This article appeared as "Notes Towards a History of Agrarian Urbanism" in urbanNext, and was first published in Bracket 1 [on Farming], 2010.
Posts tagged with "Frank lloyd Wright":
This article appeared as "Notes Towards a History of Agrarian Urbanism" in urbanNext, and was first published in Bracket 1 [on Farming], 2010.
If Frank Lloyd Wright were still alive, June 8 would be his 150th birthday. Sadly, the architect who is one of America's most renowned is no longer with us, but the occasion can still be celebrated. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, one of Wright's best works, is putting on a series of events to mark the date.
The activities will be about the museum building itself and Frank Loyd Wright's involvement with it. June 8 will kick off with a special open day, starting at 10 a.m. and running through to 5.45 p.m. Admission will be reduced to $1.50 in reference to architect's would-be age. The Guggenheim’s newly renovated Cafe 3 will display large rare photographs of the museum during its construction phase. A special birthday cake will also be on the day's menu.
Between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., an actor-historian will be walking around playing the role of Frank Lloyd Wright. (Hopefully, he will not emulate all of the architect's traits—one of which was to be often aloof and a no-show.)
In case you miss it, further activities will be put on throughout the month including architecture-specific tours of the museum as part of the Art in the Round program, sketch workshops such as Drawing the Guggenheim, and a variety of family programs. In addition to this, the Guggenheim Store will also be selling new Wright-related merchandise, and the museum’s website will feature new content about the architect.
As heroes need rivals, winners require competitors. Champions stay on top only when challenged. The status quo in any area of human endeavor lasts only when staving off oncoming alternatives. While change comes eventually—whether gradual or abrupt, graceful or under siege—habit, doctrine, or tyranny often stall its advent, and when change does come, it is often less than complete. Historic practices and traditional principles underpin progress with lingering connectivity: What’s best from the past informs progress or even pulls it back from misguided tangents when the test of time delivers a failing grade, like elevated highways slashing the urban fabric only to be cursed later as killers of community.
The stakes of such successive challenges to established orthodoxy are especially high in architecture, the most public of artistic disciplines. Shifting design solutions shape the bedrock business of construction and the lives of end users regardless of the relative awareness of polemical origins. Along the way, land-use regulations and profit seek to play their according roles, making change all the tougher.
Such a contentious continuum sets the historic stage for Hugh Howard’s lively depiction of the professional and theoretical rivalry of the two most renowned American architects of the 20th century: Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson. Early on in this all-too-rare design-professional page-turner, Howard sums up his premise: “They shared a deep commitment to the cause of architecture, but the two could have hardly been more different, separated as they were by age, region, and sexual orientation…the yin and the yang. In love and in hate, the positive and negative charges that gave architecture its compass.”
The reader might emerge wondering if at times the book tries too hard to portray a tense, ideal dual-personification of a central axiom of the 20th century’s design evolution: The Romantic (Wright) versus the Modern (Johnson), informed as capital “M” Modernism often was at its applied outset by an “enduring fondness for the classical.”
Yet the effort proves pleasurably worthwhile as a way to chronologically measure two legendary careers, enhanced by their silver-tongued exchange of competing visions. A shared penchant for righteous control loosened as their long careers unfolded, if more in deeds than in words. Theirs proves an oddness of mutual gain.
Their rivalry’s defining crucible, as Howard reveals it with justified relish, is MoMA’s fabled 1932 Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, organized by the precocious (and independently wealthy, thereby prematurely well-connected) 26-year-old Johnson, along with certifiable scholar Henry-Russell Hitchcock.
In a none-too-soon nod to the European upheaval in design, museum founder Alfred Barr gave the go-ahead, asking only for some trace of American participation. Despite joint skepticism and caustic distrust, Johnson and Wright finally cooperated with a never-built plan called “House on the Mesa.” MoMA visitor traffic received a boost from the inclusion of the best-known stateside practitioner, and an inspired Wright emerged newly invigorated, with the modernist masterpiece of Fallingwater carrying straight through to the final assignment of the Museum of Non-Objective Art (the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum). The currency of polemical sparring started to pay rich creative dividends for all, no less than for Johnson himself who emerged as America’s official boy genius of design connoisseurship.
After his German flirtation with fascism and architectural studies at the GSA, Johnson took his place as Wright’s closely watched rival practitioner as well as critic, with his 1949 Glass House in New Canaan and the philosophical crossfire that it refreshed, according to Howard.
Howard quotes Johnson in response to Wright’s dismissal of the Connecticut retreat: “Was he born full-blown from the head of Zeus that he could be the only architect that ever loved or ever will?” Contrary to Wright’s insistence on originality, Johnson made no bones about his distilled use of precedent ranging from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to Andrea Palladio, who likewise reacted to site in a “formal way that alludes to the classical past.”
What Wright denounced as a mere box or “monkey cage” instead took its enduring place. It represented not only the International Style taking further hold of America’s design imagination and marketplace, but also an architecture based upon ideas and historic interplay: the midwife of modernism. Howard summarizes, “Johnson wrote few melodies but he was a great orchestrator…with the application of a critical and evaluative intelligence rather than the inventions of an inductive creative imagination.”
This tension of romantic originality and New World self-assurance versus the cerebral, globally ecumenical distillation of built excellence both past and contemporary defined the core theoretical crosscurrent during “The American Century.” Howard’s pairing succeeds at personifying this central debate, concluding: “Rather against his will, Johnson evolved into one of Wright’s most important public admirers. As a man who worshiped zeitgeist, he found that his old nemesis’s ideas retained remarkable vibrancy…work that transcended style and even time.”
Like the interpersonal artistic skirmishes enlivened recently by Sebastian Smee in The Art of Rivalry, attention should be given to a book that offers such engaging access to architectural theory and its visible results as sources for future impulse.
Lord Peter Palumbo, outgoing chairman of the Pritzker Prize for Architecture, recently looked back on his decades-long ownership of Kentuck Knob, the Frank Lloyd Wright house in western Pennsylvania, not far from Fallingwater, that is celebrating its 60th anniversary as well as the 20th anniversary of being open to the public.
Wright built Kentuck Knob—a small, one-story Usonian house on the crest of a knob, or hill, 2,050 feet above sea level, in Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania, in the Laurel Highlands mountain range six miles from Fallingwater—for I.N. and Bernardine Hagan, an ice-cream maker and his wife.
According to Lord Palumbo, Wright asked the Hagans when he interviewed them about their commission whether they were “nesters or perchers,” and that they told him they were nesters. If they were nesters, which Wright preferred, this meant, “you site the house just below the top of the knob and then you walk out to the knob. His reasoning was no man can compete with natural beauty and therefore you should not try to compete with it.” Lord Palumbo finds the view from the knob “quite extraordinary, one of the great views from this part of the world.”
He visited the house in the mid-1980s on a trip from Chicago (he once owned the Mies van der Rohe Farnsworth House outside Chicago, as well as Le Corbusier’s Le Jaoul Houses, outside Paris, selling all of them subsequently). “I fell in love with [Kentuck Knob], but I couldn’t get inside it. I fell in love with the outside, and said to myself, ‘If it’s as beautiful inside as it is outside, I must do something about it.’ So I went back six weeks later and effectively bought it then,” he said.
The architectural core of the open plan house—which is built of native sandstone and tidewater red cypress—is its hexagonal, stonewalled kitchen; its two wings are anchored by stonewalls, which rise to penetrate the horizontal line of its copper roof. Cantilevered overhangs and expanses of glass integrate its interior and exterior.
Shortly after Lord Palumbo purchased the house, a fire destroyed the master bedroom and bathroom. He was fortunate enough to find a retired Carnegie Mellon architect, Robert Taylor, who had worked on the home when it was built, to oversee the reconstruction.
Lord Palumbo and his family lived part-time in the house until the mid-1990s, when they decided to open it to the public. “We were getting quite a lot of interest from people, from students, architects, people interested in Frank Lloyd Wright, to visit the house, so it seemed like an obvious move to open the place to the public,” he explained. “It was also one way of ensuring that if anything happened to me, the house would be self-sufficient financially.”
Visitors, he added, “love the situation, love the house, and find that it has a human dimension because they can go through the house and see more or less how we live; they can see the toothbrushes, hairbrushes, family photographs. I think that family dimension is appreciated.”
Lord Palumbo originally bought 89 acres of land in Chalk Hill from the Hagans and now owns 600 acres and a 1920s farmhouse at the foot of the knob where he and his family stay when they visit. At Kentuck Knob, he has put out an eclectic array of fine and decorative arts and natural objects. On display is a wide array of decor, from Native American, Middle Eastern, and Chinese pottery to furniture by Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Charles and Ray Eames, Tapio Wirkkala, and George Nakashima (the last commissioned by the Hagans), as well as drawings and a collection of birds’ nests Palumbo found nearby. “I’ve always thought that quality goes with quality. I’ve never felt that a ball and claw foot by Chippendale, for example, does not sit anything other than easily with a Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair. I think they acknowledge one another as equals and have a good working relationship by being next to one another, because they are all the top quality of their time.”
Another change wrought by the Palumbos at Kentuck Knob is the addition of outdoor sculptures: Over 30 works by artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Sir Anthony Caro, and Claes Oldenburg have been placed in the landscape around the house and along the trail to the visitor center. They have also converted Kentuck Knob’s greenhouse—which once stood at Fallingwater and was brought to Kentuck Knob by the Hagans in the early 1960s—into a gift shop and cafe, and have restored the house’s original, triangular, man-made pond, built from boulders by Taylor.
The “great message of Kentuck Knob,” according to Lord Palumbo, is “the relationship between the art of Frank Lloyd Wright and nature—as it is at Fallingwater. It is the interaction between the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright and the beauty of nature. It was something that he always put great store by.”
A National Historic Landmark, Kentuck Knob can be seen only by formal tour, offered in 40- and 90-minute lengths from March through November and on a limited basis in December.
The Scottsdale, Arizona–based Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture is currently working toward achieving independence from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to maintain its accreditation as an institution of higher learning.
Architecture schools are required to be accredited by both the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), usually as part of a larger university, and the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). The HLC is responsible for overseeing overall standards of degree-issuing institutions in 19 states, while NAAB is only concerned with architecture schools. In 2010, the HLC updated its bylaws forcing all institutions of higher learning to be separate from any other larger institution, which does not have education as its primary mission. The Frank Lloyd Wright School is a division of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, meaning the school is not in line with the HLC’s current policies.
In a recent decision by the HLC, the school’s application for “Change of Control, Structure, or Organization,” a requirement for its continued accreditation, was denied. Working closely with the school, the HLC has asked for an updated application by November 30, which will be reviewed at its February board meeting.
“The response from HLC was never a matter of a disagreement with what was previously submitted. In consultation with their staff, we now understand the areas where they would like to see us flesh out our previous submission,” remarked Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation president and CEO Stuart Graff in a statement to the press. Graff and school dean Aaron Betsky have met with the HLC in order to understand the commission’s concerns and recommendations for their upcoming application. Both Betsky and Graff are confident the school is on the path to accreditation as an independent institution.
It is important to note that the school has not lost its accreditation, which is good through 2017, but it must prove that it is independent before that accreditation expires. The HLC’s criterion for accreditation dictates that “the governing board of the institution is sufficiently autonomous” and “the institution’s resource base supports its current educational programs.” This separation from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation greatly affects the school’s funding, much of which has come from the Foundation. In 2015 the school successfully raised $2 million dollars in order to become financially independent.
The school has been an accredited institution of higher learning since 1987, and first became accredited as an architecture school in 1996. The school’s NAAB accreditation is good through 2023. The Frank Lloyd Wright School offers a three-year Master of Architecture degree, which students pursue while splitting the year between the school’s Scottsdale, Arizona, and Spring Green, Wisconsin, campuses.