Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) or FL Babloo, as we in architecture colleges liked to call him, comes readily to mind if we think of a single man who revolutionized the built form. The early 20th century American architect paved the way for modernism in architecture and virtually stripped the embellishments that adorned the buildings of yore. In almost all architecture colleges, students are sharply divided between Wright and Corbu [Le Corbusier of Chandigarh fame] camps with the odd student for the new pioneers like Norman Foster and Santiago Calatrava. The designs they do are clearly a reflection of their inspiration and you can’t hide your loyalty for long. I was a secret member of the FLW camp although mostly my designs reflected the Corbu genre. The Fallingwater, arguably the most famous private residence in the world and the Guggenheim Museum, New York were my all time favorite buildings. I never imagined that I would be able to see both of them in my life.
Alpha totally won me over when she squeezed in a visit to FLW’s home during my brief visit to Chicago. I visited Guggenheim Museum two summers back but sadly couldn’t descend the famed ramp because of renovations. My brother, fully aware of my love for FLW’s work, arranged the trip to my Mecca — Fallingwater. FLW’s design philosophy centered around the open plan concept, the free flow of spaces, incorporating the natural elements of the site, centrality of the hearth in a home, horizontality of lines, and minimum details. Reminds you of Howard Roark from the Fountainhead? Well, Ayn Rand did in fact model the character after FLW – her contemporary and the novel does loosely follow the path of his life.
The beauty of his designs is in the lack of pseudo classical details like the arch, cornices, or domes that you see so abused by the Indian architect Hafeez Contractor. Visit Hiranandani Gardens in Powai, Bombay for a gaudy display of neoclassicism. It sure looks grand and impressive but you are fooled by the exterior arches and domes to find disappointing drab internal spaces. FLW didn’t believe in such deception. You are simply drawn into his creations from the outside and are not disappointed by the interiors. No offense to the people living there but it fails to impress the purist in me. Contrastingly, in FLW’s homes, the world outside looks charmingly similar from within as it did before you entered the house. FLW loved to stretch our imagination and technical capability of his era. Fallingwater is built on a waterfall when his client, Edgar Kaufmann, Sr. asked for a view of the falls. What better view than from the top, right? The house looks dynamically poised over the falls, like a diver waiting to take his dive. He designed a spiral ramp sloping all the way to the ground as a platform for viewing masterpieces when asked to design a museum, throwing all conventions of design astray. The result — a masterpiece much grander than the art it displays. Unfortunately his Mile High Skyscraper [self-explanatory] remains unbuilt to this day, not because of technical or structural problems but rather for the lack of will and ability to believe that this is indeed possible. He paid equal attention to the interior of a structure, not leaving it to minions, whom he thought would spoil the character of the built form. He smartly designed minimalist furniture that receded in the background and let the house hog the limelight. Form follows function — perfectly describes his credo. But he redefined it by fusing form and function and treating it as one simultaneous process. But that did not stop his designer chairs from being worth millions. I remember the tour guide at Chicago telling us that a certain chair was more in worth than the house itself. I found that a little hard to believe but knowing the legacy of FLW, it can be true.
I can literally give you a half-baked architecture lesson on his works but I will refrain from doing that. I am no expert and certainly not an authority qualified to even comment on his work (sense the awe there?). There is a ton of literature on the Internet which does a far better job that I ever can. I am listing some of them below:
- FLW Foundation
- Wright on the Web
- Great Buildings Online
- Selected Works (with original drawings)
I am putting up a photo album from my visits to his three structures. I hope you enjoy them as much I did. The dream house I wrote about, few weeks back was clearly an inspiration from Babloo’s work.