolve from the nature of the site enhancing the surroundings. The second
resource is the new super material glass which adds new possibilities when
designing on site. Glass enables the outside and inside to be one, and ‘of each
other’ (Lloyd Wright, 1954). The possibility of walls themselves becoming
windows enables ‘extended vistas gained by marrying buildings with ground
levels’ (Lloyd Wright, 1954) and permits the ground to become directly related
to the building.

The third of Wright’s
resources to achieve organic Architecture is continuity. Wright described this
as ‘ceilings and walls made one with floors and reinforcing each other by
making them continue into one another’ (Lloyd Wright, 1954). This uniting of
walls with floor in one physical body is something made possible for Wright
only by the ‘tenuity’ of steel enabling daring new designs to become reality.
Steel makes this achievable by being able to shift between being the supporting
and the supported. Wright’s idea of continuity extends to his belief that
furnishings are part of the total design of a building so should be built in as
much as possible to make the structure as united as possible.

 

The Nature of
Materials is the fourth resource, Wright thought that the Nature of all
buildings should be honest because organic architecture derives from nature,
which is pure and does not lie. With so many rich materials to use in building
today, care must be exercised to make sure materials used do not pretend to be
something they are not, ‘a stone building will no more be nor will it look like
a steel building’. (Lloyd Wright, 1954). Due to the abundance of rich materials
such as glass, steel and concrete it is no longer wise to compare with Ancient
Architecture, as for Organic Architecture to begin ‘intelligent architects must
turn their backs on antique rubbish’ (Lloyd Wright, 1954).

 

The last of Wright’s
five resources to create organic architecture is integral ornaments, which is
how the ornamentation fits with the style and purpose of the building holistically.
This is how a building is embellished and ornamented to fit with the whole
concept of the design. Wright refers to this as ‘poetry’ (Lloyd Wright, 1954)
and is integral to a building’s design to make it as one, not something to be
added on as an afterthought.

 

Does Wright’s
Fallingwater embody his full understanding of nature? Does he utilize his own
five resources to create Organic Architecture and go beyond this to display his
deep understanding of Nature’s complexity in his design?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the beginning of
the 1930’s, the decade Fallingwater was built, Wright was sixty-three and being
forced into involuntary retirement. This was due to his lack of work as a
result of the 1929 stock market crash. Lacking money Wright fell back on
writing and lecturing, then set up his apprenticeship school, later named
Taliesin Fellowship, which opened in October 1932. The idea being that people
paid $675 tuition fees to be one of Wright’s apprentices. It was during this
time of little work that Wright accepted a commission from a rich client called
Edgar J. Kaufmann, which would revive his career. Kaufmann had been fascinated
with Wright for many years and respected his Organic Architecture, finally being
introduced to the great architect by his son Edgar Kaufmann Jr. who was an
apprentice of Wright’s at the time. 

 

 

 

Wright went on a site
visit to the area in South West Pennsylvania where the Kaufmann family spent
their vacations in 1934. Kaufmann thought the house should be built on the
South bank of Bear Run with a view of the waterfall where his family loved to
picnic. However, as Kaufmann loved the waterfall so much Wright decided to
build the country house atop the falls on the North bank of the stream, so that
his client could live ‘intimately’ with the site he loved while getting sunlight
across the stream from the South. Wright was fond of the water falling over the
rock ledges creating an aesthetic feature for the viewer. He saw a great
opportunity for him to marry architecture and nature together, he told Kaufmann
‘I want you to live with the waterfall, not just look at it, but for it to
become an integral part of your lives’. (Wright to Kaufmann, quoted by Bob
Mosher and Donald Hoffmann, Frank Lloyd
Wright’s Fallingwater (New York), 1978, p. 17. ).

 

After the initial
visit to the site Wright got his apprentices to carry out a detailed site
analysis, which was to include every tree and rock. Then nothing was done for
the following three months until after a phone call with Kaufmann who was on
his way to visit Wright to see designs for his commission. As no design had
been drawn up, in the three hours it took for Kaufmann to arrive, Wright drew
up plans, sections and an elevation!

 

The house was built
in 1935 and appears to grow out of the landscape, anchored to the rock at the
back and extending out over the waterfall with cantilevered terraces. It
embodies Wright’s first resource to create Organic Architecture by looking as
if it has evolved from the site and by enhancing its surroundings. The rocks of
the waterfall are seen throughout the building uniting it with its surroundings,
and Wright used the very rock where the Kaufmann’s would lie in the sun to
become the heart of the house.  Even the
cream concrete terraces don’t look out of place in the landscape, as they seem
to ‘float by magic over the rocks and the stream’ (Wilkinson, 2009)

 

Ribbon windows in the
living room is an example of Wright’s second resource to achieve Organic
Architecture using glass to allow the outside and inside to be one. The windows
create an amazing framed panorama overlooking the hillside; you are unable to
see neither the skyline nor the ground – you are just in with the plants
themselves. This panorama has a satisfying rhythm created by framing each
window down to human scale. This rhythm is the fifth resource, which Wright calls
the ‘poetry’ of the building: it can also seen with his casement windows on the
corners of the cantilevered rooms. These windows are Wright’s own innovation,
which allows the corner of a building to open out to nature where a column on a
standard building would usually be. These little details are thought of in the
initial design of the building, so fit perfectly with the overall design.

 

The furnishings of
Fallingwater were also considered when Wright designed the building. The
careful planning of the furniture to make the building as unified as possible
can be seen in the sofas, which are built so they cantilever out from the walls
to mirror the exterior cantilevered terraces. It can also be seen in the
shelves that curved around the interior stonewalls making semi-circles, which
brings ‘traditional and modern forms together in harmony’ (Wilkinson, 2009).
This continuity of the buildings is not just seen in the furniture but also in
the floor and walls. The walls are stone to echo the natural rock surrounding
the building, and Wright purposely makes the floor of waxed stone to unite as
one with the walls, which reflect the surrounding stones of the waterfall.

 

The whole structure
of Fallingwater is very organic. Only three materials have been used in the
construction: these are stone which is locally sourced, concrete which is made
of organic matter, and steel which is used in the window frames and reinforcing
the concrete. Wright doesn’t disguise the use of the concrete in Fallingwater;
instead he lets the concrete form eye-catching terraces protruding out from the
waterfall. These concrete terraces do not just embody his fourth resource of
using natural materials honestly, it also embodies his views of conflict
between humans and nature by contrasting the concrete with its natural
surroundings.

 

Fallingwater embodies
every one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s resources to achieve Organic Architecture,
both inside and outside the country house. However, one must realise that these
‘resources’ of Wright’s were only published in 1954 – twenty years after
Fallingwater was built. As the design of Fallingwater only took Wright three
hours, it suggests that Fallingwater was a template for Wright to experiment with
his ideas of Organic Architecture. This is because it would seem three hours is
not enough time to carefully design an Organic building.

 

In later writings he
also said how Organic Architecture ‘is the Architecture of Democracy’ (Lloyd
Wright, 1945). However this country house was built for a rich client.
Democratic architecture should mean houses for more middle-income Americans,
but Wright doesn’t go on to do this until later in the 1930s when he designed
Usonian Houses, which are cheap and compact. In addition to this, Wright’s fundamental
understanding of nature can be questioned, as preservations of Fallingwater
have had to occur since very soon after its completion. Wright didn’t seem to
take into account that building with organic materials wouldn’t make the
structure resilient to the elements of southwest Pennsylvania!

 

Despite Wrights
‘resources’ to create Organic Architecture becoming more developed over the
years following Fallingwater until he had them published in 1954, he already
had his ideas of Organic Architecture from the beginning of the 1900s. This can
be seen in his ‘Prairie Houses’ which begin in 1901 – this was the beginning of
Wright’s journey into Organic Architecture. So, although Fallingwater took
three hours to design, Wright’s apprentice at the time Edgar Tafel says ‘He
never liked to draw until he knew what he was going to draw.’ (The House on the
waterfall, 1987). This means Wright would’ve spent the three months after his
site visit to the waterfall thinking of his design and using his understanding
of Nature to consider every organic aspect of the building, until he put pencil
to paper.

 

Fallingwater has now
become a National Treasure as part of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and truly
an example of democratic architecture. It gives back to society a place for
students, artists and many others to visit and be inspired. Wright says ‘No
house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill.
Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the
other’ (Lloyd Wright, 1943) and this is what he achieves with Fallingwater and
why it is still such an inspiration to so many.

 

Fallingwater is
organic down to the materials used in its structure, furnishings in the
interior and the way it appears as if evolving out of the rock itself. It
complies with every single one of his resources and demonstrates his deep
understanding of Nature in architecture and sets the precedent for Organic
Architecture today. However he seems to have ignored the fact that a building
isn’t entirely natural, however much you try to make it. Overlooking this is
what has resulted in Fallingwater’s constant need for preservation. Despite
this, I believe that only Frank Lloyd Wright’s deep understanding of Nature,
which was influenced a lot by his childhood, enabled him to build such a
breath-taking house. It truly embodies his understanding of Nature.