Poetry: The Great Smoke Off

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Frank Lloyd Wright is easily America's most influential Architect.

In his 91 years he managed to deconstruct the box, change the flow of the floor plan and the material we build with, and invent Organic Architecture. Not bad for a kid from Richland Center, Wisconsin.

Born in 1867, Wright was first influenced by the Wisconsin countryside, where he spent summers with his uncle. As he wrote in his autobiography, "I learned to know the ground plan of the region in every line and feature.

For me now its elevation is the modeling 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 bursts into the glorious blaze of autumn. I still feel myself as much a part of it as the trees and birds and bees are, and the red barns."

This understanding of the horizontal planes of the land and its organic nature infused much of Wright's lifework. Wright got his start in architecture in 1885, when his parents divorced and he spent two semesters working for Allan Conover, the Dean of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin to help support his family. He also drafted for architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee.

Frank Lloyd WrightFrank Lloyd WrightIn 1887 he left Madison for Chicago where he worked for the firm of Adler and Sullivan for six years. Sullivan was one of the few influences Wright ever acknowledged, calling him his "Lieber Meister," or beloved master.

Sullivan was known for his integrated ornamentation based on natural themes, and he developed the now famous maxim "Form Follows Function."

This is what Wright would later develop into "Form and Function are One."

After leaving Sullivan, Wright began his own firm from his home outside Chicago, and his first masterpiece was The Winslow House built in 1893 in River Forest, Illinois. The house clearly expressed Wright's style in architecture with its expansive and open features.

Creating a natural link between building, man and his environment was Wright's goal, and he created a union between the client's needs and the natural environment of the site by building the structure out of materials found in the area.

The houses built during this early era came to be known as Prairie Houses and are characterized by expansive and open floor plans, long, low horizontal planes, low pitched roofs, deep overhangs and low linear windows that further emphasize the horizontal theme. Wood is stained and never painted to showcase its natural beauty. The "deconstruction of the box" begins with these first designs.

The corners of a box are brought inward and the roof plane extended, therefore elongating the horizontal plane and assuring the openness of the room. Less energy is trapped in the corner and a feeling of expansiveness overcomes the dweller.

Frank Lloyd WrightFrank Lloyd WrightIn 1901, Wright delivered a famous talk entitled "The Art and Craft of the Machine" at the Hull House in Chicago.

It was the first time an American architect embraced the machine and was widely acclaimed. The European Arts and Crafts Movement had denounced the machine believing it was responsible for the decline in quality and craftsmanship in architecture.

But Wright urged the machine's use not to recreate ornate hand-made designs, but rather to bring out the beauty and simplicity of wood. This insistence on simplicity and the natural use of materials carries on today in the architecture of the Craftsman homes found in California and throughout the West Coast.

The feeling one has upon entering one of these homes is a feeling of openness; rather than the divided rooms of many homes, these rooms flow into one another. The ceilings are low and the rooms wide. It's a masculine architecture, with heavy use of stained wood, natural stone fireplaces; it is sturdy and heavy and though very open, the low ceilings make the rooms cozy.

Wright usually designed the furniture and no area of the building is wasted. Everything has a purpose. In 1914, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to build the Midway Gardens in Chicago. This civic arena hosts concerts and exhibitions with numerous buildings connected by terraces and surrounding a large outdoor arena. While Wright was in Chicago overseeing the construction, his lover Mamah Borthwick Chene was at their home, Taliesin, in Wisconsin, with her two children and was entertaining numerous houseguests.

After dinner was served, the butler quietly excused himself, went outside, nailed the windows shut and set fire to the home. For anyone lucky enough to find the one unlocked door, the crazed butler stood just outside with an axe and hacked the ones trying to escape. All together, 6 were murdered. The butler was apprehended, but no motive was ever determined.

Despite this tragedy, Wright continued working, rebuilding Taliesin and finishing Midway Gardens.

He went on to build the Imperial Hotel, which withstood the Kanto earthquake in Tokyo in 1923, as well as his famous Johnson Wax Administration Building in Racine Wisconsin. With this building, Wright had a vision of lily pads supporting the ceiling, and he realized it. Fallingwater, his most famous house, built on a waterfall in rural Pennsylvania, was also built during this period.

During this time, the Taliesin Fellowship, the Taliesin Associated Architects, the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation were also founded. Wright also published An Autobiography and The Disappearing City at age 65.

Amazingly, it wasn't until 1958 that the Guggenheim was built in New York City, the same year that he published The Living City, a model of which is on display, along with many of his sketches, notes, photos, and pieces at The Municipal House. Of the more than 1,100 projects Wright designed during his lifetime, nearly one-third were created during the last decade of his nearly century-long life.

Wright was tireless in his efforts to create an architecture that was truly American. Every time adversity came his way, Wright conquered it, reinventing himself and staying ahead of his peers with his innovative designs. And here we are, in Prague, admiring his work decades after it changed the world.

- Linda Cawelti is a flier, writer, wife and a wholistic-life-lover often found in the woods hugging trees, enjoying Zen moments or lusting after great design.
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