Wright Retrospective

Wright was a prophetic thinker, decades ahead of his peers. He defined organic architecture as being appropriate to ‘place, people and time’ and designed around those elements. He wanted to connect with new technology and use it to advance his architecture. We see his profound contribution as a visionary for architectural practice in the 21st century. ~Brady Roberts, Chief Curator

Frank Lloyd Wright

Milwaukee Art Museum, 2011, Frank Lloyd Wright was the greatest American architect of the 20th century, often considered an architect before his time. Now, more than 50 years after his death, his ideas are undergoing some fresh and scholarly reconsideration -including a major museum show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2009). And tomorrow, 12 February, the  Milwaukee Art Museum will enter this dialogue with a new exhibit “Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture in the 21st Century.”

Talisein_West

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West

Taliesin_East

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin East, It was the landscape around Spring Green, where he eventually built his home. Taliesin, that first inspired his ideas about nature, space and light. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, studio and school in Spring Green, Wisconsin, the Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture in the 21st Century, opens. A major forward-looking exhibition of the celebrated architect’s seven-decade career.

Unity_ Temple

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple, Oak Park, Illinois, 1905-08 © 2010 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, Arizona. The exhibit features more than 150 objects, including drawings  -33 of which have never been exhibited publicly- home movies, photographs and photo enlargements, furniture, architectural models, and video footage of his most important designs, detailing Wright’s prodigious influence in his field. Wright designed about 1,000 buildings in his career, with slightly more than 500 moving on to completion and approximately 400 of his structures still stand.

 This exhibit, perhaps most importantly, makes the case that Wright’s ideas are, in many ways, suited to the design problems of the day, including a need to build more sustainable buildings and communities. Examining major projects including Unity Temple, Fallingwater, Johnson Wax, Taliesin and Taliesin West, the exhibition will analyze Wright’s objectives through a twenty-first century lens. Reflecting on Wright’s impact during his lifetime and his significance today, the retrospective will highlight the many triumphs of Wright’s career and focus on his grand opus of suburban planning, Living City (1958) which, though never realized, was the culmination of all his work.

Broadacre

Wright’s 1930’s model of Broadacre City, The exhibit includes a rarely seen model, the symbol of Wright’s uncompromising faith in the transformative power of architecture, the large, 1930s model of Broadacre City, a scaled version of utopia, or at least several square miles of it. This blueprint for Wright’s urban utopia incorporated the natural environment into everyday life. An ideal community, complete with affordable housing, farms, recreational arenas and parking structures.

Back in the day, Wright and his team apparently packed it up and took it on the road across the country to prophesize how all of America -not just wealthy clients- might organize itself. Large wood panels with a list of ‘required reading’ carved into them were typically and strategically placed along side nearby walls. The list includes Jesus, Spinoza, Voltaire, Thoreau, Louis Sullivan, and, of course, Wright himself. The model is now a relic showing its age physically and in concept. Broadacre City was, after all, a prophetic vision of suburban sprawl in which every family would get at least a ‘broad acre’. To the end of his life, Wright sermonized about his blueprint for the future, aspiring to remake civilization itself. In one of his last television interviews, he told Mike Wallace that he needed just 15 more years. With a little more time, he said with characteristic bravado, he could change the nation through architecture.

 Wright view

An installation view of “Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century” at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Wright died more than half a century ago. He was one of the most important architects of the 20th century and the first to create a truly American architecture. And while he left a legacy of some of the most recognizable structures ever designed, one wonders if he never quite got his message across. Now, though, at a time when our planet is in crisis and sustainability has become a worldwide priority, Wright’s vision for reinventing cities remains relevant.

Wright was an architect addressing big societal and global issues of importance and decidedly ‘green’ more than a generation before we spoke in such terms, and the prospect that today’s architects and city planners could learn something from his progressive social agenda is a provocative one. At any rate, this will be the first exhibition to consider Wright’s organic architecture moving forward, not looking back, that reflects on the quality and quantity of Wright’s designs along with the idiosyncrasies that underlie his genius.