Thursday, April 14, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright's reminder - Beauty Matters

I recently visited Taliesin West, famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and school of architecture in Phoenix. It showcases his ideas for using local materials, linking outdoors with indoors and what he called organic architecture. Always interested in shaping buildings for the human experience, Wright's designs probably gave life to our modern demand for human scale streetscapes.

When it comes to urban design, scale is everything. It shows up in my blogs on large-scale planning and the freedom of performance-based zoning. It shows up at the opposite end when the Design Against Crime crowd re-think small-scale items like benches and ATM mats.

Nowhere is the importance of scale more obvious than in the lifelong work of famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright is an icon. Between 1893 and 1957 his work firmly positioned him atop the American architectural scene. He rebelled against staid European traditions of the previous century and sought to create a brand new American architecture.

Except for one thankfully forgotten book (Broadacre City) he rarely overstepped his skills into large scale planning. There are some cranky critics (like me) who think his clumsy planning ideas in Broadacre City are culpable for the incomprehensible spaghetti-style road shapes and acres of monotonous single-family lots in today's suburbs.

That one leap in scale was a rare blemish in a tapestry of design innovation and pure architectural genius. It's kind of like hearing for the first time Mahatma Gandhi was cruel to his wife in his early years. It doesn't jive with the greater picture of a hero even though it may be true.

Scale, truly, is everything.

If you haven't visited Taliesin West - do so! Wright reminds us why we need beauty in our cities.

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