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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What I've Learned from Frank Lloyd Wright

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate just how lucky I was to have known what I wanted to be “when I grow up” from age 12. In 1981 we built our house only a mile from the apartment in which I grew up in St. Louis. I rode my bike to the construction site every day for the 6 months it took to complete and absolutely fell in love with architecture, especially residential.

I came across Frank Lloyd Wright’s work while attending the University of Kansas, where we had Taliesin alum such as Curtis Besinger and Victor Papanek. This was when my travels to Mr. Wright’s buildings across the country began and still continue to this day. We’ve all heard people say that you can’t learn only through books and classrooms – that you must experience your interests first-hand. This became apparent after spending time inside and out Mr. Wright’s work and speaking with numerous original homeowners who told us stories and experiences that were not in any books.
 
After visiting well over 100 buildings around the country (spending the night in some of them) as well as reading dozens of books by Wright and about Wright and listening to audio of Mr. Wright speaking to apprentices about architecture and life itself, here is what I’ve learned from Frank Lloyd Wright:
 

Appreciation for Nature

 
Mr. Wright's work is synonymous with Nature, capital “N”, and his architecture makes you realize the benefits of your greater connection to it. Most if not all of Wright’s work occurred in natural settings with enough acreage to create a private, restful atmosphere. His buildings “hug” nature, literally, through the use of planters extending from the structure.

 
The buildings grow from the site instead of being put on top of them. Mr. Wright often said that a building “should appear to belong where you see it standing”. Nature was Mr. Wright’s stage, and the building provided a front-row seat to the sights, sounds and smells of birds, rain, the rustling of leaves, deer, changing sun angles and the snow. This is exactly the experience at the Penfield House in Ohio, where the view to the landscape is through 12-foot French doors from the built-in Living Room bench seat. We sat for hours watching deer and feeding the birds.
 
You become relaxed as your biorhythms attune to the site – you connect! The troubles of the world slip away in this parallel universe. It’s quiet, peaceful, joyful!! It’s also very difficult to go “back to civilization” after you’ve experienced Mr. Wright’s architecture. You wonder why you’ve been living in what you have for all this time. I remember sitting with Ken and Phyllis Laurent in their Living Room, all warm, dry and cozy as a storm passed by. It was wonderful! You begin to “see” Mother Earth in her infinite variety and understand that she is the ultimate context in which all man-made structures exist. Wright’s work was “green” before it was popular or necessary to be so. We’ve tried to bring this Nature appreciation back to our own house, Optimista, by connecting inside and outside through design, as well as feeding the birds every day and maintaining the landscaping.
 
Appreciation for Beauty and Integrity
 
Mr. Wright’s work has been rightly described as “works of art” in and of themselves. Wright called architecture the “Mother Art”, and had an appreciation of music, literature, and sculpture – believing in the integration of the arts and architecture. One of his best examples was in Midway Gardens, a beer garden/restaurant/entertainment complex built in Chicago in 1914 (unfortunately demolished in 1929).
 
 Wright’s work has made me cognizant of scale, proportion and the consideration of what the eye sees - where it rests. He said that ornamentation (not the enemy by the way) should be “of the building” and not as merely surface application on it. Mr. Wright designed niches and/or shelves with proper lighting specifically for a Client’s painting or sculpture as an integral part of the overall design. Part of the meaning of the word “Organic” (the name for Wright’s architecture) is “part is to whole as whole is to part”. There is design continuity throughout the entire building as a whole, just like there is in Nature itself. Nothing is out of place or disparate from the design theme. The design integrity is maintained through and through. As I walk through the design of our own home, I have always tried to think about what the eye sees as you move through the space. Where should a piece of sculpture go? What looks right? Would a mirror here allow you to see the sky through that high window? What do you see when you turn this corner? Does the custom furniture I’ve designed for the house relate and “fit”. Is everything you look at beautiful? How could it be better?
 
Appreciation for a Cultured, Civilized Life
 
In much of my readings about Frank Lloyd Wright there are many references to him and Mrs. Wright being good hosts to Clients and visitors at both Taliesins. They had their infamous Easter celebrations every year, where Wright would wear his white suite and shoes.
 
Taliesin always held small concerts, had tea time, and fabulous dinners. Guests would be entertained and enjoy the beauty of Wright’s architecture and overall property. The way of life at Taliesin was completely their own making – a life that encouraged you to be the best representative of humanity. I’ve read from original Client accounts of visits to Taliesin that Taliesin didn’t “go by the ways of the world”. More recently I’ve come to admire this and tried to create this kind of environment for my wife and myself. I’ve learned that you can design the way of life you want to live – regardless of what is going on in the world. Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophy of the free, creative individual who has space and comfort in our great Democracy has inspired me to think about how my wife and I want to live – that we make life happen instead of life happening to us! Recently I’ve been shopping for a tea set, which I would have never thought of if not for an appreciation of Wright. We want to host and entertain properly more often. We want to show off our own unique home and fill it with friends, family, peace and love. We want to serve guests good food and wine in a beautiful space surrounded by beauty with Classical music filling the air.
 
Mr. Wright always dressed impeccably, out of respect for himself and guests. He said that you acted differently, more nobly and with dignity when you dressed well. We also want that for ourselves, which is quite different from our sweat pants and T-shirt culture.
 
In all the books I’ve read, especially by original homeowners themselves, about their lives in their Frank Lloyd Wright house, they all were enriched and uplifted by the experience. They were educated, not just academically at a school, but by Mr. Wright and his architecture on the joys and possibilities of what it meant to be truly humane. Wright Clients traveled, were open-minded, well-read, and had a desire for learning. They were involved or had an interest in the community, the arts and education. They had purpose in life – a reason to get up every morning and make the most of this day. They were, and still are, the best of America. I want nothing more than that kind of life for my own family, and as an architect mentored by Frank Lloyd Wright, am privileged to keep trying every day to achieve it!
 
Colin Edward Slais
Optimista
Scottsdale, Arizona
 

 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Nutrition Company Corporate Office

This Client's brand was all about a modern knowledge of nutrition along with healthy activity and energy. Their office has a contemporary, sleek, lean image expressing what the company represents to its clients and shareholders.






Internet Company Corporate Headquarters

The Client for this project wanted to express the youth, energy, teamwork, fun and tech savvy that was the image of the company. A more casual mix of work and play were incorporated into the design using a variety of materials and textures portraying the slightly more "edgy" atmosphere the Client intended.








Lux Executive Offices of Scottsdale

This project consists of 8500 sf of executive offices featuring an entry lobby, reception, conference room, break room, training room and multiple smaller meeting rooms and sitting areas throughout for a variety of business services.







Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Vision Center of West Phoenix Project

I stopped by this recently-completed project of my design to take a few quick pics. This is my best commercial interior medical office project to date in my 19-year career here in Arizona. The Client and I were on the same page all the way. Walls of various colors as screens defining space instead of confining it. All elements clearly separated and expressed as planes about space. The design inspiration came from the likes of : The De Stijl Art Movement, and architects Mies Van Der Rohe and Luis Barragan. I even created my own art piece specifically for the space hanging in the waiting room. A complete synthesis of function, art, ideas, simplicity, clarity and beauty!













Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Frank Lloyd Wright and Longevity

Mr. Wright’s Organic architecture “returns us to our natural biorhythms in connection with nature” said an original homeowner. We are so fortunate to still have some original Frank Lloyd Wright clients/homeowners with us, though the number is declining with each passing year (Mr. Wright’s doctor, Mr. Joe Rorke, recently passed away in his 90's). We are also grateful to have some of those who lived and worked with Wright here to pass down personal stories and teachings to the next generation. There is a wealth of knowledge still among us that we must continue to appreciate and not take for granted. To know that those having direct contact with Mr. Wright can still share their wisdom after 50 years or more is a testament to their longevity.

I have had the great fortune of traveling the country over the years visiting nearly all of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes and buildings (even staying the night in a few). The experience, inspiration and knowledge gained from not only seeing the work first-hand, but listening to the stories told by original owners is an education not to be had any other way.

During my conversation with several original homeowners, it occurred to us that there were a lot of Wright clients who lived (and are still living) to be quite advanced in years. After some quick research, it was discovered that many lived well into their 80’s, 90’s and even 100 and beyond (most noticeably Wright’s son, David, who passed at 102, and his wife Gladys at 104!!). A lengthy list of Wright Clients and their ages was developed, just going back to the 1930’s. So, at least as far as the Usonian period goes, there were/are several dozen octogenerians and nonagenerians. Just as a side note, many of Wright’s apprentices lived and continue to live long, productive lives as well.

Is there a correlation between Wright’s architecture and the homeowners’ length of life? The research seems shows some kind of correlation. If so, then how? Could it be that Wright’s designs “return us to our natural biorhythms” as one homeowner postulated? Could it possibly be that Organic architecture’s principle of a close, harmonious relationship with Nature helps support the health of its occupants? Perhaps Mr. Wright’s organic architecture is so purely humane, peaceful, natural and beautiful as a work of art, helping nurture a desire within for a healthful lifestyle. Maybe being an integral part of the changing seasons, the birds, deer, garden, trees, helps reduce stress and thus more effectively sustains life itself. Can living in a home as a respite from noise and chaos also have a profoundly spiritual resonance with the soul making it dance and maybe keeping us in this world a little longer? One homeowner’s granddaughter exclaimed, “I can’t tell you how much the impact of the birds, and the light, and the openness and the harmony, and the beauty affected me”.

Nowhere else have I personally experienced such serenity, beauty, comfort, ease and joy as in a Frank Lloyd Wright home, and Wright received numerous client letters thanking him for this lifetime thrill of living in his creation. Isadore and Lucille Zimmerman wrote, “The beauty of the house defies verbal description, while utility is so married to beauty that the two become one”.

Wright once asked his apprentices if they felt they had contributed a note of concordance and sympathy with their fellow human family. I think the answer is quite apparent, and the fact that so many of his clients and apprentices went on to live happy, healthy, productive, fulfilled, long lives is confirmation enough that his architecture was the most attuned to that life ever created, inside or out.

Monday, August 26, 2013

I Like Architect Craig Ellwood's Work....

Craig Ellwood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craig_Ellwood) is an architect whose California work I admire, at least from articles/photos I've seen. I have never personally experienced his buildings, but he was a disciple of Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_Mies_van_der_Rohe), another one of my architectural mentors. Here is Craig Ellwood's design philosophy, which I greatly respect...

Craig Ellwood stated his architectural philosophy in the March 1976 issue of L.A. Architect:

"The essence of architecture is the interrelation and interaction of mass, space, plane and line. The purpose of architecture is to enrich the joy and drama of living. The spirit of architecture is its truthfulness to itself: its clarity and logic with respect to its materials and structure.
"Building comes of age when it expresses its epoch. The constant change in technology demands a continuously maturing expression of itself. When technology reaches its fulfillment in perfect equilibrium with function, there is a transcendence into architecture.
"The truth about truth is it is – waiting for us to discover it. The consciousness of truth is not static, but ever progressively unfolding. We must strive for intrinsic solution, not extrinsic effect. The moment form becomes arbitrary, it becomes novelty or style – it becomes something other than architecture. Materials and methods will certainly change, but the basic laws of nature make finally everything timeless.
"Architecture, by its own nature, must certainly be more than an expression of an idea. Art in architecture is not arbitrary stylism or ethereal symbolism, but rather the extent to which a building can transcend from the measurable into the immeasurable. The extent to which a building can evoke profound emotion. The extent to which a building can spiritually uplift and inspire man while simultaneously reflecting the logic or the technique which alone can convey its validity to exist."

House by Craig Ellwood
Farnsworth House by Mies Van Der Rohe