In this essay, I am going
to look at Frank Lloyd Wrights understanding of nature as a theorist and as an
architect. I am going to discuss the many principles he introduced in his
wrigints and analyse those that he implemented within one of his buildings. I
will evaluate the principles which he implemented into the Falling Water which
took over 3 years to build in the 1930s.
Frank Lloyd Wright spent
most of his life writing books and articles to explain a theory he had in
integrating nature within architecture. The American architect started to
implement his theories in buildings which he had designed to express his
personal views on ‘Organic Architecture.’ This philosophy he has, has several
meanings, and can be defined differently to different architects.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal
understanding of organic architecture was inspired by various architects before
his time. He looked at nature carefully and manifested the philosophy in his
own way differing from previous architects who had different inputs in it. The
connection of nature with architecture was influenced by the teachings of his
mentor, Louis Sullivan whose saying was ‘form follows function.’ Wright didn’t
agree, instead of seeing form followed by function, he saw form and function as
one and, so he used nature to integrate this theory. Below are some of Wrights principles of organic
Wright would always take
into consideration the relationship between the site and building he designs.
The environment the building is plotted on would play a crucial part to his
design because he wanted them to seem as if they are ‘at home in nature.’
Wright believed ‘nature offered the ideal environment for independence and
seclusion. ‘Growing up in Wisconsin influenced Wrights passion in landscape architecture.
He reminisced how he fell in love with the ‘the modelling of the hills'(Biography.com
,2018) which may have influenced his beliefs in creating environments of
When nature was not
evident at the site, Wright would turn the buildings inwards or even ‘open them
out.’ Examples of inward buildings he created are Unity Temple, S.C Johnson
& Son administration building and the Larkin building. Usonian houses are
examples of the buildings Wright opened out in natural settings.
Nature as ornament is a
key principle Wright looked at, during the development of the many buildings he
designed. He believed that a building should serve as a foil to nature, and
nature should serve a building as ornament. He would always relate architecture
to its context by observing the colour pallet of its features as mentioned in a
book, “Go to the woods and fields for the colour scheme.” (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1908.)
architecture usually incorporates features like plants, light and water to
allow nature to take leadership over the design. His choice of colour would
reflect the surrounding environment with colours like brown, orange and red
(his favourite accent colour.) The colour red is incorporated in many of his
designs as it has an importance to nature and the Japanese culture which Wright
had previously studied.
The use of plants and
trees would set the building as a compliment to its context as he would often
arrange them in parallel lines organically. This creates a sense of nature and
pleases one’s eye whether they are situated within the building our outside it.
The view from the interior would create a different sense of nature to each
person.For example the view from the upper floor of the Tomek house in
Riverside, Illinois is said to portray the view from a splendid ship.
The use of material is a
key principle Wright considered and implemented within his designs. Wright
believed that ‘Natural Materials’ played a very important aspect in the
creation of organic architecture because materials can provide organic form to
express nature. The choice of colour would aid this and add ornament to the
structure, but its main principles would be to sustain our environment and
blend in organically. He explained that architecture should appear to be ‘growing
out of the ground.’ This would be achieved by using minimal materials inside
and out and relating the buildings texture, choice of colour and material to
that of the surrounding buildings as well as nature.
‘each material has its
own message,’ meaning that the choice of materials would influence the way the
building is perceived. The mass, proportion and outline of the form of the
building could be exaggerated with carefully chosen materials. An example of
his work which created a sense of mass and proportion because of the material
used would be the Solomon. R Guggenheim Museum. The museum is perceived as a
grand spiral staircase which seems to be ‘growing out of the ground.’ Frank
Lloyd Wright used Gunnite as the construction material to create this majestic
building. Wright has always been passionate about implementing new emerging
technologies in his design because he believed it was the future of
Wright’s use of Gunnite
(sprayed concrete) seemed to have been a failure as his grand museum required several
renovations In 2017, almost 60 years after it had been built. Cracks had formed
on the interior and exterior walls because of the exposure to high winds and
variations in temperature causing the walls to expand and contract. Wright,
should have taken future maintenance and defect causes into consideration when
designing the grand structure.
Personally, I believe
wright focused more in using new technologies when creating architecture,
rather than focusing on his philosophies ‘form and function as one.’ Instead of
creating functional buildings, it seems that Wright focused on the construction
of art to make the form aesthetically pleasing. He focused on what the building
would look like once it had been built rather than considering future
maintenance. He believed that new technologies would solve design problems in the
future, which may be his reason for not looking at these aspects.
Wrights understanding of
nature is demonstrated best in two of his most famous buildings. The
‘Fallingwater’ and ‘Taliesin’ which both were situated on top of a natural
feature to grow naturally out of the ground. The iconic Fallingwater is said to
have been drawn up in a matter of hours. The first drawings of his buildings
were essentially the last with minimal development in his design. Wright
positioned the building on top of the waterfall rather than next to it, because
he had the intention to be a part of the feature, and not ‘an object to be
The original blueprints
of the complex cantilever arrangement highlight a few features which wright had
included to supplement his idea of making the structure fit into site. Wright
ensured that exterior support was not constructed to prevent it looking like it
had been built on top. Exterior columns and beams are elements which could
destroy the beauty of architecture if exposed externally. He placed steel beams
inside the dwqelling, which held the cantilevers spanning off the rock. The
building is almost floating above the waterfall and has the creek running below
which wright wanted people to access with a set of stairs.
Wrights stairway to the
creek is a very well-known element in the design which allows one to admire the
true beauty surrounding. Wright did not consider the impats flooding could
cause on the struvture if the creek was to veer overflow. It is reported that
in July 2017, the creek had overflowed due to heavy rain which damaged the
plunge pool and Jacques Lipchitz’s sculpture at the vey bottom floor adjacent
to the stairway. If Wright had situated the structure at the shore of the creek
beside the Kauffman’s favourite picnic spot, this may have been prevented as
flooding would not have possibly rose above shore. But the interpretation of
the creek running below the structure would not have been possible, restricting
the beauty in relating the building with its site.
The building really does
grow out of the rock like a plant, just as he had intended it to do. This
relationship between site and building is so unique which makes it the most well-known
structure he ever created.
Wrights implementation of
nature with the Fallingwater should recognise integral ornament as a subjective
element to provide a natural pattern to the structure itself. This would be
done with the use of adding certain elements of the surrounding environment to
the actual interior itself making the interior looks just like the site.
Wrights use of materials from the environment supplemented this beautifully.
The Bear Run was always
as natural as it is so the setting of plans and trees did not require altering
like that of the Tomek house. With Fallingwater I believe that Wright focused
more on the interior and exterior of the structure because of the already
organic environment that was present. The geometry of Wrights iconic creation
does not look very organic in terms of the very parallel lines with cantilevers
hanging off the waterfall. To me organic architecture should not be linear or
geometric in this manner, I believe that the buildings should be curved with
irregular wavy lines which should suggest natural forms. An example of this would-be
Wrights Monumental Museum: The Guggenheim, which looks very natural with its
inward curved lines. The form of Guggenheim is very organic because it bares similarities to the Nautilus
shell as illustrated below.
The structure of the
museum seems very similar to the form of the shell whether its from the
interior looking up within the centre, or whether you are observing the structure
from outside. It makes me wonder whether it had served as a natural inspiration
for Wrights creation. With the geometry and form of the Fallingwater I am
unable to see similarities with any forms of nature. It would have been clever
to curve the form as imitation of the water from the creek running below.
To me it seems that
wright has been influenced by the dark gloomy surroundings when designing the
Fallingwater. Wright wanted to draw one from inside to admire the natural
surroundings rather than observe the waterfall as an object to look at. The
circulation within the house consists of dark narrow passageways which makes
one feel compressed drawing them to the outside for fresh air.
Wrights prime example of
nature as ornament to me is the beautiful, unique fireplace. The installation
of this focal feature is thought to be two boulders of rock which were originally
from the site of Fallingwater. Wright chose to include them in the residence
once he had learnt that the boulders were Kauffman’s favourite spot for lying
in the sun and listening to the falls. They truly represent wright’s principles
‘nature as ornament,’ as it brings the outside inside as well as the main
purpose of the fireplace, to keep the residents warm.
Wright grew up writing
about his philosophy in natural materials which he believed gives meaning to architecture.
He understood that implementing materials relating to the surroundings would
create an organic building. He encourages you to appreciate the use natural
material and implement them in your designs with a certain relationship to your
site. The colour tone of a residence is another key factor which he believed
could harmonise the building naturally if chosen carefully.
Wright understood that
observing the colour palette surrounding a proposed development is crucial in
allowing the building to blend in with the environment. He would often look at colour
tones and implement them within his designs with locally sourced materials. For
example, the Fallingwater is made up of rough stone which is sourced locally,
wood, steel and concrete. He understood that applying a light ochre finish to
the stonework would create a relationship with the trees, leaves and sandstone
adjacent to the building. Cherokee red is a colour he would often use within
his designs because of its relationship to nature. This certain colour was used
for the steel elements of the structure as they are products of iron ore which
is created with fire. Other colours are blue lava, mountain forest and
grapevine which each relate to the trees and the creek running below. He
understood that these colours should create a harmonious, serene environment
for his client, the Kauffman’s family.
illustration of the Fallingwater drawing with colours
understanding in bringing the outside inside the building was earlier discussed
with the fireplace which was previously situated in the buildings site. Another
key element is the flooring which he thought should portray the flooring of the
creek below. Wright wanted the flooring within the structure to be waxed giving
the feature a wet appearance. He thought giving the floor a wet appearance
would resemble the water of the stream below when light with light.
Wrights use of glass to strike
light onto the ‘wet looking’ floor and reflect, creating a resemblance of water
was very clever as it links natural materials with nature as ornament. He
promoted the use of glass as he understood that it was a ‘super-material’
because of its uses in opening spaces. He understood that glass should crate a
connection between two spaces within a building as well as the outside with the
exterior, and while doing so it should create a barrier.
He often promotes the
idea of creating an integral building through his writings, which can be
demonstrated with the use of glass. Glass is a translucent material which creates
a barrier between the outside and inside as well as connecting them. For
example, the use of glass within the Falling water allows his principle is
drawing people out of the narrow, dark hallways within the residence to explore
the outside while creating beautiful views of the buildings outside. This
really does create a relationship with the outside as it promotes the idea of
harmonizing nature. An example, for opening spaces is with the stonework of the
famous fireplace boulders which seem to pass right through the glass from inside
Frank Lloyd Wright has a
very important understanding of nature as a theorist. He has a passion for integrating nature
within architecture, which he has successfully accomplished with the example of
Fallingwater, Taliesin and the Robie house. His integration of nature
philosophizes his theory in ‘organic architecture,’ which refers to the way the
building conforms to the environment as well as use of materials to create a
sense of natural comfort. He understood that organic architecture should
support natural life and look alive.
He constantly wrote about
this theory as he wanted to promote the idea to many architects to come because
the complete goal of organic architecture is never reached. It never will be
reached because our technologies are evolving, everyday we are finding new
materials to use for our architecture. His passion for implementing new
technologies in his designs are a good example to this as he never did know the
true capabilities of them. For example, as mentioned earlier with the
Guggenheim Museum, did Wright take future maintenance into consideration as
well as defects which could occur due to the environment?
He believed that organic
architecture doesn’t only relate to the building and environment, but to the dwellers
too. He often took leadership over his clients by designing the furniture to
compliment his designs. At certain times, he would even create a dress for his
wife and female clients to create a total unification in the aesthetics of his
buildings. This to me can be very important as these little details compliment
the environment and add life to his works. To live organically in organic
architecture is a theory which he may have wanted in his time.