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Peaks and Pits

November 13, 2015


Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built Fallingwater in his late ’60’s. It was, by any measure a once-in-a-lifetime aesthetic tour-de-force. How does an architect follow that up? In Frank’s case it was with the Guggenheim, built well into his ’80’s.

Careerist tales of penultimate peaks with even later in life ultimate peaks give solace to those on the edge of old: me, for example. Churchill, Picasso, maybe a Manning or 2 all had world laud followed by even greater laud later.

But the the happy achievements all have one common aspect. They become finished. If you are still there when the quiet, darker, still absence follows the rush, you have more mirror than camera to look at. There is more baseline than plateau.

Given how I grew up, the celebrations over what I did have never meant more than a good meal: enjoyable, even joyous, but soon passed through to disposal.

Each good thing that happened, each tick on the résumé was like a brick: laid and then part of a large homogenized blank support for the next brick. The thing the brick wall basked in was the rest of what happens. For people who have children, one way or another, they become the meter, measure and definer of how you look back at the wall, the space around the wall, and everything else.

Frank had 6 kids. Its clear his 1867 birthdate meant that as a father he was likely less concerned about maximizing their perfection than achieving his own. But those dads, my dad, made fatherhood a crushing responsibility for we Boomers.

I took Will Clarkson, and his wife Nan, to Fallingwater last weekend: they are at the far left of the photo above, with their daughter Alison, my oldest friend who introduced me to my wife (the lens-distorted mass of hair, center-right). He loved Wright. At a fragile time, they showed me great, unmerited, kindness, and we have shared a genetic addiction to architecture. At 89, this was Will’s last chance to see the master work of his favorite architect (including me!)

The kindnesses he and his family showed me made this trip necessary. Not pay-back, or bucket list or karma: it was necessary, like food or sleep.

For its not each brick we achieve that matters, its the heavily raked mortar between the brick, often unseen, (but sometimes gilt by Wright)


that builds the wall – and that glue is, in fact, love. Has Will Clarkson peaked at 89, at Fallingwater? – Just as Wright had not, Will has not.

The peaks are the flowers that bloom and fall away, the moments where memory is strongest – just like the pits of loss they reside among.

As I begin to have more memories than unknowns, the peaks seem less imposing. The abiding central focus is neither peak nor pit, its the flow beyond them, for me, our children. No peak they have makes the angst subside, no pit tempers the clutch on my guts.

Lists, peaks, pits, resumes consume the now, but I wonder, still, a few years after Guggenheim, as this world he built in was passing away from him, what did Frank think of, – his buildings, or his children?

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