my first encounter with frank lloyd wright’s work was a tour one summer’s afternoon through fallingwater. set deep in its beautiful wooded pennsylvania valley, you walk through the property and have a slight suspicion that you might be falling with the water below.
actually, his design was not perfect and the building had been falling. when we were there there were props holding it up while reinforcements were being added… not so impressive.
wright was so famous and popular because he accomplished a lot and preached himself successfully. in effect, he was his own prop. like many great designers, he taught, wrote, travelled, lectured, and was an interesting, and at times controversial individual. (americans love trailblazers.) in personal and business matters, by contrast, he was often a failure … like the faulty cantilevered fallingwater.
but you cannot deny both the drama and the serenity of the place with its stone floors and big open great room, balancing there as the water falls on and on below.
when i was in school i loved mathematics, especially geometry. i could happily fiddle with ruler, compass and pencil for hours, drawing neat curves and perfect angles. very satisfying. i later became a draftsman of engineering and architectural drawings, for a time (before the days of autocad!…yes, i am getting old). so wright’s furniture designs make me smile.
he borrowed traditional japanese styles. he loved the japanese respect for the beauty of wood. then he set about drawing neat circles and lots of straight lines. easily manufactured and reproducible, was one of his goals.
i have my doubts about his furniture’s comfort, though. in his architecture, he studied the landscape and made his buildings spring out of it’s surroundings. this organic emphasis seems lost in his furniture. it disregards the body’s curves. function and form do not meet. and aesthetically i miss any tribute to the subtler curves and lines found in nature.
i don’t think he tried to make any cantilevered chairs. they would really worry me.
but the cantilevered shelving at fallingwater is great. i love the clean lines and smooth wood, especially in contrast to the rough rock floors. perhaps i will knock my walls about a bit and cantilever some shelves….