Happy 150th Birthday, Frank Lloyd Wright

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credit: Lloyd Alter/ Fallingwater

Frank Lloyd Wright was born on this day 150 years ago, and in his long and tumultuous career build some of the most interesting buildings in America. He was in many ways a pioneer in sustainable design, experimenting with solar and earth-sheltered housing. He wanted to make housing affordable and available to all Americans with his Usonian houses, and was a promoter of prefabrication.

FLW books

Lloyd Alter/ Frank Lloyd Wright collection/CC BY 2.0

He could also write, and was always good for a quote. I grew up surrounded by his influence; my mom was fascinated by him and bought every book he wrote; these are a few of hers that I now have. Some of his best lines:

He was no fan of cities, saying of Boston: "Clear out 800,000 people and preserve it as a museum piece." Of New York: "Prison towers and modern posters for soap and whiskey. Pittsburgh: Abandon it" and "I doubt if there is anything in the world uglier than a Midwestern city." In his 1958 book The Living City he wrote:

New York is the biggest mouth in the world. It appears to be prime example of the herd instinct, leading the universal urban conspiracy to beguile man from his birthright (the good ground), to hang him by his eyebrows from skyhooks above hard pavement, to crucify him, sell him, or be sold by him.

Modernists hated him; Philip Johnson called him " the greatest architect of the nineteenth century." Meanwhile, he hated Philip Johnson's famous Glass House, visiting it and complaining "Here I am, Philip, am I indoors or am I out? Do I take my hat off or keep it on?"

My favourite quote about bad architecture: "The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his clients to plant vines."

And finally:

Human beings can be beautiful. If they are not beautiful it is entirely their own fault. It is what they do to themselves that makes them ugly. The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes. If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.

Quotes that are attributed to Frank Lloyd Wright but he probably never said:
"Centralization: If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger."
"There is nothing more uncommon than common sense."

Here is a roundup of some of our posts related to Frank Lloyd Wright.

Fallingwater: a contradiction in sustainable design

credit: Kelly Rossiter

Kelly Rossiter/CC BY 2.0

Edgar Kaufman Jr. said of Fallingwater:

Fallingwater is famous because the house in its setting embodies a powerful ideal -that people today can learn to live in harmony with nature. . .As technology uses more and more natural resources, as the world’s population grows even larger, harmony with nature is necessary for the very existence of mankind.

Spend the night in Frank Lloyd Wright's Duncan House

credit: Lloyd Alter/ Duncan House exterior

Lloyd Alter/ Duncan House exterior/CC BY 2.0

The Duncan House is no Fallingwater (and I am no photographer) but it is fascinating in its own way, and there is much that can be learned from it. It also is available both for touring and you can stay in it overnight, as we did before continuing to Fallingwater.

Frank Lloyd Wright Did Not Go Solar Posthumously; He Always Was

Rufus Knight 1938/Public Domain

I got cranky about an article in Grist by Chris Mims about solar panels being installed on Taliesin West.

I know I shouldn't get so hot and bothered about a headline on a quickie post. But it summarizes such a common attitude, that solar is something that you add on instead of baking in. That it is all about gizmo green instead of about good design. When in fact, Frank Lloyd Wright went solar long before Christopher Mims or I were born.

Every house should have roof overhangs, except when they shouldn't or can't

Martin House

Lloyd Alter/ Not my house addition: Martin House has overhangs/CC BY 2.0

I referenced the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo in a discussion about eaves and their historic and structure-saving functions. The eave design can keep you cool too by providing shade for windows.

Will self-driving cars fuel urban sprawl?

broadacre city

Frank Lloyd Wright: Broadacre City/Public Domain I reference Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City a lot when discussing self-driving cars; it was his idea of how one designs for the automobile, where density and distance become irrelevant. I continue to suspect that it will make a comeback.

Quote of the Day: Tim De Chant on how self-driving cars will affect cities

Building Broadacre

© Building Broadacre City model

After my initial burst of enthusiasm about autonomous cars, (see How the self-driving car might make our cities better and greener) I am beginning to think I got it wrong; I keep saying that young people are turning their backs on cars because they would rather look at their phone, but what if they can do both in a self-driving car? It's the ticket to Broadacre City.