April 8, 2014

Great architect, jerk or both?

Author: Dan Rieple

If asked to name the greatest American architect you know of, who would it be?  I’ll bet you picked Frank.  Yes, the illustrious, flamboyant and dare I say arrogant, Frank Lloyd Wright.  I wonder, when he truly was as good as he was, and knew it as a matter of fact, can that be called arrogance?  Known for his progressive and unique designs in both residential and commercial buildings as well as furniture lighting and glazing.  I would have to agree that in the area of design, he was amazing, probably a genius in fact.  Most of his buildings are still standing and much of his furniture is still copied today.  I think he may have been one of the original, “Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” (George Bernard Shaw).

Though he would probably hated to admit it, he did make his share of mistakes.  You don’t take the risks he took and expect not to have at least a few “issues”.  Leaking roofs, settling foundations, and of particular interest to me, very cool but uncomfortable chairs.  The chair issues may not really be that big of  a deal however, considering the application.  In most cases they were for dining.  In Frank’s day and before, people sat up straight and up to the table and rarely leaned against the back of the chair.  In fact, I have read somewhere that the back of the dining chair was mainly a glorified handle for the purpose of moving the chair in and out.  You didn’t lean back and slouch down after a meal as many of us do today.  That was saved for the living room, brandy and cigars after dinner.

Where Mr. Wright steps out of the realm of design genius and into the jerk arena, is in his dealings with people.  Nothing profound here I suppose.  I’ve never heard of a building, a chair or a car refer to its designer as a jerk.  Mr. Wright was self and project absorbed.  From what I can tell, family came last.  He was pretty hard on his wives, not very good with his kids and tough on clients.  I’m making a few assumptions here, but, if one thinks that only what aids in, or is a part of, that which is being created has value, and that only things designed and created bring fulfillment, then it makes sense to care the least about those who are most valuable and care most about things that matter the least.  But who really knows the deep parts of Mr. Wright’s heart?  Not me, that’s for sure.  He was most certainly one of, if not the greatest American architect. However, I don’t think he was one of America’s greatest men.  I would reserve that title for the likes of Abraham Lincoln but then I have never heard of anything structural or artistic that he designed.  Maybe it’s not possible to be both.  Or, maybe it is.  Maybe only God was both.  Or maybe he was all three, a great designer, a great man, and a great woman.   Hmmm, kind of boggles the mind don’t it?

Frank Lloyd Wright interior