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An Architect's Worship of Nature

Frank Lloyd Wright, a distinguished American architect, was born in 1867. In the first half of the twentieth century, he was one of the leading architects. Until this day, in American history he is remembered as one disguised human beings, who devoted his life for the urban development concept. His ideas of urban development are grouped in the Broadacre city concept, and in 1932, he published a formal tract on this subject in his book, The Disappearing City (De Long 3). Later he revealed a very detailed 3.6 by 3.6-square meters scale model about his vision of a hypothetical 10-km2 community. In subsequent years, he presented this concept in many forums, and continued to develop the idea until his death in 1959.

In 1889, as a young man, without a college degree, he started his career with another noted American architect, Louis Sullivan. In 1893, they parted, and Wright began his own practice. His early design of houses demonstrated a unique talent of an aspiring architect. Those designs had their own style, which mimicked horizontal planes without basements and attics (“Biography”). The rooflines of these horizontal homes were low-pitched, with deep overhangs and uninterrupted walls of windows that merged into their environment. He built with natural materials and never painted. Affinity to nature was his principle of design, which eventually coined him as an organic architectural designer. He used stone or brick fireplaces in the hearts of the homes, as well as the concept of continuity of space by making rooms open to one another. Some of the notable creations of the earlier period of his career include the Robie House in Chicago, Illinois and the Martin House in Buffalo, New York (“Biography”).

His philosophical principles of design are based on finding of consistency of external appearance with internal composition with respect to the nature of the building that is to be built in a particular time and place. He preferred designing from inside to outside, and not vice versa. He maintained flexibility in design in order to continue any type of future extension of the building. His admiration of nature can be found in his design. For example, high graceful columns in the lobby of the Johnson Wax building built in 1936 show forms of mushrooms. The research tower of the same building illustrates tree branches with glass leaves. Both administrative and research tower are made of brick and glass; glass is in tubing, and not in panes designed to allow light but not view. The Robie house built in 1908-1909 is a landmark, which reveals Wright’s best expression of Prairie masonry structure. Guggenheim museum is a unique square ramping gallery that displays paintings and artifacts at the various layers of the museum while facilitating the natural lighting through the upper dome over the building.

Among his numerous masterpieces, Fallingwater is a worldwide known project that he designed and built during 1935 – 1937. It is a country house over a small stream in western Pennsylvania that became a National Historic Landmark of the United States (McCarter 23). The embedded architectural design concept in Fallingwater is called organic architecture, which illustrates the integration of a house into the complex world of Pennsylvania’s nature (McCarter 24). According to the American Institute of Architects, Fallingwater is one of the notable manifestations of American Architecture where Frank Wright demonstrated that Form and Function are one. Wright utilized Sullivan’s maxim Form Follows Function who believed that American Architecture should be based on American function, not European traditions (“Biography”).

Fallingwater was built in a unique location on natural rocks and above waterfall, which cannot be seen from the inside; it only can be heard. Wright used his earlier concept of the horizontal plane in Fallingwater house design. It is constructed in three horizontal levels, which represent verandas and cantilevers (Perez). From geometrical viewpoint, his design constitutes a central vertical axis, which is the chimney of the house together with the staircase and horizontal axes, which are three levels of the building (Waggoner et al. 58). In this design, Wright used asymmetrical overhangs in each of the levels of the house, which were projected into different directions. Glass and natural stone decorated the exterior displaying the house as an organic part of the surrounding environment.

In the earlier part of the 20th century, expressionist modernism was a popular architectural design style. This design treats the edifice as a work of art and preferred form to tectonics. The style of the Fallingwater house maintained expressionist modernism with an emphasis on Japanese architecture (Perez). This is expressed through the selection of materials, which, in this case were brick, rock, and wood. The material selection classifies Wright as a worshiper of nature who successfully integrated the house into the nature through the implementation of aforementioned materials. Though the use of natural rocks both in interior and exterior design contributed to wilderness, but it requires constant technical support due to the constant pressure they resist from the humid environment. However, in 2002, this problem was taken care of with the help of the post-tensioning technology, which implies the introduction of high-strength steel cables to the exterior walls of a structure (Waggoner et al. 9).

The furniture of the house cannot be removed; thus Frank Lloyd made the interior design also a part of the nature (Perez). Located inside the house, one will perceive the nature because of the use of glass walls, and at the same time will enjoy the vibrant view of the outside accompanied by the sound of the waterfall.

Frank Wright’s project Fallingwater was a daring act, which eventually produced a dramatic masterpiece by promoting balance between man and nature. The project represents that a great architect is working on his greatest height of his design powers. The mere fact that a complex construction is in the middle of the forest, with only natural rocks as its foundation, demonstrates the architect’s courage that intrigues everyone. In fact, to build a house without changing the natural landscape of the area, and making it sit on a waterfall demonstrates a revolution in the architectural design. Fallingwater, a small personal residence when skyscraper resembled America’s iconic buildings, became a world masterpiece in architectural design; this is where the majesty of the Fallingwater reveals itself. Right after the completion of the Fallingwater in 1937, the Time magazine put the house on its cover, proclaiming it the architect’s “most beautiful job” (Jaffe 1).

In the design and construction of the Fallingwater, Wright demonstrated continuity of space, continuity of materials, and continuity of connection to the site; united man, nature, and architecture. “Wright’s Fallingwater is timeless,” says Franklin Toker, the author of Fallingwater Rising (Jaffe 1).