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Double-thinking Frank Lloyd Wright

July 22, 2011

“His roofs leak.” That’s a common remark about the man who helped develop the concept of the flat roof. A tremendous designer (and a poor engineer), he was undeniably a brilliant architect. He was also curmudgeonly and egotistic, bullying clients into accepting designs they had not reckoned on and often going far beyond the assumed budget. He was an architectural dictator who insisted that things be done his way.

Nevertheless, his work is amazing. Visiting Fallingwater was an experience I’ll never forget. His early commissions in Oak Park seem so strange and altogether new in comparison to the houses on all sides that one feels a sense of amazement to think that they were inhabited by men in top hats and their corseted wives. Standing in front of Robie House, one is filled with a feeling almost like reverence. The man could design a house, without doubt; it’s just a shame he didn’t have a team of engineers on hand to help him make his dreams last. Yes, most of his roofs leak, and Fallingwater had to be shored up several years ago due to failing cantilevers, at a cost of millions of dollars.

It’s a metaphor, if you care to look at it this way: to conceive of beautiful and timeless forms that have never existed before, but to fail in the execution. Seen that way, Wright’s architecture mirrors America’s government: a once-great idea that has become marred over time by disfunctionality. Our national roof is leaking and our cantilevers are failing…can anyone repair them so that future generations can regard our house with respect once more?


From → Houses

  1. Hello! I found your blog after you had liked one of my posts. I have to say that I share your love of Frank Lloyd Wright! It’s been years since I’ve been to Fallingwater (I was in grade school on a field trip) but I remember it clearly. I’ve been trying to incorporate little touches of Wright in my own home because I am in love with his mission/nature-inspired style.

    Were the massive rhododendrons still although the pathway to get to the house when you visited? I still remember them pretty vividly because it was the first time I’d seen the flowers in the wild. They dwarfed the ones that my parents had in their flower bed.


    • Yes, the people at the house called them mountain laurels but they are in the same classification as rhododendrons….smaller cousins. And they were all in bloom! It was glorious.

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