Liberal Arts 200B
May 23, 2003
Influences of the Organic
The works of Frank Lloyd Wright made him the most famous American architect, and his buildings ushered in a new era of architecture. The breadth of his work, which spanned over seven decades, demanded attention. However, more than pure volume of production underscored his importance to the built environment, both past and present. The mention of Frank Lloyd Wright’s name most likely conjures up visions of “Prairie Houses”, his famous “Fallingwater”, or perhaps, the Guggenheim Museum. While these forms are all very different, they do posses a common denominator, the principle of organic architecture. An examination of Wright’s designs and writings will shed light on the architect’s amazing ability to synthesize an emerging modern world with the natural world through the principles of organic architecture.
Before taking a closer look at the principles of organic architecture, the social climate of the late nineteenth century must be considered. During the late nineteenth century, transformations in the economy, technological advances and a reorientation of social ideals led to changes seen in American architecture. As Clifford Clark wrote in the American Family Home, 1800-1960: In the years following the Civil War, the expansion of railroads, the establishment of a national telegraph and telephone network, the systematization of the currency, the growth of newspapers and magazines, and the tremendous influx of immigrants, created national markets for products and substantially increased factory production (136).
The rural nature of America began to shift. The expanding railroads made travel more accessible and movement to urban areas easier. By 1900 most Americans felt the influences and affects of urban life, even if they still lived in a rural community. The expansion of industry and technological advances filtered into virtually every aspect of American life. Technological advances began to change the quality of life for many Americans. The invention of gas hot water heaters, indoor plumbing, and mechanical washing machines promised to simplify the everyday life of families. Baking and sewing were no longer everyday chores that required hours of labor. Now, families were able to purchase many goods such as bread and clothes. “The vast array of new consumer products, ranging from clothes and cosmetics to foods and appliances, created an imaginative world offering new opportunities and experiences” (Clark 140). Families were surrounded by more and more accessible goods and services. Capitalizing on a culture of consumption, aggressive advertising campaigns hit newspapers and magazines across the country. For the first time many families were able to partake in luxuries that had usually been reserved for the upper classes.
With the luxuries, however, came disillusionment and uncertainty in the industrialized nation. In 1893, a depression marked the most devastating financial period of the 1800s. Millions of people lost their jobs and labor disputes riddled the steel and rail industries. Looking for the causes of the depression and the corruption of big business drove reformers to question social values and traditional Victorian ideals. Americans from all sectors of society were forced to rethink their values and re-evaluate the American dream. This nationwide movement, referred to as the progressive movement, reflected an optimistic belief that perfection was attainable in all spheres of life. “Its primary contribution was a shift from quantitative to qualitative values. Its base was a yearning for self-respect” (Ovnick 124-125). Americans from all sectors of society were forced to rethink their values and re-evaluate the American dream.
A key element to this American dream was the built environment. Frank Lloyd Wright said In the Realm of Ideas: …architecture is life; or at...
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