Frank Lloyd Wright stands as the father of contemporary residential architecture in North America. Does he deserve it?
February 19, 2013 by Robert Koci
A number of years ago, Canadian Contractor ran a short story on Fallingwater, a famous home in Pennsylvania designed by one of the fathers of modern residential home design, Frank Lloyd Wright. I was fascinated by the home, mainly because I didn’t like the design much and was trying to understand why this architect was given so much posthumous air play in the United States (Wright died in 1959 at the age of 92). Mostly, his designs reminded me of every post war split-level I have ever seen in the suburbs of Montreal and Toronto where I grew up. Bloody ugly, frankly.
I had a chance to see visit one of his more famous designs and learn more about the man on a recent trip to Buffalo. His favourite client, the tour guide told us as we walked through the Darwin Martin House in the suburbs of Buffalo, was compliant and rich. No surprise there. Wright liked to design the furniture as well as the house in order to control how the rooms were used and what they looked like after construction. He was such a control freak, in fact, that long after construction had ended Wright would drop by his job sites, unannounced, just to make sure his client was “behaving.”
The Darwin Martin House itself confirmed my feeling about Wright’s design sensibility. Though the tour guide took great pains to describe the purpose for the odd, often boxy features of the home, what I walked through was still cold and uninviting. Though windows featured predominately in his design, the house was dark. The effort to “bring the outside in and push the inside out” that Wright was famous for struck me as more of a parlour trick that tortured the footprint and pocketbook of the house and client.
The trip did remind me of how fascinating architecture can be: How a building’s design changes thinking, behaviour and lives. And good architecture is fun to build. It makes you realize you can be a part of something bigger than yourself.
The visit inspired the new poll posted on the home page of Canadiancontractor.ca where I asked how you perceive architecture. If you have an opinion, please answer the poll and comment here. I think there might be more room in Canadian Contractor for exploring design issues.