This weekend I made it out to NYC for the Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward exhibit at the Guggenheim. I had hoped to get there sooner, as the exhibit closed on Sunday [making a Saturday visit, the second-to-last day, quite crowded] – but I couldn’t, and so I’m sorry for talking about it here on AMNP now that the exhibit has ended. Those of you who were in or around the NYC area and slept: sorry, but you missed out, my ninjas. You’ve got to be on top of this kind of thing.
While any student of architecture – and many casual observers of the profession, especially here in the US – are pretty well acquainted with the work of FLW, I think that even Wright enthusiasts would have been impressed by the collection on display. For starters – it’s Wright’s work, exhibited in one of his most famous buildings. I think that’s pretty dope. Aside from the collection, though, the collection of work was really quite impressive to see. Unlike seeing his work in a book, a lecture hall, or on a computer screen, his actual sketches + drawings – when seen in person – demand a whole new level of attention. Now, I’m no huge fan or Wright necessarily, nor do I think that I learned a great deal of new information about his work and concepts from the exhibit – but being able to examine so much of his work, close up and in detail, was a fantastic experience. And in addition to his own drawings, sketches, and models, the Guggenheim commissioned a number of new models built by Situ Studio – which were fantastic, especially those of his un-built projects. From a sectional model of the Pittsburgh Point Park Civic Center to an exploded, large scale model of the Herbert Jacobs House, they were stunning and really added an extra level of intricacy to the entire exhibit. I hope many of you were able to get there before it closed.
One thing that jumped out at me, which I had never spent much time considering before, is how unsuccessful Wright actually was with dealing with the automobile in many of his more grandiose projects. He talked of terracing, of long beautiful horizontals meant to reflect the midwestern plains, and of adding nature to buildings by integrating landscaping everywhere in many of his large scale proposals. But, looking at his designs for projects like the Living City and the Pittsburgh Point Park Civic Center, it struck me that Wright’s parking proposals weren’t particularly revolutionary. Yes, he spiraled the ramps around the entire proposed project, or added some other bit of visual interest – but at the end of the day, this sequestered the project from its surroundings in way that we now know to be undesirable [the suburban mall, etc].
In visiting the exhibit, and realizing this about his work, I was surprised that I hadn’t really considered this before – I suppose that when I was younger and my interest in Wright was greater / I was studying his work in school, I was much more focused on the architecture itself. Even when looking at his expansive planning proposals and the Living City, it was more about vision and concept [and aesthetic, I assume] to me than feasibility. Now, seeing the work again, I was struck by how many of these concepts he was working on seem to have been somewhat achieved – and how problematic [and terrible] many of them are. Sprawl. Car culture. Decentralization – with big centralized ‘public’ structures [the mega-mall, the mega-church]. That said, Wright also envisioned people living with the land, in a more agrarian and sustainable way – in addition to the invention of some kind of futuristic cars, and those helicopter-things he was always drawing.
Regardless of my opinion of his work, however, the exhibit was extraordinary.