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Frank Lloyd Wright Is Still Dead

January 29, 2020


Some religions sit shiva after death for a full year. Others truly believe in reincarnation. Others believe in life after death, and Easter is not about the Easter Bunny, it is about Resurrection..

Frank Loyd Wright is finally, institutionally, dead, As reported by The Architect’s Newsletter (AN):

“The School of Architecture at Taliesin will cease operations after this semester, after a gut-wrenching decision by its Governing Board on Saturday. The School of Architecture at Taliesin was not able to reach an agreement with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to keep the school open.”

When a dear friend built a home almost 60 years ago, he used a Taliesin disciple, Arthur Carrara of Wisconsin to design it because he was a keeper of the flame of the recently passed martyr to his own genus, Frank Lloyd Wright. In my teenage visits to the home, I saw that you could care more about making things than simply create shelter.

In the intervening 50 years, I saw Arthur Carrara die, and, as the new family architect, I tweaked Arthur’s lovely Log House 5 or 6 Times, in ways I thought he, and His Master, would approve.

In the 1980’s my friend and client, the builder of the house, went on a pilgrimage to see Oglivanna Lloyd Wright. Because he had made a significant donation to Taliesin, Oglivanna gave my friend an audience. Upon return my friend was bemused.

“She spoke of him with active, alive verbs, ‘The Master believes this’, she would say.” he told me after his meeting. The Master to her, and those at a Taliesin, was yet alive.

He was alive then, 20 years after his mortal passing, and up until this last week, Frank Lloyd Wright lived after his buildings. A state many architects devoutly wish to happen.

But even genius dies.

As organized religion becomes subject to the frailties of its makers, and faith in buildings and rituals changes, we have to open our eyes to why religion was what it was. Religion is not about humans, even geniuses. That’s because Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha and others were not geniuses, they connected to God. So Frank was not reincarnated, and could not be worshipped in life after death. He was a brilliant human, a genius, an incredible actor on the stage of architecture. No greater maker has existed. But Frank was just you and me, with extreme abilities, drive and longevity, not God.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there is no God called Architecture. But many architects, many schools of architecture, many institutions that celebrate architecture have Canons. There is fealty to any Canon, but architects have made one, perhaps several, and we are devout.

Like recent politics, differences are have become existential threats in the 21st Century. But very few competing ideas are actually ‘evil”, but turn on any media and “evil” is alive and well. Like politicians some architects practice religious fervor. ‘Sustainability” declares there is a judgment beyond just declaring stupidity and waste, so not having solar panels on buildings is heresy. To others in Historic Preservation putting solar panels on buildings is heresy.

There are now “triggers” and “micro aggressions” that project Canon into anger when that Canon is breached.

A Canon, beyond ‘Style” is the Genius Canon. Zaha Hadid smashed the gender limitation in architecture to ascend to Genius. But all geniuses are just us. And genius architects build for us, not themselves (except for their own homes) because they die and the buildings live on, no matter how devoted we are to the genius we love.

In the 20th century, architecture had become a forum for the genius persona as held up by celebrated architects in our culture. Figures like Frank Lloyd Wright or Zaha Hadid present an unknowable black box that defines a problem and reactively, inscrutably, generates a solution.  These solutions are as idiosyncratic as they are self-justifying. Into this fine arts world of starchitects there are architects who do not design for other architects.

But the next genius we are forced to deal with is Artificial  Intelligence. Many will come to treat the literal black box of the computer as the black box of genius. Some will simply ask the embodied Canon in Artificial Intelligence what to do, pretending they control it, because humans, largely dead ones like Frank, created uts database.

This essential basis in the human spirit comes up against this technological revolution, now, in this culture. The human processes that dominated all culture are being changed in ways that make the “Black Box” of human genius look quaint. Plugging in requirements and having the next generation of technology define the outcomes will be a gift to how we live on many levels. But it separates humans from their direct embrace of design. Unless our humanity is brought into the center of how we look to define our place in the world architects cease to exist, just like the Puritans.

There are many Canons: heresy is everywhere. If an outcome is absolute than anything full adherence to it is a sin, it is Wrong. Fortunately life is never Canon, the Puritans found that out when the Congregational Church evolved from it. Connecticut realized that when that church ceased to be the State Religion 30 years after the Constitution. Not every only building has to be saved or forced to be disfigured.

Taliesin has ended. Frank Lloyd Wright’s 60 year Zombie Institution has taken is his final breath of immortality in active architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright , like all of us, has passed into history. All of us end, and if you have a faith in anything larger than you, you think there is a greater meaning than simply silence.

There is, but it is not architecture, literature, music, or anything we make, the meaning of us is in the maker of us.

One Comment leave one →
  1. kim permalink
    January 30, 2020 1:26 pm

    To the Freemasons, God is called the Great Architect of the Universe. Mike could tell you more, if you ask.

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