Monday, 18 July 2011

In Search of Frank Lloyd Wright

Even if you have a limited knowledge of architecture, you would have probably heard of Frank Lloyd Wright or maybe have seen one of his famous designs (Fallingwater, Robie House, Unity Temple, The Guggenheim Museum to name just a few). He is regarded as one of America’s greatest architects, with a career that spanned seventy years and continually pushed architectural boundaries. While his influence eventually spread world wide, it all began in Chicago where he obtained his earliest commissions and where you can easily trace his initial stylistic development. For Jules and myself, an Architectural Foundation tour of his home and studio as well as some of his early residential designs was a must see during our stay in Chicago. It seems that we weren’t the only ones following the footsteps of the great man as when we boarded our tour bus, it was full of people from all walks of life, states and countries keen to also experience his designs first hand. After a short drive west of the ‘windy city’ we find ourselves in the leafy suburb of Oak Park where Wright had built his family home and eventually his first working studio. Our knowledgeable tour guide takes us around the relatively modest home, which had been continually extended and modified as his family and his architectural practice grew. There are glimpses of the ‘Prairie Style’ emerging in some of the finer details in the home and also an increasing Japanese influence. This is particularly relevant to us, living in Osaka at the moment and having recently viewed ‘Yamamura House’ in nearby Kobe that was designed by Wright during his eventual visit to the country in the 1920’s. Standing in Wrights original studio in Oak Park, surrounded by much of the original furniture is quite amazing and is testament to the ongoing work of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust in restoring the residence to its original state. Our guide informed us that they had been fortunate to have the assistance of some of Wrights children, in the twilight of their lives, assisting them with many of the finer details. Following our tour of the house and studio we were able to walk around the Oak Park neighbourhood, where many of the early Wright designed residences still exist and have been lovingly restored by their owners. Over the years some of these houses have actually been demolished, but fortunately none for the past thirty years and the public are now able to appreciate them as they were intended, as functional residential homes. We finish our walking tour with a visit to Unity Temple, which is another Wright design that is still in use. Unlike many church designs, Wrights is much more intimate with stronger emphasis on horizontal and vertical line. All of these designs are precursors to many of the designs that followed and as we view these architectural gems we are able to gain a true insight into a great architects life and work.

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