Marking the 150th anniversary of the American architect's birth in 1867, New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) presents Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive, a major exhibition that critically engages his multifaceted practice.
MoMa, with its introduction describes Wright as "one of the most prolific and renowned architects of the 20th century, a radical designer and intellectual who embraced new technologies and materials, pioneered do-it-yourself construction systems as well as avant-garde experimentation, and advanced original theories with regards to nature, urban planning, and social politics.'
The exhibition comprises approximately 450 works made from the 1890s through the 1950s, including architectural drawings, models, building fragments, films, television broadcasts, print media, furniture, tableware, textiles, paintings, photographs, and scrapbooks, along with a number of works that have rarely or never been publicly exhibited. Structured as an anthology rather than a comprehensive, monographic presentation of Wright's work, the exhibition is divided into 12 sections, each of which investigates a key object or cluster of objects from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, interpreting and contextualizing it, and juxtaposing it with other works from the Archives, from MoMA, or from outside collections.
According to a museum promotional guide, the exhibition seeks to open up Wright's work to critical inquiry and debate, and to introduce experts and general audiences alike to new angles and interpretations of this extraordinary architect.
For those in the South, particularly Florida residents and those on vacation, Lakeland, a college town of 200,00, is home to the most buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on a single site in the world. Florida Southern College brings visitors from the four corners to behold the 12 buildings, all connected by Wright's walkways he called Esplanades. The college is on the National Register of Historic Places and was named a National Landmark of the United States.
Wright the genius was also Wright the enigmatic architect. Controversial, daring, tragic and at times revolutionary, the American design landscape would never be the same.
The collaboration began in the 1930s between the college's president and Wright, the preeminent American architect of the 20th century.
The college project became the longest-lasting commission of Wright's life, stretching from 1938 until his death in 1959. He was in his 70s when he started the work. Wright agreed to create a masterplan for the campus and to design 18 buildings. Ultimately, the college completed 12 structures during that 20-year expansion period. The college still owns all the designs.
Described as"learning spaces, working spaces and gathering spaces." other architects have called the campus "Wright's Village." The nickname is both for the sheer number of Wright-designed buildings and because the campus, according to college officials is the finest example of Wright's style of "organic architecture" anywhere in the world.
Clean lines, natural design elements and locally sourced construction materials are hallmarks of Wright's work. The buildings reflect Wright's belief in the unity of all things, and are built to a human scale, with similar construction materials. With the exception of one building, all are linked together by a series of covered walkways that Wright called "esplanades."
Wright's design was different from the typical design of an American college campus at that time. Wright can be seen on a college video at the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center, observing that American art and culture was a series of "borrowed ideas." and that Americans needed to create their own culture that was not based on classical or European design.
In the book "Frank Lloyd Wright's Florida Southern College," the author states that most campuses at the time were built in gothic or classical styles, some with ivy-laden walls. The Florida Southern campus was the first American college campus to be designed in the "modernist" architectural style.
Geometric shapes and patterns are seen throughout the campus: circles bisect a rectangle. The Danforth Chapel incorporates triangular patterns and has a triangular-shaped roofline that extends out into a point.
On his first visit in 1938, Wright spent three days walking through the orange groves, assessing the land and letting it inspire him. The site was somewhat unusual for Florida in that it was on rolling terrain that sloped downward to the north shore of Lake Hollingsworth, one of 13 lakes within the Lakeland city limits. Wright's design confirms that he understood the potential of the Florida landscape, and according to college archives proclaimed that "every building is out of the ground into the light — a child of the sun. Buildings should seem to grow from the earth and belong as a tree belongs."
Wright's first building was the magnificent Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, the spiritual centerpiece of the campus. The design features a three-level concrete tower that rises to 65 feet. Each level of the concrete tower has a cutout geometric shape that resembles a "bowtie." That geometric symbol is now incorporated into the design of the official college logo.
One of Wright's most impressive designs is not a building at all, but a water feature called the Water Dome. Wright thought of it as a gigantic circular "fountain of knowledge," 160 feet in diameter.
Wright, in keeping with the mission of a center of higher learning, left a cultural heritage for future generations of Americans. Your choice: Go to MoMa or Florida Southern College. Even better, visit both. Life is enriched when we stir the imagination.
(Images courtesy of Florida Southern College)