Book Search:  

 

 
Google full text of our books:

bookjacket

Modern Architecture:
Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930
Frank Lloyd Wright

Book Description | Reviews | Table of Contents

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Published by Princeton University Press and copyrighted, © 2008, by Princeton University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher, except for reading and browsing via the World Wide Web. Users are not permitted to mount this file on any network servers. Follow links for Class Use and other Permissions. For more information, send e-mail to permissions@press.princeton.edu

This file is also available in Adobe Acrobat PDF format

INTRODUCTION

NEIL LEVINE

In a review in the New Republic in July 1931, just three months after Frank Lloyd Wright’s Modern Architecture: Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930 was originally published, the brilliant young critic and early devotee of European modern architecture Catherine Bauer described it as “the very best book on modern architecture that exists.”1 A future leader in social housing and community planning, Bauer wrote this neither out of ignorance of the field nor out of personal sympathy with the author’s position in it. She had spent the year 1926–27 and the summer and early fall of 1930 in Europe, where she met many of the important figures in the modern movement and studied the work being done. Ernst May and J.J.P. Oud, both deeply engaged in the area of housing, along with her mentor and lover Lewis Mumford, whom she met in 1928, were particularly instrumental in shaping her thinking on the social and collective purposes of architecture.

Bauer began her review of the Wright book affirming her belief that “architecture is intrinsically an unsatisfactory field of expression for the individual poet-genius.” “A new architecture,” she continued, “depends primarily on the careful establishment and strict acceptance of an idiom that has its roots in the social and economic structure of the time.” Acknowledging that Wright was “without doubt the most brilliant individual architect of our time,” she deplored the fact that he “only wants to express his own personality” and thus concluded in the review’s preamble that his way was not the way of the future. “The future,” she stated, “lay in the hands of men like Oud in Holland, Gropius and Stam and May in Germany,” who have worked “to strip architecture to its essentials, [and] who have suppressed their differences in the interests of the unit and the whole.”2

At this point, Bauer stopped and declared: “So much for the convictions of the reviewer. . . . [Bauer’s ellipses]” and then went on to exclaim: “Exuberant, confessedly romantic, insistently individualistic, at times even florid and rhetorical, [this book] is still (and I say it, who fought my rising enthusiasm at every turn of a page) the very best book on modern architecture that exists.” After summarizing and analyzing its contents, she finally concluded:

I am, still, in active disagreement with about a third of the book. I still would really rather live in a workingman’s house in Frankfurt [by Ernst May] than in one of Mr. Wright’s handsome prairie mansions. I still believe that symbolic variations cannot be invented cold on a drafting board, that they must evolve in time out of the functional forms themselves or not at all. But, fundamental as this criticism may sound, it detracts very little from my perplexing enthusiasm. . . . [Parts of this book are] so rich in sound observation, trenchant comment and philosophic purity that architecture itself takes on a new dignity, a fresh social importance. And Frank Lloyd Wright emerges as one of the most interesting figures that America has yet produced.3

In its exceedingly direct and honest assessment, Bauer’s review reveals both the enormous significance of Wright’s book as well as the complex and ambiguous status it bears in relation to the evolving history of modern architecture in what is usually considered to be its heroic stage.

Culminating a period of intense development and radical change since the beginning of the century, four books were published in English between 1929 and 1932 under the general title Modern Architecture. The one by the German architect Bruno Taut attempted to explain the “principles of the new movement” mainly through its production on the European continent and under the influence of the new material, social, and economic conditions of the industrial age.4 The other three texts all carried subtitles. The young architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock’s Modern Architecture: Romanticism and Reintegration, which also came out in 1929, was the first comprehensive historical account and analysis in English of the movement, locating its origins in the breakdown of the classical system in the later eighteenth century and the ensuing eclecticism and technological advances of the following one.5

Hitchcock was also directly involved, along with Philip Johnson, Alfred Barr, and Lewis Mumford (who was assisted by Bauer) in the last of these books to appear, Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, which served as the catalogue for the show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that took place in the early months of 1932 and that introduced the American audience to the architecture that the authors referred to as the International Style. Intending neither to trace the history of the movement nor to outline its social and industrial sources or implications, the exhibition catalogue focused on the formal characteristics that defined modern architecture as a “genuinely new style.” One of the architects given a featured place in the exhibition, along with Oud, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier, was their architectural “uncle” Frank Lloyd Wright. This was “not,” as Barr wrote, because he is “intimately related to the Style” nor merely a “pioneer ancestor,” but because, as “a passionately independent genius whose career is a history of original discovery and contradiction,” his work had to be seen as “the embodiment of the romantic principle of individualism” that “remains a challenge to the classical austerity of the style of his younger contemporaries.”6

Wright’s Modern Architecture appeared the year before the International Style exhibition. In its focus on the role of the individual in the creation of a spiritually liberated form of modern, democratic design along with its opposition of the idea of “an organic architecture” to one based on a collective “machine aesthetic,” Wright’s book stands as his first major public pronouncement on the subject of how his architecture fits into the development of the modern movement. It is the first actual book he ever published and thus represents the beginning of a determined effort on his part to bring his views on modern architecture into the public domain, an effort that soon saw the appearance of An Autobiography and The Disappearing City (both 1932) followed by numerous other books over the next twenty-seven years.7 While laying out the groundwork for a conception of a modern architecture grounded in nature and eschewing the mechanistic and functionalistic stereotypes of the “machine aesthetic,” Wright’s Modern Architecture also foreshadows the new world of decentralized living the architect was soon to call Broadacre City, a world that was to offer all the advantages of modern technology without any of the disadvantages of the urban congestion and blight that many recognized at the time as a major consequence of modernity.

THE PRINCETON KAHN LECTURES

As its subtitle indicates, Wright’s Modern Architecture was based on a series of public lectures. The fact that these lectures took place at Princeton University in the spring of 1930 is quite extraordinary, considering the conservative character of architectural education at American institutions of higher learning at the time. Walter Gropius would not begin his career at Harvard until 1937 and Mies would not begin his at the Armour (later Illinois) Institute of Technology until the following year.8 But the invitation to Wright to lecture at Princeton was not offered by the university’s School of Architecture as such. Rather, it came from its art history department, then as now known as the Department of Art and Archaeology and under whose aegis the School of Architecture functioned as a fully integrated entity from the time of its establishment in 1919–20 until the early 1950s.9

Princeton’s Department of Art and Archaeology was the oldest in the country, dating from 1883–85.10 It was also one of the largest and certainly one of the most prominent. Among its distinguished faculty in 1930 were Frank Jewett Mather, Charles Rufus Morey, Earl Baldwin Smith, and Theodore Leslie Shear, almost all specialists in medieval and ancient art or architecture. Sherley W. Morgan, an associate professor in the department, served as director of the School of Architecture. Morey, whose main interest lay in medieval iconography, was the prime mover of the department as well as one of the leading figures in the development of art history as a discipline in the United States. He served as department chair from the early 1920s through the mid1940s, during which time he proved to be a highly successful fundraiser, with special emphasis on the department’s publications program.

One of the persons Morey was able to attract as a major donor to the department was the New York banker and philanthropist Otto H. Kahn. Born in Germany, where he got his start in banking, Kahn emigrated to the United States in 1893, first working in New York with Speyer & Company and then with Kuhn, Loeb & Company, where he eventually became a chief partner and the firm’s expert in the financing of railroads. His great love was music, and he began his support of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Company in 1903, becoming chair in 1911 and president in 1918. He also gave a significant amount of money to underwrite the restoration of the Parthenon in Athens. In the area of higher education, he served as a trustee of the Carnegie Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Rutgers University.

Morey began corresponding with Kahn in 1923 soon after the financier’s son entered Princeton as an undergraduate. By the spring of 1924, Kahn had agreed to give the Department of Art and Archaeology $1,500 a year for two years (subsequently increased to three) in part to bring lecturers from Europe for extended stays.11 Over the next three years, the scholars brought to Princeton through Kahn’s gift included Michael Ivanovitch Rostovzeff, the social and economic historian of the ancient world; the French Byzantinist and professor of aesthetics at the Collège de France Gabriel Millet; and the British Middle Eastern archaeologist John Garstang, who lectured on Hittite art and archaeology.12

In 1927 Kahn joined the art history department’s Visiting Committee (on which he remained until his death in 1934) and promptly agreed to the “continuation” of his support for a lecture series. The “Kahn Lectures,” as they came to be officially called, were to run for a five-year period, beginning in the academic year 1928–29. Out of the $1,500 to be spent annually, half was to go for the lecturer’s fee and half for publication costs either for the lectures or for any other books in the Princeton Monographs in Art and Archaeology series. The annual “course” of lectures was “to be eight in number with two evening seminars for graduate students and members of the faculty at which the research problems in the subject will be discussed.”13

In its deliberations over who should be the first invitee, the department considered Arthur Pillans Laurie, a British authority on the technical processes of painting from antiquity through the seventeenth century, and Eugénie Sellers Strong, the classical archaeologist and art historian noted particularly for her work on Greek and Roman art. Without mentioning any names, it also considered the options of “a lecturer on American [meaning Precolumbian] Archaeology . . . and a lecturer on Architecture.”14 In the end, Johnny Roosval, a respected Swedish medievalist and the first professor of art history at Stockholm University, was invited to speak in the spring of 1929 on the history of Swedish art. Despite the fact that he had no expertise in the field, he was asked to make “particular reference to Swedish architecture, including some of the modern developments.”15 Roosval’s lectures, which were apparently not very exciting, were published in 1932 by Princeton University Press in the Princeton Monographs series under the title Swedish Art: Being the Kahn Lectures for 1929.16

One senses that there were those in the department lobbying for a speaker on architecture, and particularly modern architecture, since that is precisely the field that was targeted for the Kahn Lectures for 1929–30. In his talk on “Frank Lloyd Wright and Princeton,” given at Princeton University in the spring of 1980 in the colloquium “Frank Lloyd Wright and the Princeton Lectures of 1930” celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the event, Robert Judson Clark, upon whose research and insights I have relied heavily for this history, states that a major source for the push for architecture was the request by one of the younger members of the faculty, the medieval architectural historian George Forsyth who was then teaching the required Modern Architecture course, to have “practicing architects be brought in to augment this course.”17 Indeed, the reason given by Morey to the architect eventually chosen by the department for holding the lectures at the end of April or the beginning of May was so that they would “coincide with the closing part of our Modern Architecture course.”18

Frank Lloyd Wright was not the department’s initial choice for the second round of Kahn Lectures. Rather, it was Oud, who at the time was the chief architect of the Municipal Housing Authority of Rotterdam and one of the recognized leaders of the modern movement in Europe. Morey wrote to Oud in early January 1929 asking him if he would “consent to deliver a course of lectures . . . on the modern architecture of Europe or of Holland, or any aspect of the latest movements in architecture which you would prefer to treat.” “We feel that no one could speak with more authority than yourself” on “the modernist movement in architecture.” Morey also promised that a publication of the lectures in the Princeton Monographs in Art and Archaeology would be part of the deal.19

It is unclear precisely who suggested Oud to Morey and his colleagues. Though certainly not a household name by then, Oud had become a star in the rising pantheon of younger European architects. Still, you had to be in the know. Henry-Russell Hitch-cock, the most serious and trusted young critic and historian of the movement in the United States, wrote an important article in The Arts magazine in February 1928, a year before the invitation, praising Oud’s work “as of a quality equal to any which the new manner has achieved in France or Germany” and asserting, in his final sentence, that Oud’s work had to be viewed alongside that of Le Corbusier to appreciate its true merit. “Oud and Le Corbusier,” Hitchcock wrote, “are as different one from the other as Iktinos [the architect of the Parthenon] and the architect of the temple of Concord [at Agrigento] or the master of Laon and he of Paris.”20 In other words, each is a master in his own right, equal to those who designed the greatest monuments of antiquity and the Middle Ages. Philip Johnson was blown away by this piece and later claimed that his “conversion” to “modern architecture” “came in 1929 when I read [the] article by Henry-Russell Hitchcock on the architecture of J. J. P. Oud.”21 In addition to the purely artistic merits of the work, not to speak of its profound social values, Oud impressed his young American admirers, whether it be Hitchcock, Johnson, or Bauer, with his straightforwardness, his informality, and his openness to discourse.22

In his letter of invitation to Oud, Morey stated that “from my friend, Mr. Henry [-]Russell Hitchcock, I have learned that there might be some prospect of obtaining your consent” to give the Kahn Lectures.23 Can one assume from this that it was Hitch-cock who recommended Oud in the first place, or was he just the intermediary? Nothing that we know so far can help answer this question.24 What we do know is that Oud responded positively, although he requested an additional $250 for his honorarium and wondered whether the lectures could be scheduled for “final [sic] May or early June.”25 Morey agreed to the first but not the second request, remarking, as noted above, that the talks were planned to “coincide” with the last two weeks of the department’s “Modern Architecture course.”26

Everything seemed to proceed according to schedule through the summer and early fall. Morey wrote enthusiastically to Kahn in June of Oud’s impending visit:

We expect a rather fine series from Oud, and one that will make something of a sensation in Princeton, which needs waking up to modern architecture very much, so far as the University outside of the Department is concerned. The students in the School of Architecture are drawing a la moderne more and more, and to my mind extremely well, under the guidance of [Jean] Labatut [the School’s chief design critic]. Labatut is a Beaux-Arts man and not a modernist in any sense of the word, but he is an exponent of sound architectural principles and does not care at all how they are applied. Consequently, he puts no impediment in the way of the natural trend of the students toward the modernistic style, but his criticism makes them do modern buildings in a sound way.27

Morey was certainly correct in assuming that Oud’s lectures would create a “sensation,” although he clearly underestimated how large and widespread the sensation would have been. He also clearly showed that he had very little idea of what modern architecture was as Oud, Hitchcock, or Bauer understood the term.

Morey wrote the above letter to Kahn on the same day he received one from Oud’s wife containing material about the architect to be used for publicity purposes. More ominously, the letter also mentioned that the architect was having health problems, leading Morey to respond that “I shall assume unless I hear to the contrary that Mr. Oud will be able to deliver the lectures in the first two weeks of May, 1930.”28 Oud was suffering from frequent periods of depression, which ultimately led him to cancel his visit. Word did not come to Morey, however, until late December or early January. In a handwritten P.S. to a letter to Kahn of 21 January 1930, Morey said that “Oud has written that he can’t come over, on account of illness.” Interestingly he then added that “we are asking [the Precolumbian scholar Herbert Joseph] Spinden to give the course on ‘Central American Art and Archaeology,’ this being something we have wanted for a long time.”29

Spinden was among those considered for the first Kahn Lectureship. He was the leading Precolumbianist at the time and was recently appointed Curator of Ethnology at the Brooklyn Institute (later Museum). It is unclear, however, whether he was actually ever contacted by Morey, who was about to sail for Europe in two weeks for a leave of absence that would last through September. Spinden eventually gave the third Kahn Lectures, in January 1931, once Morey returned. Whether he deferred the offer or was not made the offer, Frank Lloyd Wright surfaced as the department’s nominee for the second round of Kahn Lectures at the very beginning of February 1930, when Baldwin Smith replaced Morey as acting chair.

Unlike Morey, who was a specialist in painting and sculpture, Smith was a historian of architecture, both ancient and medieval, who began teaching courses in the School of Architecture upon its establishment by Howard Crosby Butler, whose literary executor Smith became on the latter’s death in 1922. Smith refocused the search for a replacement for Oud on finding a contemporary architect engaged in the theory and practice of modern architecture. How Wright came to be the person chosen is not known for sure. Robert Clark suggested that George Forsyth, who was from Chicago, first brought up the architect’s name, although Sherley Morgan claimed to have had a role in the decision. In any event, given Wright’s historical stature and the short lead-time before the lectures were to be given, the decision to invite him seems quite logical in retrospect.30

Wright, of course, was most well known at the time for his work in and around Chicago in the period 1893–1909, when, according to Hitchcock, “he created by an imaginative analysis at once intellectual and instinctive most of the aesthetic resources developed by the modern architects of Europe since the War,” to wit, “the open planning, the free plastic composition, the grouped fenestration, and the horizontality” all evident in the architect’s early Prairie Style. “He was also the first,” Hitchcock stated, “to conceive of architectural design in terms of planes existing freely in three dimensions rather than in terms of enclosed blocks.”31 Oud himself had written about Wright’s “flawless work” in an important article, “The Influence of Frank Lloyd Wright on the Architecture of Europe,” published in English in the Dutch journal Wendingen in 1925 and reprinted the following year in German in Oud’s Holländische Architektur, which came out in Gropius’s and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s Bauhausbücher series.32

But the interest in Wright’s work tended to remain limited to what he had produced prior to 1910. And while he had done important buildings after that date, namely, his own country house and studio Taliesin in Hillside, Wisconsin (begun 1911), Midway Gardens in Chicago (1913–14), the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (1913–23), and Hollyhock House in Los Angeles (1919–21), these did not seem to most knowledgeable observers to be as forward-looking as the earlier work. In fact, much of it seemed positively regressive in terms of its massing, its symmetry, and, especially, its decorative elaboration. Furthermore, since returning from the nearly four years he spent in Tokyo working on the Imperial Hotel, which he no doubt thought would take his career onto a new plane of operations, Wright built next to nothing during the 1920s—four private houses in Los Angeles between 1923 and 1925, a rather conservative summer house for a return client on the shore of Lake Erie (1926–28), a house for a cousin in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1928–31), and a temporary camp of canvas and wood for himself in the Arizona desert (1929).

Yet Wright continued to attract European modern architects to work for him and to visit him. These included Heinrich (Henry) Klumb, Erich Mendelsohn, Werner Moser, and Richard Neutra. More importantly, he turned his hand to writing and began publishing a series of articles in the mainstream professional journal Architectural Record that brought him and his theories back into public focus. Between May 1927 and December 1928, he published fourteen pieces under the general title “In the Cause of Architecture,” ranging in subject matter from the role of the machine and standardization in modern design to the issues of style, meaning, use, and the expression of materials. These articles, which predicted much that Wright would talk about at Princeton, also included illustrations of recent projects.33 Moreover, Wright directly entered the current debate with a review of Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture that came out in September 1928, shortly after the book’s appearance in English translation (1927), and an attack on Hitchcock and the critic Douglas Haskell following their characterization of his architecture as simply an outmoded prelude to current European practices.34 But the fact remains that Wright’s work was still being discussed and the very same year Hitchcock wrote his 1928 article on Oud, he also published a small book on Wright in France in the Masters of Contemporary Architecture series of the avant-garde house Cahiers d’Art.35

In his capacity as acting chair of the department as well as acting director of the School of Architecture, Smith wrote to Wright on 3 February 1930 to invite him to give the Kahn Lectures “between May 5th and May 16th.”36 Smith’s letter is interesting on a number of counts, none of which, of course, would have been discernible to Wright. First, it was written on School of Architecture stationary. Second, the invitation was extended on behalf of both the department and the school. And third, the Kahn Lectures were described as a series devoted to “problems of contemporary and artistic interest,” a statement that was fundamentally untrue. Wright was then asked “if you could give this series of eight lectures on Modern Architecture in America and Europe, with emphasis as you see fit upon both the theory and the practice.” Smith added that he hoped “to get the University to publish the course lectures as a book or monograph” and ended by saying: “I can assure you that you will have a very enthusiastic and intelligent audience, and that the School of Architecture will be very pleased at having your assistance in putting across the ideas of modern building.”37

Wright had almost no work in the office at the time and, due in large part to the stock market crash the previous October, chances looked extremely dim, if not already entirely out of the question, for his ongoing projects for the San Marcos in the Desert Hotel in the South Phoenix Mountains, Arizona (1928–30), St. Mark’s Towers in New York (1929–30), and the Elizabeth Noble Apartments in Los Angeles (1929–30). Wright must have answered Smith the moment he received the letter, for his positive response is dated 8 February. But his acceptance of the offer was not, as some have suggested, based on the prospect of immediate financial gain. The fee of $125 per lecture was “less than merely nominal,” as the architect later told Smith. For the 1927–28 “In the Cause of Architecture” series for the Architectural Record, he received $500 per article.38 Rather, Wright’s reasons for jumping at the opportunity to give the Kahn Lectures was the prestige of the venue and the bully pulpit it would afford him.

Appreciating “the invitation to help Princeton get her ideas on modern building somewhat nearer the source than other universities have succeeded in doing, so far” and noting that he would be “busy in New York about the time you mention,” Wright informed Smith that he would gladly accept, but with one caveat: “I do not know,” he wrote, “how well able I may be to sustain interest,—either mine or my hearers,—in a series of eight lectures.” “But why eight lectures?” he asked, adding charmingly though cunningly: “In six days the world was made, on the seventh the work was visible and the maker no doubt viewing it,—let us assume with ‘the modest assurance of con[s]cious worth!![’]” “Could we not make it six?” he asked, “a seventh to consist of an exhibition I could appropriately arrange, of my own recent work illustrating the ideas and principles involved in the ‘course.’”39

Wright also included in his response the titles and sequence of the six lectures almost exactly as they would be three months later:

1. Materials and the Machine
2. Style in Industry
3. The Passing of the Cornice
4. The Tyrrany [sic] of the Skyscraper
5. The Cardboard House.
6. The City.
7. Exhibition.40

Wright never, at this time or later, gave a general title for the series, and certainly not that of “Modern Architecture,” which became the title of the book based on the lectures.41

Smith responded to Wright immediately, saying a series of six rather than eight lectures, accompanied by an exhibition, would be perfectly satisfactory and that, based on the list of “suggested topics,” he was “sure that the course is going to be a treat and an inspiration to our architects.” “Having just returned from Europe,” he added, “I realize both how conservative our architectural schools are and how far we all have to go in order to digest the modern demands.”42 A week later, Wright wrote back to Smith, amending slightly the titles and sequence of the lectures and suggesting dates both for the lectures and the exhibition.43 He also alluded to the fact that he already had plans for a traveling exhibition of his work. After “starting at Princeton it may go on to the Architectural League of New York and then at various universities and institutions on the way west,” although he assured Smith that “the preview will be Princeton’s.”44

At the same time, Wright pushed to have the lectures be more informal, discussion-type sessions than was expected, claiming inexperience as well as personal inclination for such a format. “Whenever I have attempted lectures, which is not often,” Wright told Smith, “I have found it far more interesting to myself and to my audience to let them consist of questions being asked and answered, provoking as many questions as possible. I think you can get the best out of me by some such method as this,” tellingly adding, “inasmuch as the best work I have ever done was the result of provocation of this sort.” To “record the discussions,” he asked if Princeton might provide a stenographer.45

In a very polite and elegant though resolute way, Smith responded that he would make sure “a stenographer is present to record the discussions” but that formal lectures were the order of the day. “My own feeling,” Smith wrote, “is that your lectures will be so popular, and the attendance so large, that there will not be much ‘give and take’ during the actual lectures themselves, but that afterwards on the one or two evenings when you have an informal discussion with the men [i.e., graduate students and faculty], you will get as many questions as you may possibly care to answer.” His only query to Wright was whether the architect would use lantern slides to “illustrate” his lectures.46

Wright bowed to Smith’s insistence on formal lectures and worked extremely fast to produce them. On 1 April, which is to say less than two months after receiving the invitation, he wrote back to Smith to say that “the lectures are now finished, and I must say I have enjoyed writing them.” As for slides, however, he said that he thought the lectures “had better be discourses uninterrupted by pictures,” adding that he “never cared much for illustrated lectures.”47 Smith, again politely but resolutely, disagreed with Wright on the issue of slides and said that, with the texts of the lectures in hand, he and his staff would choose the appropriate “illustrative material,” which would be shown at the end of each lecture. Wright accepted Smith’s suggestions, and slides were apparently shown not only at the end of each lecture but sometimes at appropriate moments during the lectures themselves.48

Wright sent all six lectures to Smith on 1 May, with the final titles and sequence as follows: “Machinery, Materials and Men,” “Style in Industry,” “The Passing of the Cornice,” “The Cardboard House,” “The Tyranny of the Skyscraper,” and “The City.” He also sent copies of a publication of “short sayings gleaned from the Princeton lectures” that he hoped could be handed out at the beginning of the first lecture (these would become the “Modern Concepts Concerning an Organic Architecture” printed on the endpapers of the book).49 By now, it was the exhibition that was preoccupying Wright. He noted its significance in terms of his career, telling Smith that “this will be the first time that I have made any effort in the direction of an exhibit since 1907 [he should have said 1914],” and that “this is the real performance that you may look forward to at Princeton.” Set up as a “self-contained unit for travel,” it was to be comprised of drawings and models plus “several hundred photographs.”50

The lectures took place on 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, and 14 May and without a hitch, except for the fact that the announcement in the university’s Weekly Bulletin reversed the order of the third and fourth talks, the ones on 8 and 9 May, and listed the title of the second talk incorrectly, adding the subtitle that was included in Wright’s letter of 17 February.51 Also, a general title for the entire series, “The Problems of Modern Architecture,” preceded each individual lecture title despite the fact Wright never supplied one nor was asked for one.52 The lectures received extensive coverage in the student newspaper, the Daily Princetonian, where each was summarized and quoted at some length.53 The exhibition, which opened on 12 May, was reported on two separate occasions.54

According to all accounts, the lectures were a great success. Attendance never fell off, as so often happens in such series, and the audience found Wright to be an inspiring, “almost hypnotic” speaker, who “lectured as though preaching, but not pontificating.”55 Wright apparently stuck closely to his written texts, either reading them or speaking from memory. Both Forsyth and Martin Beck, a recently appointed member of the design faculty, commented on the seriousness with which he approached the task and how well prepared he was. According to Robert Judson Clark, Beck, who was one of those responsible for looking after Wright while he was on campus, recalled that “the night before each lecture [Wright] stayed in, preparing it” to the point that it was “semi-memorized” when he delivered it the next day.56 Smith reported to Kahn soon after the event that “everyone in the Department feels that it has been our most successful Kahn lecture. He [Wright] has inspired the architectural students and interested a very large public in the whole question of modern architecture in its relation to modern life.”57

The presentation of the Kahn Lectures gave Wright an experience he had never had before, that of speaking to a sophisticated academic audience over a period of two weeks and having discussions with students and faculty every day during that time. Wright wrote to Smith saying, “I think I enjoyed my Princeton experience more than anybody else could have enjoyed it and probably learned more, too.”58 In a sense, the Princeton lectures opened a new career path for Wright. In the year following those May talks, he lectured at universities, museums, and other institutions in Chicago, Denver, New York, Ann Arbor, Minneapolis, Eugene, Oregon, and Seattle.59 The exhibition first seen at Princeton proved to be equally important for his reputation and career. After opening on 29 May for a two-week run at the Architectural League in New York, it traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago, and then to Madison, Wisconsin, Milwaukee, the University of Oregon at Eugene, and the University of Washington in Seattle, before touring Europe for six months, where it opened on 9 May 1931 for a three-week run at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, followed by stops in Berlin, Stuttgart, Antwerp, and Brussels.60

The continuing series of Kahn Lectures, by contrast, had a less dramatic and less long-lasting effect on the history of art and architecture. Following Morey’s resumption of the position of chair of the art history department, H. J. Spinden gave the third Kahn Lectures on Central American Art and Archaeology in January 1931, at the same time the publication of Wright’s talks was in its final stages of production. The fourth, and last, Kahn Lectures were given by the British Orientalist Edward Denison Ross, professor of Persian at the University of London and founding director of the School of Oriental (and later African) Studies in London. His lectures on Persian art, delivered in the fall of 1931, were described by Smith to Wright as “rather flat, as the Englishman thought he could chat along pleasantly on most anything to an American audience.”61 Neither Spinden’s nor Ross’s lectures were published.

The department’s choice for the fifth round, to take place in the fall of 1932, was the leading French medieval architectural historian Marcel Aubert. Due to a scheduling conflict with his teaching duties at Yale, where he was to be a visiting professor, he had to cancel the Princeton engagement. Rather than look for someone else, and in light of the financial crunch graduate students were experiencing, Morey suggested to Kahn that the lecture fee be given as a fellowship to a needy student in 1932–33.62 Kahn, who had himself suffered serious financial losses in the preceding few years, decided he could not renew his gift for another five years, and the Kahn Lectureship thus came to an untimely and rather undramatic end.

FROM “PRINCETON LECTURES” TO MODERN ARCHITECTURE BOOK

The book Modern Architecture that records Wright’s Kahn Lectures is without a doubt the most historically significant outcome of the entire lecture series as well as being a signal event in the history of Wright’s career and its engagement with the modern movement in architecture. The editing, design, and production of the volume that appeared in April 1931 as the fifteenth publication in the Princeton Monographs in Art and Archaeology series proceeded in an atmosphere of mutual respect and collegiality. One might have expected otherwise given the initial reactions to the text of the lectures expressed to Wright by Smith, who was to serve as editor.63 Two months after the lectures, and basing his remarks solely on his memory of them, he wrote to say that in beginning to think about the “preparation of your manuscript for publication” and “if you are not too busy, I would like to suggest a chapter on your methods of designing, and the introduction of more concrete points based upon your own work and experience.” Granting the “great literary quality” of the lectures, Smith further noted that they were clearly written “to be delivered and not read,” which led him to suggest to Wright that it might be best “to condense some of the paragraphs and sentences.” Smith ended, however, by saying that “this letter is only a preliminary one” and any final thoughts would have to wait until he had a chance to reread the manuscript.64

Smith was perfectly on target in his criticisms, especially the lack of reference by Wright to specific aspects of his own design methods and work. While the architect ultimately did nothing to alter the text in this regard, nor did Smith finally ever ask him to, Wright’s response to Smith’s letter quoted above was entirely friendly, even accommodating.65 “The publication of the ‘Lectures’ can only gain by your interest in them, so do read them again and put marginal notes wherever you conceive a suggestion. Your suggestions will all be sympathetic as well as practical, I know. . . . I am sure your perspective would be invaluable.” Wright even invited Smith and his wife to come to Taliesin for a week to work together on the project.66

Just recently remarried and in the process of moving, Smith said he had to decline the offer to visit Wright. But having reread most of the manuscript following his previous letter, he stated that he had changed his mind quite decidedly on what needed to be done to get the lectures into shape. “Impressed by their appeal and . . . most anxious to get them to the printer,” he told Wright that he now had “no suggestions of any importance . . . to make in regard to changes.”67 This change of mind was elaborated on in the preface Smith wrote for the book, where he said: “I, at first, made the mistake of wishing that he [Wright] had been more explicit, had told more about his methods and less about his theory of life. As I listened to his lectures and talked with the man I saw my mistake, and realized that Wright did not want to give to his public merely his particular forms, developed by him to meet specific conditions. Instead, fearful lest his buildings be copied and repeated as an easy ritual for unimaginative moderns, he wanted only to stir others with his dreams of the possibilities open to architecture in our present age.”68 Smith had obviously been entirely won over to Wright’s way of thinking.

Rather than attempting to alter Wright’s text in any significant way, Smith focused on issues of layout and design, thus taking the initial steps on that score. He said that he thought the book would have “a very wide sale” and, no doubt thinking of the typically staid design of the Princeton Monographs series, wanted the book to be given “an artistic form.” His first suggestion was “to bring out the lectures in a cardboard binding with one of your own decorative color designs for the cover and your precepts [the ‘short sayings’ handed out at the first lecture] arranged [as endpapers] . . . in the front and back where everyone will see them.” He appended a drawing to illustrate his ideas, which Wright obviously liked, for the final design of the book followed Smith’s suggestions for both the cover and the endpapers. Smith’s final suggestion at this point was to have a photograph of Wright “in the front of the book . . . and then spread through the book examples of his work.”69 Both of these wishes were fulfilled, although the second one much less amply and in a much less up-to-date fashion than he had hoped for.

Wright agreed to Smith’s suggestions for the endpapers and for the cover. He had an assistant, Henry Klumb, rework the design “Sahuaro Forms and Cactus Flowers” that he had produced in 1927–28 for one of the covers for Liberty magazine that never saw the light of day. He sent a sketch of it to Smith sometime around the middle of August, saying that “a cover of this type puts a different face on ‘lectures.’ Something ought to take the curse off them.” He added that, although it will probably be expensive to produce “if it is executed as I have designed it,” “many people will buy the book just for the sake of the cover.” As part of the cover design, Wright also suggested “a simple title lettered on back and front.” From all we can tell, he assumed the title would be The Princeton Lectures. 70

As for the suggestion regarding illustrations, Wright took issue with Smith, saying they should be “limited in number and [simply] cover a few entire pages in the rear of the book, keeping the typography of the book uninterrupted.” And instead of his own image appearing at the front of the book, Wright thought it, too, could be at the rear, “to preface” the others. Finally he asked Smith if he would be willing to write a “prefatory page.” Since he had “introduced the lectures,” this would, in Wright’s mind, “be appropriate and maintain the style and substance of the occasion,” celebrated, as the architect thought it would be, in the title of the book.71

In early September, Smith confirmed to Wright that he had “no suggestions to make in regard to the text of the lectures.” Having entirely read them over during the summer, he was “more and more impressed with their unity and force” and felt that the “words [written] to be spoken still retain their force as words to be read.” On the other hand, he had serious concerns regarding Wright’s ideas for the title and for the illustrations. Although he said he would have liked “to keep the title ‘The Princeton Lectures,’” he had to “agree with the [Princeton University] Press that the book will sell many more copies if the copies have the title, ‘Modern Architecture,’ by Frank Lloyd Wright.”72 He decorously left the decision up to Wright, but when the architect sent the final design for the cover in mid-October with the title unchanged, Smith wrote back saying that “the Publication Committee insists that the title on the cover should be ‘Modern Architecture.’”73 (Wright had to be satisfied with the spine, which would say “Frank Lloyd Wright Lectures.”) As for the illustrations, Smith continued to push for a photograph of the author at the beginning of the book and suggested “one full page halftone of his work at the beginning of each lecture.” He was also more than willing to add extra illustrations “at the back of the book.”74

Page proofs were ready by mid-September and sent on to Wright. Estimates for color for the cover came in quite high and Smith asked Wright if they could go to black and white, but did not insist. Wright naturally preferred the color, as did Smith, and the department and Press ultimately decided to cover the extra cost. After seeing Wright’s idea for the placement of the illustrations to precede each lecture, Smith countered with his own, which in fact was the one that was followed. Where Smith wanted (and got) the illustrations to face the opening page of text of each lecture, Wright had thought to have them printed on the recto of the preceding page in order “to accentuate the lectures as well as the illustrations by giving each a blank context.”75

With everything else apparently settled, Smith returned to the issue of the illustrations. He wanted to know precisely which works of Wright’s would be chosen. Five were in question for him since he assumed that a photograph of the architect would serve as the illustration to the first lecture. Photographs had been made of work in the exhibition and, of these, Smith thought that one of the model of St. Mark’s Tower for New York and a perspective of the project for the National Life Insurance Company Building in Chicago (1924–25) would be good. Aside from these, he said he would like to see “an example of architectural decoration . . . and then anything else that you can suggest.”76

Wright had entirely different ideas about the illustrations, and his response to Smith on this question represents one of the few real disagreements they had—and one of the few cases where Wright insisted and got his way (arguably to the detriment of the final product). Wright wanted only examples of his earlier work to be used, and these in the form of radically redrawn images of the original designs but with the original dates next to his signature square. He used both the word “graph” and the German graf to describe these stark, highly stylized perspectives in which the subtleties of shading are reduced to flat, black-on-white planes, corresponding, at least in the German émigré Henry Klumb’s view, to the type of “graphic presentations that modern architects were addicted to.”77

In sending his “counter suggestion” to Smith, Wright was clearly quite conscious of the effect he was after in terms of the rewriting of his own history and using the publication of the Princeton lectures to do so. “Why not use the graphs I am sending of the work fundamental to the new movement instead of any photographs of recent work?” he asked. His reason he stated bluntly and shamelessly: “It will make the ‘lectures’ [a] historical document and ‘build in’ to our literature something not yet there.” In other words, it would make the buildings he designed between 1893 and 1909 look as if they had predicted everything about the architecture of the twenties down to its techniques of representation. By not revealing that the drawings had been redrawn, the Princeton publication would make them part of the historical record and thus give them a totally fabricated historical genealogy. This rewriting of history—placing himself at the origin of the modern movement—supported the larger purpose of the text itself, as Wright unabashedly explained: “It will be appropriate, too, to the purpose of the book.”78

Whether Smith understood what Wright was up to is unclear, although he certainly let Wright have his way. Some changes were made to the architect’s initial scheme, but the main idea of it was followed through in the publication. Whether it actually ever had the effect Wright hoped for is another story. In his initial presentation of the scheme, Wright returned to his thought that the photograph of himself be at the end of the text. He suggested that it “be balanced by one at the beginning” showing a view of the Princeton exhibition paired with the model of St. Mark’s Tower on opposite pages. Then would follow the “graphs” (or grafs) of the Larkin Building in Buffalo (1902–6), facing lecture 1; the Winslow House in River Forest, Illinois (1893–94), facing lecture 2; Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois (1905–8), facing lecture 3; the Robie House in Chicago (1908–10), facing lecture 4; the Bock House and Studio project for Maywood, Illinois (1906), facing lecture 5; and the so-called Yahara River Boathouse project, for the University of Wisconsin, in Madison (1905), facing lecture 6. At the end of the text, opposite one another, would be a perspective of a 1915–16 project for a “small city house,” or Town House, from the so-called American Ready-Cut or System-Built Houses on the left and the photograph of the architect on the right.79 In the end, Wright’s suggestions were followed except for the photograph of himself, which was placed opposite the title page as Smith had wanted, and the replacement of the Ya-hara Boat Club with the “small city house” project. Why the image of the St. Mark’s Tower was eliminated is not known, although one can assume it was Wright’s decision since Smith was the one who suggested it in the first place.80

The final part of the story has to do with the preface by Smith. This is where one might have expected real fireworks and yet, again, everything went quite smoothly. Smith finished it by early February 1931 and thought best to send it to Wright for approval. In the letter accompanying the short text, he offered explanations for certain statements that the architect might take as too critical, claiming that everything he had written was out of “sympathy with your ideals and my enthusiasm for your work” and that any expression of difference was simply in order to preempt negative criticism from others. Smith felt he had to deal with Wright’s writing style, which he thought might put off many. In the next to last paragraph of the preface, he wrote:

His [Wright’s] style in writing is as individual as the man himself. Some critics may overemphasize his unconscious disregard of usage and, at times, his disregard of logic; they may dwell unfairly . . . upon his lack of a simple, functional directness in words and his tendency to overdecorate ideas with verbiage; but such critics will have missed the appeal of his imagery and the sincerity of his effort.81

To Wright, he explained:

You are a distinguished man with a marked individuality, and therefore have the right to write as you see fit. On the other hand, your literary style was formed in a period when writing and speaking were much more flowery and decorative than they are today. Style today has in a sense tended to follow the simplification of architecture and insist upon direct, functional simplicity. Therefore some critics may say that you, an advocate of functional line and surface simplicity in architecture, use a decorative verbiage in writing. This to me seems to be entirely beside the point, because it is the content and not the form in which we are interested. But in my introduction I have taken the words out of their mouths, in order to point out the sincerity of your ideal and the fact that your vehicle of expression is architecture and not words, but that even in your words, which follow a now outworn style, there are fire, feeling, and ideals.82

Wright’s response not just to this aspect of the preface but to the text as a whole was positive, though not without a certain defensiveness. He started by saying that he thought it was “excellently written,—I wish I wrote as well. But it struck on my heart somewhat as though someone was a little ashamed of me having come in from the country on a load of poles—with my heart in the right place—but—certainly out of style, which I dare say is quite right enough.” He then went on to explain, perhaps after the fact, perhaps not, why the lectures were written as they were and, in the process, revealed something important about his intentions:

The preface, perhaps is the place to explain that so called “functionalist” writing is as easy for me as for anybody.—
   But I came to Princeton to preach. I chose the guise of the preacher as pleasant and heretical at the moment. That guise was the old sermon form as I had listened to it as a boy. My fathers [sic] sermons in his church at Weymouth.— There was the preamble—or leisurely amble in the direction of the subject—then came the “text” or the reference to Authority (Which I invented for the occasion.) The threshing out of the body of the subject follows. Finally the summary—gathering up the grain in both hands and directly handing it to the audience—cleaned up.
   I enjoyed it. And I believe the boys did—. Here’s hoping more may catch the entirely faithful seriousness of it all no less—for the twinkle in the eye. Art must have its logic straight. But deny the Artist his whimsey? Never. Unless you would lose him.83

Smith also criticized a lack of logic in Wright’s discussion of the relation between materials and forms in the architectures of Egypt, Greece, and Japan, but claimed that, not being a historian, it mattered little “that he [Wright] is not strictly logical in his artistic convictions.” He justified this by asking, rhetorically: “Whose likes and dislikes are logical?”84 HereWright became more serious, saying that this phrase “strikes me as subversive of any message organic Architecture has. Logic it must have.” Provoked, he countered by asking: “And are you not yourself a little illogical when you admit my writing over-decorated with verbiage and then say I require no more apologies for my ideas and buildings? Or do you mean by that that they are overdone?” He would not pursue this with Smith, nor would Smith come back in response.

The final point Wright had to make related to the last sentence in the preface, which he asked Smith to eliminate and which Smith did not. Wright said he was “grateful” for the preface, which “shows your good feeling in every line.” But the last one, “the ‘I think I will,’” seemed to him to be “a ‘let down’” that “weakened the whole.” “Just why,” Wright could not “say clearly enough.” Smith had ended his text in the following way: “This book, as he [Wright] referred to it in a letter, is ‘his garden’; in it he nobly believes that others will see the beauty and the possibilities of beauty which have stirred him. I think they will.”85 Did Wright not want Smith to have the last word? Did he not want to allow for the possibility of an unresponsive reader? Or did he not want for there to be any suggestion of a question regarding the ultimate truth and power of his thought?

Not hearing back from Smith for over a month and a half, Wright wrote a note to him at the end of March that must have arrived just about when the book appeared in print. In it, Wright asked: “What has happened to our book? I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings? It is hard to wait.”86 Having received a copy a few days later, he telegrammed Smith saying: “The book is swell my dear Smith glad your preface is unchanged. I like it and would have spoiled it.”87 And two days after that, he wrote to Smith again: “The book is charming and splendidly edited. I can’t be grateful enough. Princeton sounds and seems to me—princely. I feel this makes her my alma mater.”88

With that ends the story of Wright’s “Princeton Lectures” and the publication of Modern Architecture, except for questions regarding sales, financial matters, and the like, which do not interest us here and have little to do with the larger questions posed by a book meant at once to preach the cause of “organic architecture” and to write— or rather to rewrite—the history of modern architecture as a subset of that.89

MODERN ARCHITECTURE ACCORDING TO FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT

The six chapters of Modern Architecture follow the same sequence as the lectures and are, as far as one can tell, substantively the same in content and form.90 The subjects treated move from a general statement of the constitutive conditions of modern culture to their particular applications in the fields of architecture and urbanism at ever broadening scales. The main themes that direct Wright’s thought and interlace the text devolve from the initial proposition regarding the significance of the machine and its necessary antithesis to the use of the historical “styles.” The inauthentic application of forms inherited from the past is equated by Wright with any type of surface-oriented, planar design, which is how he interprets the contemporary European architecture of Le Corbusier and others. In opposition to such pictorialism, or “picture-making,” Wright advances the three-dimensionality and structural-ornamental integrity of his own conception of an “organic architecture,” which he constantly describes as being the full-bodied source from which the reductive modernism of recent work in Europe evolved. This self-promotion as fountainhead involves not just a critique of European modernism and an assertion of his own priority but also an equation of the truly modern with the concepts of romanticism, imagination, beauty, and nature, all usually spelled with capital letters and placed in opposition to the scientific, the philosophically rational, and the collective. The vision of an American democratic freedom and individualism, averse to any form of commercial exploitation and corruption, ultimately connects all these strands and gives powerful voice to what Smith describes in the book’s preface as the author’s “faith.”

The image facing the first page of “Machinery, Materials and Men” is the most dramatic and telling of the six Wright chose to illustrate the book. It is a partial plan and raking perspective of the Larkin Building, based on a photograph published in 1908 in the retrospective of the architect’s work in Architectural Record accompanying his article “In the Cause of Architecture,” in which he laid out his design principles for the first time.91 Drawn in 1930 in highly contrasted black-and-white lines and planes, though bearing the date 1903, the image of this early industrial work by Wright that European architects beginning with H. P. Berlage had singled out as an extraordinarily precocious example of the application of a machine aesthetic to architectural design was clearly meant to indicate the author’s originary role in reconceptualizing architectural design in terms of the machine.92 Indeed, in the 1908 publication, Wright began his description of the building by saying that “it was built to house the commercial engine of the Larkin Company.” After specifying that “most of the critic’s ‘architecture’ had been left out,” he ended with the prophetic phrase: “Therefore the work may have the same claim to consideration as a ‘work of art’ as an ocean liner, a locomotive or a battleship.”93

The date of 1903 on the drawing sets the historical stage for the main ploy of the text, which is the incorporation of a lecture within the lecture, which Wright claimed to have given in Chicago in the same year as the fictitious date on the drawing and which he believed incontrovertibly established him as the first to fully realize the significance of the machine for modern architecture. “The Art and Craft of the Machine” was indeed an early and very important talk given by Wright at Chicago’s Hull House as a critique of the backward-looking practices of the Arts and Crafts Movement and in favor of the machine. But it was given in 1901, not 1903, and the lecture incorporated in the Kahn Lectures, and in Modern Architecture, is a different one, probably dating from several years later. Furthermore, whatever its original date, it was, like the Larkin drawing, heavily edited for the Princeton volume—updated in many places and recontextualized in others to make it appear both more like what it was supposed to be and more prophetic than it originally was.94 And the ploy worked. In her review of the book, Bauer, the most aware of European modernism of all the reviewers, made a major point of saying that “the transcription of Wright’s famous Hull House speech, of 1903, positively establishes him as the instigator of the articulate modern movement.”95

Wright’s intention right at the beginning of the book, as it would be throughout, was not merely to prove his paternity. It was, even more importantly, to foreclose the possibility that the recent modern architecture of Europe, and in particular that of Le Corbusier, might be taken as the source of the idea that the machine was the fundamental new element in the creation of modern architecture. In his 1928 review of Towards a New Architecture, Wright asserted that “all Le Corbusier says or means was at home here in architecture in America in the work of Louis Sullivan and myself—more than twenty-five years ago.”96 But he did not, for that reason, devalue Le Corbusier’s text or its theoretical consequences either for modern architecture in general or for his own work in particular. Wright was clearly impressed by it to the extent of recommending that “everyone engaged in making or breaking [architecture in] these United States . . . read the Le Corbusier book,” and those in “universities especially.”97

For his own part, Wright included Towards a New Architecture as one of only four writings mentioned by name for the library of the new Hillside Home School of Allied Arts, soon to become the Taliesin Fellowship, that he proposed in December 1928 and discussed in chapter 2 of Modern Architecture (more on this later). He characterized Le Corbusier’s volume in the school’s brochure as “of a similar portent” to his own “In the Cause of Architecture” series and of “a similar spirit” to the writings of Viollet-le-Duc, Owen Jones, and Louis Sullivan, all well-known heroes of his. In addition, Wright listed Le Corbusier as one of the architects he hoped would serve on the school’s visiting faculty. Towards a New Architecture clearly weighed heavily on Wright’s mind and would make its mark on his Modern Architecture from beginning to end.

By way of introduction to the “transcription” of the “Art and Craft of the Machine,” Wright stated that “long ago, . . . I passionately swore that the Machine was no less, rather more, an artist’s tool than any he had ever had or heard of” and “today, twenty-seven years later, the heresy is become truism.” Coyly veiling a reference to Le Corbusier’s belated though effective awareness in a characterization that few if any in the audience at Princeton, and perhaps not even many today in reading the book, would immediately be able to decode, Wright added: “And yet, a Pompeian [Le Corbusier] recently come back and struggling for nourishment on French soil has reiterated one-quarter of the matter, made more stark, with signs of success right here in our own country.”98

This “reiteration” was dangerous as Wright saw it. It was reductive and “superficial” in producing buildings defined simply by “Surface and Mass,” as Le Corbusier, in Wright’s view, had done, indeed, to such a degree that “surface and mass” design became Wright’s code word for Le Corbusier and the European modernism associated with him.99 Appearing to be “Machine-made,” and even “resembling Machinery,” such buildings entirely lacked the three all-important components of a truly modern, that is to say, organic architecture. These were: (1) an expression of the “Nature of Materials”; (2) an engagement with the “Third Dimension”; and (3) a development of “Integral Ornament.”100 Wright would come back time and again in the succeeding chapters to these ideas and ultimately even name Le Corbusier, but for openers he apparently thought it best to refrain from direct attack and to use the insinuation of his early lecture on “The Art and Craft of the Machine” as unimpeachable evidence of his authority. As the redrawn images of the early buildings were meant to “build in” to the literature on him “something not yet there,” the device of transcribing the “1903” lecture allowed it, as he said, to be “read into the record, once more.”101

The lecture within the lecture begins by defining the modern age as “the Machine Age—wherein locomotive engines, engines of industry, engines of light or engines of war or steamships take the place works of Art took in previous history.” The definition echoes Wright’s earlier commentary on the Larkin Building but does not really prepare us for the line of argument he will take. Rather than looking at machines, or engines, as analogous to, metaphors for, or even models for buildings, as Le Corbusier would powerfully suggest in the text and especially the illustrations of Towards a New Architecture, Wright focuses almost entirely on machines as simply “substitutes for tools,” updated “implements” that the human being must learn to master and exploit and, at all costs, to avoid being mastered by.102

Wright bemoaned and decried the misuse of machinery to imitate the work of earlier handicraft. Describing the eclectic architecture and interior decoration of the turn of the century as monstrous “abominations,” “butchered forms,” a “nostalgic masquerade” thoroughly “prostituting” the sources, Wright predicted the protest against kitsch that was to form the basis of so much of the avant-garde literature of the 1920s, including the writings of Le Corbusier, Taut, Walter Curt Behrendt, and others.103 In contrast to the crass and utter “degradation” the machine had produced so far, Wright maintained that an intelligent use of it in terms of its inherent capabilities could lead the modern architect to the creation of “simple forms” and “plastic” results “consistent with Nature and impossible to handicraft.”104

In one of the most powerful and stirring sections of the chapter, Wright describes the modern city, in this case Chicago, as a vast machine—the “great Machine”—the home to “automatons working day and night in every line of industry.” Wondering aloud “if this power must be uprooted that civilization may live,” he answers, “then civilization is already doomed.”105 The need to confront and overcome the debilitating, dehumanizing, “relentless force” of the machine that has already “lacerated hands everywhere” brings him in the end, almost full circle, to a kind of neo-Ruskinianism, where education is offered as the panacea for humanizing the machine, offering instruction to the individual in how to master it and not be mastered by it, and thus finally making the machine “a peerless tool for him to use to put foundations beneath a genuine Democracy.”106

Wright pursued the issue of education in the following chapter, “Style in Industry,” but reserved the main discussion of the subject until the last few pages, where he proposed an idea for a new kind of “experimental” school combining training in the arts with training in industrial design that closely followed the model of the Bauhaus in Germany, founded by Walter Gropius in 1919 and established in the building he designed for it in Dessau in 1925–26. Wright’s idea, like Gropius’s, was that architecture would be the umbrella, “the broad essential background of the whole endeavor,” and that the artists and architects serving as instructors would educate “the needed designer for Industry now.”107 The vexing and extremely timely question of style served Wright as a way to introduce his educational venture.

Repeating almost word for word Le Corbusier’s famous line from Towards a New Architecture that “architecture has nothing to do with the ‘styles,’”—meaning the historical styles that formed the basis of nineteenth-century eclecticism—Wright stated that you could “be sure of one thing,” that “STYLE has nothing to do with ‘the’ Styles!108 And also like Le Corbusier, he defined style as the organic, coherent, integral, and spontaneous expression of a particular culture, thus inimitable outside its original context. To give body to this concept, especially as it related to his own work, Wright turned to the premodern, preindustrial culture of Japan. Following a cultural, even religious, program of “cleanliness,” “simplicity,” and “standardizing,” Japanese art and architecture achieved an “organic” style that served as a model for the modern, equally important to Wright, as he states, as it was to the Secessionists, the Arts and Crafts, and the Wiener Werkstätte.109

Clearly aware of the more recent development in Europe of what was about to be christened the International Style, Wright then warned about the tendency to eliminate human imagination and feeling from the equation. This would result in a “hard” and “mechanical,” even “mechanistic” type of design, postulating that a “house or a chair or a child is a machine” as if “our own hearts are suction pumps.”110 Obviously referencing Le Corbusier, the author of the phrase “a house is a machine for living in,” Wright went on to heap scorn on the so-called machine style, predicting that “our Architecture,” if it falls under its sway, “would become a poor, flat-faced thing of steel-bones, box-outlines, gas-pipe and hand-rail fittings . . . without this essential heart beating in it.” “There is no good reason,” he declared, “why Objects of Art in Industry, because they are made by Machines in the Machine Age, should resemble the machines that made them, or any other machinery whatsoever.”111

Between the nostalgia for “the Art and Craft of Old Japan” and the invective against the modern movement in Europe, there are some extraordinary passages about the concept of “plasticity,” the bane of the “pictorial,” and especially about the use of new materials. Glass, which Wright describes as the modern material par excellence, lets the architect “now work with light, light diffused, light reflected, light refracted” to make entirely unprecedented “prismatic buildings.”112 The application of industrial processes to the use of materials finally leads Wright to his concluding remarks on education. As a “means to grow our own STYLE IN INDUSTRY,” Wright offered what he called “a practical suggestion,” perhaps even thinking that he might interest Princeton in taking part in it.113

In 1928, as already mentioned, Wright had proposed the establishment of a Hillside Home School of Allied Arts on the land where he would create the Taliesin Fellowship four years later. Its purpose was “to harmonize the spirit of art and the spirit of the machine” in an “uncompromisingly modern” educational environment that would function concurrently as a “farm school” where the students would “get their own living as far as possible from the ground itself.” In this ruralized Bauhaus, training in the fine arts would be combined with training in the industrial arts under the umbrella of architecture and under the aegis of the University of Wisconsin. Students would design and produce objects for use, ranging from glassware to textiles to plans for buildings, which would not only ideally be marketable but would also serve as examples for “all the design-forms of American industrial production now characterizing our homes and our lives.”114

In recycling this idea for the Princeton lectures, Wright expanded the scope of the project to create numerous campuses and thus open up the possibility for involvement of not just the University of Wisconsin but of “our universities” around the country. He referred to these new “Art Schools” as “Industrial ‘STYLE’ Centers” and “Experiment Stations.” They would be “endowed” and furnished with machinery and personnel by the “industries themselves.” As a return on their investment, the participating companies would “share in benefit of designs or presently in designers themselves.” Small in size (each no more than forty students) and situated in rural locations, the centers would include “physical work on the soil” for self-subsistence and include activities in all areas of the arts and culture, from music and theater to land conservation and town planning. Wright acknowledged that, while “creative Art cannot be taught,” his ideal educational establishment held the promise of “cultivating the creative quality in Man” that might help grow the desired “quality of STYLE IN INDUSTRY” and exhorted “any great institution” within earshot to help “initiate” the venture.115 Needless to say, Princeton did not take the bait.

I have said nothing about the drawing of the Winslow House used to illustrate the second chapter, and that is because the reason for its choice is not very clear. The house was Wright’s first building and he always considered it extremely important to his career. Looking back on it in 1936, he described it as “the first ‘prairie house.’”116 The drawing is based on the opening image in the so-called Wasmuth portfolio of 1910, the Berlin publication entitled Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright that introduced his work to the European audience.117 But what does it have to do with the issue of style? My guess is that it represented for Wright the initial statement by him of a homegrown style native to the Midwest—the Prairie Style—and thus the prime example in his view of how a modern style could develop out of contemporary conditions and without resort to “the styles” inherited from the past. By contrast, the reason for the choice of Unity Temple to keynote the following chapter seems quite clear. With its flat roofs articulated by cantilevered reinforced-concrete slabs, the church bears direct witness to “The Passing of the Cornice” in Wright’s early work and thought.118

On first reading, the chapter “The Passing of the Cornice” might seem just as simple and as transparent as the relationship between text and image it is built on. Moving from his teenage home of Madison, Wisconsin, to the site of the Acropolis in Athens, Wright narrates a story rich in anecdote and personal feeling of classical imitation in architecture and its ultimate demise in the “sham” products of turn-of-thecentury America.119 It is a story of death and exorcism, of undisguised repugnance for the classical tradition and a complete lack of regret for its “passing,” indeed, a celebration of it. The stage is set for this emotional tirade by the minidrama of the collapse of the State Capitol in Madison during its construction in the mid-1880s, where Wright witnessed workers maimed and even killed by the crumbling classical elements of the building and one worker, in particular, hanging out of a window, dripping blood, with a loose piece of the cornice above threatening to fall and decapitate him.

Wright does not look at these classical elements in purely abstract and formal terms. He sees them as symbolic and meaningful of the cultures of which they were a part and which they express. They are related to the manners, the clothing, the music, even the food of their time. “Cornices were extravagant hats for buildings”; the other “pretentious” features of classical architecture are compared with the “hoop-skirt” and the “bustle,” “puffed sleeves, frizzes, furbelows and flounces.”120 More importantly, at least in architectural terms, is their deceitfulness. Instead of being the direct expression of a structural principle or functional purpose, as his theoretical models Viollet-le-Duc and Sullivan would have had it, these classical forms are used purely for appearance sake—“in order to preserve ‘appearances,’” as it were—more often than not in violation of the underlying structure they “hang on.”121

To exorcise this ghost of appearance, Wright finally leaves the “cornice” he first came to despise in Madison to track it down “at the source from which it came to us.” And here is where the story gets more interesting and much more complicated. “Of course I visited Athens,” Wright declares, although when that may have been is entirely unrecorded and unmentioned in any document or any other writing by the architect prior to 1930 that has yet come to light:

[I] held up my hand in the clean Mediterranean air against the sun and saw the skeleton of my hand through its covering of pink flesh—saw the same translucence in the marble pillars of the aged Parthenon, and realized what “color” must have been in such light. I saw the yellow stained rocks of the barren terrain. I saw the ancient temples, barren, broken, yellow stained too, standing now magnificent in their crumbling state, more a part of that background than ever they were when born—more stoic now than allowed to be when those whose record they were had built them. . . . Like all who stand there, I tried to re-create the scene as it existed when pagan love of color made it come ablaze. . . . And gradually I saw the whole as a great painted, wooden temple. Though now crumbling to original shapes of stone, so far as intelligence went at that time there were no stone forms whatever. The forms were only derived from wood! I could not make them stone, hard as I might try. Nor had the Greeks cared for that stone quality in their buildings.122

On one level, this is simply a reiteration of the theory that the classical forms of Greek architecture were derived from wooden prototypes. It gave Wright license to claim that the Parthenon “was no organic stone building” but “only a wooden temple embalmed.” “In the hands of the impeccable Greeks here was noble, beautiful stone insulted and forced to do duty as an imitation enslaved to wood.” A “philosophic” and “sophisticated abstraction” (words Wright otherwise reserved for Le Corbusier), even a “pagan poison,” the original source of the Madison cornice could now be seen as the representation of a foreign body on American soil, one contrary to the “ideal of Organic Architecture” that grows out of the inherent characteristics of materials and “unfolds” from within its own cultural and natural conditions.123

But why go to the Acropolis to make the point he had already made numerous times already in the book, and why resort to a replay of the academic chestnut of the wood origins of classical architectural forms? The answer lies in the subtext of the chapter, which involves, once again, Wright’s response to and competition with Le Corbusier. In Towards a New Architecture, Le Corbusier devoted one of his most powerful and memorable chapters to the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Characterizing the temple as a “pure creation of the mind,” an expression of “emotion . . . born of unity of aim; of that unperturbed resolution that wrought its marble with the firm intention of achieving all that is most pure, most clarified, most economical,” the author denied the theory that “the Doric column was inspired by a tree” in order to show that, out of the precise and demanding manipulation of stone itself, “the Greeks created a plastic system directly and forcibly affecting our senses,” a “plastic machinery . . . realized in marble with the rigour that we have learned to apply in the machine.” Far from painted wood now turned to “broken, yellow stained” stone as Wright described it, “the impression” Le Corbusier had, and conveyed, of the Parthenon was “of naked polished steel.”124

The confrontation with Le Corbusier reaches a climax on the final page of the chapter, where Wright approaches Le Corbusier’s model of the machine on firmer and more home grounds. “We begin to glimpse this great adversary as the instrument of a New Order,” he begins. “We are willing to believe there is a common sense,” he continues, “a sense common to our time directed toward specific purpose.” And then Wright goes off on a description of the “New Order” of the “Machine Age” that can be read as a gloss on his much earlier commentary on the Larkin Building through the images of modern conveyances that Le Corbusier famously displayed in page after page of photographs in Towards a New Architecture for those philistine “Eyes Which Do Not See.”125 “We see,” Wright wrote in rhythms echoing those of his nemesis, “an aeroplane clean and light-winged—the lines expressing power and purpose; we see the ocean-liner, stream-lined, clean and swift—expressing power and purpose. The locomotive, too—power and purpose. Some automobiles begin to look the part. Why not buildings, too, indicative of their special purpose? The forms of things that are perfectly adapted to their function, we now observe, have a superior beauty of their own.”126

Then, as if coming back to his senses, and to his own way of thinking and writing, he speaks of the realization of the “new value in freedom” that arises from this “new value in individuality,” a democratic “Ideal” that ultimately allows him to see his way through and beyond Le Corbusier. “The plane is a plane;” Wright remarks, “the steamship is a steamship; the motor-car is a motor-car, and the more they are and look just that thing the more beautiful we find them. Buildings, too—why not? Men too? Why not?” Appearance thus returns in the end to define freedom and individuality through difference and within an idealist, humanist framework.

The title of the following chapter, “The Cardboard House,” is even catchier than “The Passing of the Cornice.”127 It is also decidedly more polemical, as the chapter demonstrates from its opening pages and with great humor and irony throughout. After fairly uncharacteristically defining the house in terms of the biological body (“electric wiring for nervous system, plumbing for bowels, heating system and fireplaces for arteries and heart,” etc., etc.), Wright turns the scientific analogy on its head by saying that a house should be “a noble consort to man and the trees”—“complementary to its nature-environment”—and should not “outrage the Machine by trying to . . . [be] too complementary to Machinery.”128

In defiance of the “humane purposes” he claims for the modern house, Wright ridicules the “cardboard houses” deriving from the “‘Surface-and-Mass’ Aesthetic [read Le Corbusier]” of the European modern movement as looking “as though cut from cardboard with scissors, the sheets of cardboard folded or bent in rectangles with an occasional curved cardboard surface added to get relief. The cardboard forms thus made are glued together in box-like forms—in a childish attempt to make buildings resemble steamships, flying machines or locomotives.”129 Differentiating these works from the “bad surface-decoration” designs of the Art Déco type (referred to as “Art and Decoration” throughout the text), Wright allows that they are “to be preferred”—but not by a lot! Their simplicity “is too easily read,” their “construction . . . complicated or confused, merely to arrive at [the effect] of exterior simplicity” and the false and misleading appearance of “a Machine.”130

To the “cardboard house,” Wright offers his own architecture as a badly needed “antidote.” But instead of referring to the present and dealing with his recent work in the area of domestic design, Wright returns to his beginnings, just as he did in revisiting “The Art and Craft of the Machine” in chapter 1. This no doubt explains the choice of the Robie House, the most famous of his early houses among Europeans, to serve as the illustration for the chapter.131 And by indicating how his ideas on domestic design as they were developed between 1893 and 1909 predicted current work in Europe, the decision to focus exclusively on his own past was also surely meant to prove, as he wrote in his review of Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture two years before, that “all Le Corbusier says or means was at home here in architecture in America in the work of Louis Sullivan and myself—more than twenty-five years ago.”132

Wright describes the characteristic Victorian house of the turn of the century and how he worked to develop a modern paradigm to replace it, the domestic type commonly referred to since as his Prairie House. While his description of his goals and methods issues from the initial statement of this effort as it appeared in 1908 in the article “In the Cause of Architecture,” there is much that is new.133 Much of what is new is simply the result of reflection upon a period and a body of work by then a quarter of a century old; but a lot is also the result of an appropriation of ideas, words, and concepts learned over the previous decade from the very European architects Wright was claiming to be his heirs. The new description of the Prairie House is the one that Wright used as the basis for the section “Building the New House,” and the following one “Simplicity,” in An Autobiography (1932).134

The major new additions to his description of the house type he developed between 1893 and the first years of the twentieth century relate to the recent discourses on architectural space, as that evolved in the 1920s, and the new classicism, as that became evident in the work of Oud, Le Corbusier, and Mies, among others. Wright’s remarks in the 1908 text regarding the interior planning of the Prairie House were limited to saying that a building should no longer be “cut up into box-like compartments” and that it “should contain as few rooms” as necessary. The living room could be expanded to become the “one room” on the ground floor with the kitchen, dining room, and library “otherwise sequestered from it or screened within it by means of architectural contrivances.”135 In “The Cardboard House,” Wright went well beyond this rather limited and tentative statement. He now said that, in his Prairie House, he “declared the whole lower floor as one room” with the effect that “the house became more free as ‘space’” and “interior spaciousness began to dawn.”136 He went on to describe these early houses as “true enclosure of interior space,” a definition that implied a newly minted explanation of the relationship between interior and exterior that paralleled Le Corbusier’s pronouncement that “the plan proceeds from within to without; the exterior is the result of an interior.” Or as Wright put it: “the outside of the house . . . was there chiefly because of what had happened inside.”137

No mention, however, was now made of the fact, of which Wright seemed to have been very proud earlier in his career, that “in laying out the ground plans for even the more insignificant of these buildings a simple axial law and order . . . is practiced . . . and, although the symmetry may not be obvious always the balance is usually maintained.” “The plans,” he earlier stated, completely unapologetically, “are as a rule much more articulate than is the school product of the Beaux-Arts.”138 In eliminating this critical but conservative sounding aspect of his design methodology, it would appear that Wright was trying both to establish his own modernity and, at the same time, to distance himself from the European modern movement. In 1925, in an article about Wright and his growing irrelevance, Oud described the negative reaction of the younger Europeans to Wright’s romanticism and their positive move away from his “influence” by means of “a new—an unhistorical!—classicism.”139

In searching for a term to characterize his own architecture in contradistinction to the association of the “modern” with the purist, neoclassical “cardboard houses” of the younger Europeans, Wright now, for the first time in any consistent and programmatic way, began to refer to his own brand of modernism as “organic architecture,” a term that appeared here and there in earlier chapters as well as in a short piece he published in 1929 criticizing the new European architecture and, especially, its supporters in the United States.140 While Wright had used the adjective “organic” to characterize aspects of his work from quite early on, and continued to do so throughout the teens and twenties, the only previous time the architect used the expression “organic architecture” as a self-defining term of nomenclature was in 1914, when he was faced with a situation analogous to the one in 1930. Then, as in 1930, he was looking for a way to differentiate himself from followers he thought had misinterpreted and degraded his ideas and forms (the so-called New School of the Middle West he referred to disparagingly earlier in the chapter).141 All this certainly helps to explain Wright’s resistance to the use of the title Modern Architecture for the book. The phrase “Modern Concepts Concerning an Organic Architecture” that was prominently displayed as the heading of the front endpapers served to undermine and demote the word “modern” to the status of a mere qualifier.

The “Organic Architecture” that Wright now declared as his own defined itself in opposition to the reductive simplicity of the “cardboard house.” “A home is a machine to live in” as “a tree is a machine to bear fruit.” This Wright would not deny. But such statements, while being true, were not enough, just as the “surface and mass” simplicities of the “cardboard house” were not enough to satisfy the profound “humane purposes” at the heart of the domestic program. “To eliminate expressive words that intensify or vivify meaning in speaking or writing is not simplicity,” Wright said, just as “in Architecture, expressive changes of surface, emphasis of line and especially textures of materials, may go to make facts eloquent, forms more significant.” “Organic Architecture” recognized that “the Simplicity of the Universe is very different from the Simplicity of a Machine.” In total contrast to the plane surfaces and hard lines of the “modern” buildings of the younger Europeans, Wright foresaw an “organic architecture” in Blakean terms, wherein “exuberance is beauty.”142

The final two chapters, “The Tyranny of the Skyscraper” and “The City,” form a close-knit pair. They deal with some of the most pressing problems of the period and were especially cited by contemporary critics for their important contributions to the discourse. More than any of the other four, they are grounded in the economic, social, and political events of the period and can be read in relation to the crisis of capitalism exposed by the stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression. Bauer stated in her review that “the problem of the skyscraper has never been better summarized”; while the New York architect, architectural historian, and critic Talbot Hamlin described Wright’s “trenchant analysis of the skyscraper and the modern city” as a “brilliant presentation of the problem [for which] all architects and laymen alike, who are hoping and working for a future that is not slavery, may be deeply grateful.”143 The significance of the subjects of these two chapters led the New York Times Book Review to give Wright’s volume a front-page article by the cultural critic and urban historian R. L. Duffus in its Sunday edition of 31 May 1931 under the headline “‘Tyranny of the Skyscraper’: Frank Lloyd Wright Attacks Its Dominion of Our Architecture,” accompanied by a large etching of a construction scene in New York.144

In contrast to the previous chapters, the last two also deal with issues in which the architect himself was deeply engaged at the time and in relation to which he had either recently done projects or was in the process of doing so. These highly innovative, inventive, and sometimes visionary designs included the thirty-two-story National Life Insurance Company Building for Water Tower Square in Chicago (1924–25); the six-block multitower Skyscraper Regulation scheme, probably also for Chicago (1926); the four-building St. Mark’s Towers project for downtown Manhattan (1927–30); the twenty-four-story block-long slab of Grouped Apartments for a site between Water Tower Square and Lake Michigan in Chicago (1930); and the decentralist plan for the urbanization of the entire United States called Broadacre City (1929–35).

Curiously, even amazingly so, one would have no idea about this work from reading “The Tyranny of the Skyscraper.” In fact, one might actually assume from the vehemence of the critique of the building-type that the author had no connection to or even interest in designing such urban structures. The disconnect between theory and practice rears its face with the opening illustration. It is a redrawing of the plan and garden perspective of the house and studio Wright designed in 1906 (not 1902 as the caption states) for the sculptor Richard Bock, a sometime collaborator, for a site in an undistinguished residential suburb ten miles west of Chicago.145 As we remember, Baldwin Smith had urged Wright to consider illustrations of the St. Mark’s Tower and the National Life Insurance Building. Neither was chosen. Why the Bock House and Studio was, instead, is a mystery, except if one assumes the rather fanciful scenario that Wright did not want to appear hypocritical, since he was about to advise architects in the course of the chapter to be “something more than hired men” and decline commissions for urban skyscrapers since nothing good could come of them.146 Perhaps less fanciful, though still difficult to fathom, is that Wright saw the cubic, step-back shape and clear rectilinear expression of the building’s reinforced-concrete structure as foreshadowing an appropriate rational form for the modern skyscraper.147

Unlike the previous chapters, however, Wright does not proceed in this one to take any credit for the modern development of the building-type nor even to imply that his work played a role in predicting its course. Also, there is no critique or even mention of recent architecture in Europe, the only invective being reserved for the large commercial firms in America responsible for the bulk of tall office buildings. And finally, what is also different here is that the architect had previously written almost nothing on the subject and was therefore free to approach the subject exclusively from the perspective of the present and in any way he saw fit.148 The result is a kind of freshness and directness to the argument and a lack of overblown rhetoric.

After setting the stage, through reference to Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s, for how an architectural type-solution can tyrannize a culture by establishing itself as an authoritative and hegemonic form, Wright goes on to legitimize himself as a critical authority in the case of the skyscraper by noting his own presence in Chicago in the later years of the nineteenth century when the modern building-type first came into being. Even more to the point, he places himself in Louis Sullivan’s office at the very moment the Wainwright Building in St. Louis was designed (1890), the building that in Wright’s estimation was “the very first . . . expression of a tall steel office-building as Architecture.” Deriving its form from the steel frame itself and expressing the nature and purpose of that construction through its “vertical walls” treated as “vertical screens,” the “Wainwright Building,” according to Wright, “has characterized all skyscrapers since”—or should have, which is where Wright’s disappointment with the twentieth-century development of the type comes in.149

In several places in the chapter, Wright traces the devolution of the type and its attendant loss of significance and emotional power—the “thrill” one originally got from it “as an individual performance” in the city. After Sullivan came the Beaux-Arts solution modeled on the tripartite division of the classical column, and after that the Gothic Cathedral of Commerce. More recently, and especially in Manhattan, appeared the “plain masonry surfaces and restrained ornament” of the “picturesque” tower or slab based on the “set-back laws” of the 1916 zoning code. But as in all previous versions, the underlying structural steel frame is masked and denied and “the picturesque element in it . . . is false work built over a hollow box.” All are “shams.” “Today,” Wright concluded, “all skyscrapers have been whittled to a point. . . . They whistle, they steam, they moor dirigibles, they wave flags, or they merely aspire, and nevertheless very much resemble each other at all points. . . . Empty of all other significance, . . . they no longer startle or amuse. . . . The light that shone in the Wainwright Building as a promise, flickered feebly and is fading away. Skyscraper architecture is a mere matter of a clumsy imitation masonry envelope for a steel skeleton.”150

Wright offered little in the way of advice on how such buildings could be made better architecture despite his own recent efforts in the field. He described the main purpose of the skyscraper as merely “space-manufacturing-for-rent,” which simply proved to him that the entire undertaking was an intractable, inconsequential, and even unethical one. The skyscraper, he wrote “is a commercial exploit or a mere expedient” and nothing more. “It has no higher ideal of unity than commercial success.”151 In the end, the problem of the skyscraper was not an architectural one but rather a social, economic, cultural, and, especially, an urban one. The “tyranny” it exercised over the city had brought “congestion,” “super-concentration,” “the traffic problem,” and inflated “fictitious land-values,” not to speak of physical and psychological health problems as well. The building-type had become merely a form of advertising and a way for landlords and speculators to get rich. The development was entirely “haphazard” and involved no thought of “spacious city planning.”152 Any attempt to deal with the issue in architectural terms was by definition merely a palliative, what Wright continually referred to as a temporary and ultimately ineffectual “expedient.”

Wright did, however, offer a couple of proposals aimed at the urban aspects of the problem based on two recent projects of his, although he did not identify either by name or claim any actuality for them. They dealt with the issues of traffic and congestion. One solution, which Wright acknowledged was in no way original to him, was the construction of multilevel streets and sidewalks, separating vehicular from pedestrian movement. This was a popular alternative in the 1920s and one that Wright himself exploited in his 1926 Skyscraper Regulation project. Curiously he made no mention of one of the most innovative aspects of his scheme, which was the inclusion of enclosed parking garages topped by garden courts in the center of each block, whose buildings occupied only the perimeter and whose skyscraper elements emerged only at alternating corners.

The other recommendation dealt more specifically with congestion. Directly engaging the relationship between buildings and the street line, and following ideas previously set forth by Le Corbusier and others, Wright suggested that tall buildings be placed in the middle of their parcels in order to receive light on all four sides and to create “park space” out of the unbuilt areas. This concept was given physical shape by Wright just prior to the writing of the lectures in the St. Mark’s Towers project, which was aborted shortly after the closing of the exhibition that featured a model of one of the four towers designed for the Manhattan site.153

It was in the countryside, however, that Wright believed the skyscraper would ultimately find its home. “The haphazard skyscraper in the rank and file of city streets is doomed,” he declared. Any attempt to accommodate it to the city “is no more than an expedient.” As the necessity for concentration in urban centers diminishes due to the increased means of mechanical transportation and telecommunications, there will be an “eventual urban exodus” and the “citizen of the near future,” Wright predicted, “will gradually abandon the city.” And so “the tyranny of the skyscraper” would end while the tall building itself, “in the country” and no longer a congestion-creating “space-maker-for-rent,” would become a new symbol of freedom in which the exurban citizen “might take genuine pride.”154 If this sounds utopian, the final chapter fleshes out the picture of the move from the city to the countryside and the transformations such a move would effect in modern society.

Chapter 6, “The City,” provides the first description in Wright’s published work of the decentralized form of community he would soon call Broadacre City. While this fact has often been correctly noted by historians, it has also been assumed that Wright wrote the text expressly for the Kahn Lectures with the hope that such a distinguished venue would give the proposal a special cachet and perhaps even what we would today call “legs.” But unlike the chapter on the skyscraper, the one on the city was an almost complete recycling of an article written more than four months prior to the invitation to give the Princeton lecture series and a year and a half before the publication of Modern Architecture. The typescript of “In the Cause of Architecture: The City” is dated 29 September 1929. Possibly written as a continuation of the 1927–28 Architectural Record series of the same name, its eleven-page text comprises fully four-fifths of chapter 6 (101–12) and, while heavily edited, it remained essentially unchanged in the published version.155

Wright began “The City” by asking a rhetorical question the answer to which underwrote the rest of the discussion. Is the city merely a “necessity,” a “hang-over” from the past? The answer was a not unexpected, and resounding, yes. What had once made the concentration of people in cities necessary was now counteracted by the new forms of Machine Age transportation and telecommunication, which allowed what was previously only able to be accomplished in the city to be done by a dispersed population living in a healthier, more spacious, and more wholesome environment. As a result, “the city, as we know it, is to die,” Wright stated. The exacerbation of urban problems exposed in the previous chapter on “The Tyranny of the Skyscraper” merely proved that “we are witnessing the acceleration that precedes dissolution.”156

Any attempt to redress the evils of the city within the framework of the traditional concept of the urban environment was thought by Wright not only to be doomed to failure but also to raise false hopes. He consequently felt it necessary, unlike in the previous chapter, and also perhaps because this was the final one, to attack once again the “new movement” in architecture and specifically “Le Corbusier and his school,” whom he now referred to for the first time by name, for their plans to redesign the existing city in the guise of “a machine-made Utopia.”157 Continuing to refer to his Swiss-French nemesis as an abstract thinker rather than an architect, Wright spoke of how “philosophers [read Le Corbusier] draw plans, picture, and prophecy a future city, more desirable, they say, than the pig-pile now in travail, their pictures reducing everything to a mean height—geometrically spaced.”

The description clearly fits Le Corbusier’s project for a City of Three Million Inhabitants (1922), with its twenty-four cruciform, glass curtain-walled towers, all the same sixty-story height, occupying the central transportation and commercial hub, surrounded by lower ranges of housing blocks, all the same height and laid out on a modified gridiron plan. “In order to preserve air and passage, this future city,” Wright continued in a graphic descriptive passage foreshadowing J. G. Ballard’s dystopian vision of the modern metropolis (not to speak of Brasilia’s realization of Le Corbusier’s ideas), “relegates the human individual as a unit or factor to pigeonhole 337611, block F, avenue A, street No. 127. And there is nothing at which to wink an eye that could distinguish No. 337611 from No. 337610 or 27643, bureau D, intersection 118 and 119.” It is the expression of “a mechanistic system appropriate to man’s extinction.”158

Perhaps because he was having too much fun, but also because he did not want to limit his criticism to a purely formal analysis, Wright refused to leave the matter of Le Corbusier’s projected city just there and returned to it a bit later when talking about the problem of “the poor” and the social dimension of housing. Here, for the first time in the book, he raised the issue of class and money in relation to equality of opportunity in housing. According to Wright, the machine in Le Corbusier’s “city of the future” acted as a social leveler to produce and enforce “the common denominator.” Not fully understanding the economic and social classification of the housing types in the Corbusian scheme, Wright assumed that “the poor man” was to be treated “just as is the rich man—No. 367222, block 99, shelf 17, entrance K” and thus poverty to be “built in” to the system. “This new scheme for the city is delightfully impartial, extinguishes everyone, distinguishes nothing except by way of the upper stories,” where the “routine economies sacred to a business man’s civilization” were carried on by the “nominators,” the elite of Corbusian technocrats for whom the city was designed and who would run its affairs. Everyone else was reduced “to the ranks—of the poor.” 159

In Wright’s counterproject, which is based on no greater but no fewer economic specifics than Le Corbusier’s, the common denominator would no longer be the poverty bred by the congestion of the city. The horizons of “all, rich or poor,” would be expanded by life in the countryside, just as everyone would be afforded the privacy and the freedom available to no one, except perhaps the superrich or superpowerful, in the existing city or the “machine-made Utopia” of Le Corbusier.160 Based on the pattern of decentralization he noted as already occurring in metropolises like Chicago and Los Angeles—which were “splitting up . . . into several centers, again to be split up into many more”—as well as the ideas for the “decentralization of industry” put forward by Henry Ford in his plans for Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Wright proposed a radical, multicentered, unbounded, and extensive conception of the city to replace the traditional, hierarchically organized, self-contained urban form. Instead of bringing the “air, space, and greenery” of the countryside to the city, as Le Corbusier proposed, Wright’s idea was to take “the city . . . to the country.” Clearly setting his own vision in direct opposition to Le Corbusier’s urbanisme, Wright described his new type of city as a form of “Ruralism as distinguished from Urbanism”—thus characteristically “American, and truly Democratic.”161

Wright allowed that the move to the countryside might not be total at first, or even in the conceivable future. The natural devolution of the city was toward a purely “utilitarian” state. As such, and Wright gave no terminus ad quem for this, the city would be reduced to a six-hour, three-day-a-week schedule, “invaded at ten o’clock, abandoned at four.” The rest of one’s time would be lived entirely outside of it. As “the country absorbs the life of the city,” it would eventually offer all the cultural as well as commercial opportunities the city once did and become, in Wright’s words, “a festival of life.” The machine had already made possible the necessary “margin of leisure” for this abandonment of the traditional city, and the infrastructure for such a complete reorganization of human existence was already in place. All that was needed was a realization through design.162

The fundamental infrastructural elements allowing for the dispersal of the population from urban centers and their regroupment into new forms of community were the existing highway system and the various new forms of telecommunication, such as telephone, radio, telegraph, and, most recently, television. While never defining a true linear city, as was proposed as early as the 1880s by the Spaniard Arturo Soria y Mata and developed by the Soviet planner Nikolai Miliutin in 1930 and later by Le Corbusier, the highway system served as the underlying, multidirectional, and multifunctional network of Wright’s proposal. It was not merely a means of physical movement but also took on the role of place-making that squares or plazas once played in older forms of cities.

The gas station, or “service station along the highway,” was to serve as the catalyst of this anamorphic urbanism. As “the future city in embryo,” in Wright’s words, it would “naturally grow into a neighborhood distribution center, meeting-place, restaurant, . . . or whatever else is needed.” Spread throughout the landscape in every direction, such service stations would form “a thousand centers as city equivalents.” “Stores linked to the decentralized chain service stations” would become neighborhood shopping centers, while “temporary lodging” could be had there in what later would be called motels. Perhaps the most significant architectural element that would define these community centers were the “automobile objectives.” Based on a design Wright had done for one in 1924–25 for a rural site near Dickerson, Maryland, about an hour’s drive from Washington, D.C., for the same real estate developer Gordon Strong he referred to in chapter 5, such automobile-accessible, multiuse structures would house planetariums, concert halls, theaters, museums, and art galleries as well as other outdoor facilities on the “recreation grounds” surrounding them. Affording panoramic views of the landscape from the spiral road encircling the building, such “automobile objectives” were envisioned “from end to end of the country.”163

While the highway and its centers for shopping, eating, and recreational and cultural activities would amply “gratify,” in Wright’s words, the “get-together instinct,” much of the social and intellectual life of the individual would be focused on the single-family house, “the home of the individual social unit.” Predicting the defining, bottom-line condition of Broadacre City, Wright stated that each family would be given “an acre” as “the democratic minimum” of land. While he did not specify how this would be achieved nor how that land was to be used other than for residential purposes, he did make much of the fact that the private house would become in this new “ruralism” an integrated home “entertainment” center complementing and supplementing the ones on the highway. “Soon there will be little not reaching him [the family member] at his own fireside by broadcasting, television and publication.” “The ‘movies,’ ‘talkies’ and all,” he forecast, “will soon be seen and heard better at home than in any hall. Symphony concerts, operas and lectures will eventually be taken more easily to the home than the people can be now be taken to the great halls in old style, and be heard more satisfactorily in congenial company.” This domestic environment would provide all sorts of programming, be it for entertainment or education, in the “intimate comfort” of one’s own home and with “free individual choice.”164

Wright had not yet designed the typical house for the minimum acre freehold that would dot the countryside and be referred to by him in the later 1930s as the Usonian House, based on the name for America he began using in 1925 and employed often in the text of Modern Architecture.165 He had, however, already designed the automobile objective, the most significant building in the cultural life of the new city. And he used a spectacular aerial perspective of it to illustrate Two Lectures on Architecture, the publication of the talks he gave at the Art Institute of Chicago after the ones at Princeton, which appeared about four months after Modern Architecture did.166 One therefore wonders why, instead of using it to illustrate the final chapter of Modern Architecture, he chose a rather minor and idiosyncratic work of the mid-1910s that seems to bear no relationship whatsoever to the subject matter at hand and even to be at odds with it. The project for the “small city house,” or urban Town House of 1915–16 (misdated 1912–13 and curiously labeled a “Small Town Hall”) was one of a large number of designs for the series of prefabricated American Ready-Cut or American System-Built Houses. It is conceivable that Wright thought its standardized construction along with its verticality and pronounced asymmetry might be interpreted as predicting later European developments—but still . . . one wonders. . . .

There is no doubt that Wright was generally more concerned about the discursive text of the book than about the illustrative material, just as he was in the lectures. But even so, there was something special about the final chapter and its utopian subject matter. Despite the fact that his “ruralist” vision was deeply grounded in the realities of American land-use development and would eventually come to fruition in many of its aspects, the type of new city Wright described in “The City” did not cohere as an image but only as a descriptive text. It was in fact invisible—as indeterminate in shape as it was boundless in scope. Unlike Le Corbusier’s projected cities of the 1920s, where the power of the images was undoubtedly greater than the words accompanying them, in Wright’s case it was the text that carried the force of the argument and made the imagination work overtime. Even when the proposal adumbrated in chapter 6 was developed in The Disappearing City the following year and given the name Broadacre City, there was still no visual representation of it. That only came in 1934–35, when a large sectional model, accompanied by smaller ones of individual structures, was built and exhibited in New York, Madison, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. Wright later often described Broadacre City as being located “nowhere unless everywhere,” thereby acknowledging both the shapelessness and fundamental invisibility of the concept as well as its source in the “no place” that the Greek neologism Utopia means.167

The literary conceit of time travel that Wright used to end the final chapter, and thus the book as a whole, relates, in general, to the literature of utopia (and its corollary dystopia) and, in particular, to one of the architect’s favorite novels in the genre, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward: 2000–1887 (1888). At the same time, it also bears comparison with the final chapter in Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture, where the terms “Architecture or Revolution” are set in opposition to one another in a kind of “do or die” scenario not unlike the doomsday one that activates Wright’s final thoughts. Following the last glowing description of his new city as an environment where “architectural beauty related to natural beauty” will transform “the countryside far and near” into “a festival of life,” Wright appended a darker, more cautionary note.168

What if, Wright asks, America were to follow the “superficial” suggestions of the “machine-made Utopia” of the European modern movement rather than the homegrown, land-based, democratically grounded proposal he is offering? In answer to this question, he asks his reader to follow him into the far-distant future to see what the ruins of modern civilization would look like. There will be nothing left as an authentic reminder of the “experiment in civilization we call Democracy.” There would not even be any evidence to help in recreating what might have existed: “The ruin would defy restoration by the historian; it would represent a total loss in human Culture, except as a possible warning.”169 There would be bits of historical details from other civilizations used in eclectic buildings; there would be “a wilderness of wiring, wheels and complex devices of curious ingenuity”; there would be “our plumbing,” “the most characteristic relic of all”; and then there would be “the vast confusion of riveted steelwork in various states of collapse and disintegration.” “Only our industrial buildings could tell anything worth knowing about us,” “but few of these buildings would survive that long.” To the question “What Architecture would appear in the ruins?” the answer was none. 170 Unless, that is, America woke up immediately to the architectural and urban ideas that Wright had shown to be organic to its character, its landscape, its ideology, and its historical evolution, in other words, that America looked to itself through his example and became aware of the fact that its “culture itself [was] becoming year by year more plastic.”171

The message was clear: Architecture or Ruination. This was different from Le Cor-busier’s message, but not that much. Wright, we have to remember, was writing on the cusp of the Great Depression whereas Le Corbusier had been anticipating with great optimism the major industrial effort being put into the Reconstruction of France after the end of World War I. Instead of looking back at the present from an imaginary future, Le Corbusier “set [the present] against the past,” analyzing it not just in relation to the recent past, or even to “the nineteenth century, but to the history of civilizations in general.” In that longue durée, the architect described the creation of new tools of industry, new methods of business, new methods of construction, and new laws of architecture resulting from the above as denoting, whether one liked it or not, whether one was conscious of it or not, a “Revolution.” The problem was that the advantages of this revolution had not filtered down to the individual, especially those in the working class, who saw the benefits of the machine at work but none of those benefits in their increasingly longer leisure-time hours. Le Corbusier’s answer to the dilemma was similar to Wright’s. “Revolution [read Ruination] can be avoided” through the implementation of his ideas about architecture in all aspects and at all levels of society, in other words, “Architecture or Revolution.”172

LOOKING BACKWARD AT MODERN ARCHITECTURE

As Wright himself told Baldwin Smith at the onset of their discussions about what he would do for the lectures, “the best work I have ever done was the result of provocation.” There is no doubt, as is evidenced throughout the book, that Wright felt provoked by almost everyone and everything around him. It was not just “Le Corbusier and his school” but the entire establishment of American professional architecture, the business leaders and real estate developers who gave them jobs, and the mediocrity of the culture of “sham” and kitsch that was ultimately at the source of it all. But there is also no doubt that “Le Corbusier and his school” were the most significant and dangerous of those Wright characterized as his “enemies” because they, for the first time ever in his career, had claim to having produced an architecture and an urbanism that were more advanced and more modern than his own.173

In two important articles published in Architectural Record in 1928 to which I have already alluded, Hitchcock placed Wright in the camp of the out-of-date New Tradition, along with Berlage, Auguste Perret, and Eliel Saarinen, among others; Le Cor-busier, Oud, Mies, and Gropius, by contrast, were lauded as representing the new avant-garde.174 Hitchcock repeated the same argument in his book Modern Architecture: Romanticism and Reintegration (1929), where he maintained that Wright’s work “has but a limited sympathy with the spirit of the machine” and therefore little relevance to current avant-garde practices. Le Corbusier, on the other hand, was described as “the type of the new architect,” the one “who has succeeded best in destroying the validity of the New Tradition” and “achieved a more advanced demonstration of the possibilities of an new aesthetic than any other architect.”175

Up until the late 1920s, Wright only had to worry about those who, in his view, stole his ideas and made them more palatable to public consumption; but in the years just preceding the invitation to give the Kahn Lectures, he began to realize that there were ideas in the air newer than his own that he might himself be tempted to appropriate or, at the very least, to feel the need to engage. His review of Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture, which came out four months after Hitchcock’s articles, was the first of his attempts to deal with the unexpected situation. Characterizing Le Cor-busier, in extremely positive terms, as “no sentimentalist,” Wright criticized “the talented Frenchman” for the focus on “‘surface and mass’ effects” and the “stark,” reductive form of his machine-inspired designs. Yet he went on to state that Le Corbusier was “right” in his praise for the “‘new’ beauty” of machinery, correct in his dismissal of the “styles,” and on the mark in “dressing down” the eclectic commercial architecture of New York.176

Wright also expressed the thought, almost in passing, that Le Corbusier may not be that distant from his own world after all, and that “the French movement may soon lose its two dimensions, ‘surface and mass,’ within the three that characterize the American work.” Whether such a rapprochement would ever actually occur is not something Wright dwelt on, although it is interesting that he noted the possibility. Finally, after urging “everyone engaged in making or breaking [architecture in] these United States . . . [to] read the Le Corbusier book,” he appended a curiously open note of give-and-take, one that could even be read as implying a debt to be repaid: “So welcome Holland, Germany, Austria and France! Had you not taken it [the lessons furnished by Sullivan and himself], we as a Nation might never have been aware of it, never, even, have seen it!”177

As Wright’s first full-fledged public presentation of his reaction to the new modern architecture of Europe and, especially, that of Le Corbusier, the Kahn Lectures and the book that came out of them reveal not just Wright’s antagonism toward the younger Europeans but even more importantly the first stage in his attempt to grapple with their ideas. In many instances this involved, consciously or not, a large degree of appropriation. We saw this already in the many connections that exist on a substantive as well as a structural level between the texts of Modern Architecture and Towards a New Architecture. Wright could never assume the declarative, analytic, epigrammatic style of writing that Le Corbusier used so effectively, nor could he weave together text and image in the way the latter did to create entirely new and extraordinary connections between buildings and things. All this was foreseen by Baldwin Smith, who at first bemoaned the lack of “functional directness” and “simplicity” in Wright’s prose. But, in his own way—as the preacher rather than the logician— Wright sought to insert his text into the advanced discourse of the period as that was fundamentally and irrevocably shaped by Le Corbusier.

Wright was certainly more articulate and more compelling, indeed, even more poetic, in his buildings than in his words. He was also much more original and creative when it came to designing than writing and yet, even in his design thinking, the confrontation with “Le Corbusier and his school” had a powerful and permanent effect. In the proposal for a new paradigm of the city laid out in chapter 6 of Modern Architecture—the first and only self-generated design by Wright for an ideal city—Wright barely veiled the source of his countertype in stating that it was based on “Ruralism as distinguished from Urbanism,” urbanism having by that time become the special domain of Le Corbusier.178 The encounter with the latter’s freestanding cruciform skyscrapers raised on pilotis above their surrounding parklike space likewise influenced the design of the St. Mark’s Towers scheme, which broke with the perimeter-block concept the architect had previously employed in the Skyscraper Regulation project and the National Life Insurance Company Building. Wright, of course, would never openly acknowledge such influence, admitting in the second chapter of Modern Architecture that “artists, even great ones, are singularly ungrateful to sources of inspiration,” while doing himself little justice by adding that “among lesser artists ingratitude amounts to phobia.”179

Wright ultimately became phobic about the impact European modernism had on his work and, especially after the 1932 International Style exhibition, was more and more critical of anything the younger Europeans accomplished and more and more unwilling to admit the rapprochement of ideas he previously suggested might occur. It was, in fact, the “propagandist” efforts of the Museum of Modern Art to institutionalize a style, “conceived by the few to be imposed upon all alike,” rather than the new architecture itself that really got his ire up and set the ball in motion.180 He wrote that the exhibition was “trying to head me off.”181 The term “Organic Architecture,” which in Modern Architecture first became his usual way of distinguishing his work from the “‘surface and mass’ effects” of European modernism, soon was used as a rallying cry meant to circle the wagons and call into question the significance of any other form of contemporary architectural expression.182 While intended to define his work in a timeless, transcendent way, it also indicated the centrist role he saw for himself when he spoke in 1932 of working with “an enemy in each eye. Two extremes. The predatory eclectic in the right eye. The predatory ‘internationalist’ in the left eye.”183

There is no denying that the very architectural thinking Wright had lauded between 1928 and 1931 as of unusual “portent” and “extremely valuable . . . as an enemy” was about to prove its value as a catalytic agent of great power and subtlety in the designs the architect began producing from the mid-1930s on.184 This story has often been told and is not worth repeating, except to note that the design of both Fallingwater, the weekend house for the Kaufmann family in Mill Run, Pennsylvania (1934–37), and the Jacobs House in Madison, Wisconsin (1936–37), the first Usonian House, were both profoundly engaged with the formal ideas earlier developed by Le Corbusier, Mies, and others. Both realize the ideal Wright set out in his review of Towards a New Architecture in stating that “the third dimension we already have to be added to the two of France is depth.”185 Fallingwater and the Jacobs House were almost immediately celebrated as major contributions to the world of modern architecture and as representative works of Wright’s resurgent career as that was documented in the January 1938 issue of Architectural Forum devoted exclusively to the architect’s recent work.186

In the later 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Wright went on to do extraordinary work, as original, as interesting, and as important as any he had done earlier in his career, so much so that, by 1948, Hitchcock completely reversed his view on Wright’s relevance to modern architecture. In an important symposium on the current state of architecture held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1948, the critic and historian declared that “it is hard, unless we turn to that extraordinary man, Frank Lloyd Wright, to find much wealth or variety or range of expression in modern architecture at the present time,” adding that “a range of expression sufficient for several centuries seems to be concentrated in that man’s last few years’ projects.”187

Wright’s return to the forefront of modern architecture was as important for the discipline itself as it was for his own career and legacy. In rising to the challenge of the European modern movement and engaging with it as he did, Wright served to make modern architecture itself a more complex, multilayered phenomenon, even if he himself usually preferred to declare his own independence from it. From the later 1930s on, he opened certain new avenues for investigation and thus gave as much as he took. While he would always claim exclusive ownership of the label “organic architecture,” others, like Alvar Aalto, and later Jørn Utzon, both strongly influenced by Wright, were included by the historian and critic Sigfried Giedion in a trend “toward the irrational and the organic” that he saw, as early as 1941, as indicating how “European and American architecture together may find a new and common path.”188

In opposition to the earlier, 1920s conception of the “rational-functional,” the “irrational-organic,” in Giedion’s view, brought into play a new sense of liveliness, individuality, and freedom in the design process as well as a close connection to nature through flexible site planning and the use of natural materials.189 Wright’s centrist position vis-à-vis the radical purism of the “machine aesthetic” also gave him a unique and exemplary place in the post–World War II turn toward what Lewis Mumford described as “a native and humane form of modernism” emphasizing “the ‘feeling’ elements in design.” This “domestication” of modern architecture, as Alfred Barr would describe it, drew much from Wright’s work in its goal of “providing,” as Barr put it, “‘comfortable’ houses for ordinary living.”190

Wright’s Modern Architecture remains a key text in the development of modern architecture, marking some of the most important changes that occurred in its evolution following the climactic years of the 1920s and the first evidence of its institutionalization in the Museum of Modern Art’s International Style exhibition. On the most obvious level, it reveals Wright’s engagement with the new movement and prepares us for the unexpected “second career” he would have. But more importantly, it affords us a window into how his interaction with European modernism would ultimately complicate and enrich later developments. At the same time, it helps us to assess more accurately his own role in those events by indicating the centrist—dare one say middle-ofthe-road?—position he was led to take by his training, belief system, and way of life, and that he chose to adopt in reaction to the revolutionary changes unfolding around him.

Return to Book Description

File created: 1/30/2008

Questions and comments to: webmaster@pupress.princeton.edu
Princeton University Press

New Book E-mails
New In Print
PUP Blog
Videos/Audios
Princeton APPS
Sample Chapters
Subjects
Series
Catalogs
Princeton Legacy Library
Textbooks
Media/Reviewers
Class Use
Rights/Permissions
Ordering
Recent Awards
Princeton Shorts
Freshman Reading
PUP Europe
About Us
Contact Us
Links
F.A.Q.
PUP Home


Bookmark and Share