Wednesday, December 21, 2011

One Acre Is Not Enough for Me and My Bicycle, Mr. Wright

How I got there

Employing a combination of bicycle and light rail to go to the Phoenix Art Museum to view the newly opened exhibition, Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century, is analogous to skiing in to a snowboarding seminar: it's doable, but the irony or cognitive dissonance is liable to derail any coherent train of thought you may have, and, depending on who you run into there, could be trouble. Rocking my fixie flatland commuter, and carrying my messenger bag with a validated all-day light rail ticket hanging out of my pocket, I was sensitive to the possibility of encountering a True Believer, who would view my chosen transport combination as an affront on the level of driving up to a civil rights convention in a lovingly restored General Lee styled Dodge Charger.

Closer up and better lit view of the bike rack guardian. Hoping he's not a True Believer from the Wright Auto Shop.

Frank Lloyd loved the automobile. He installed gas pumps in his own garage in Oak Park to fuel up his lovelies. I picked that up in the NYTimes article just linked. Also, and I should have known this, the Guggenheim Museum in New York was inspired by car ramps, and is intended to be visited by taking the elevator up to the top, then walking down, using gravity to easily stroll your way down. I've been about half a dozen times, and I've always done it the other way around: walk up, and take the elevator down. Guess that makes me a Bad Machine, one who likes to walk for miles, and against gravity.

I'm thinking FLW would have loved the Spokane Parkade, which I still have nightmares about:

Room for 3878 cars. Concrete from the Acme Concrete Company, Warren C. Heylman, architect. (my photo)

Watch the short intro video for the exhibit to get a feel for it. I did. I feel that they are overreaching with their talk about linking his work with "today's sustainable, green architecture movement." I think a lot of his work is visually stunning. I've done a walking tour and gone inside one of his houses in Oak Park, and he was a genius. Fallingwater is an architectural masterpiece. But I don't think many of his designs would be LEED certified. And foremost, the automobile was at the center of his view of how people would move around in urban environments.

Phoenix Art Museum bicycle helmet adornment. One green thing I took from my visit.
Because, look: a metropolitan environment a la Wright with a density of 500 to 800 people per square mile, where each family has a house on an acre of its own but can't walk or bicycle outside of that acre because the rest of the place is given over to high speed automobile transport, with no transit whatsoever, is no solution for the 21st Century, and is not green or sustainable in any sense of those terms. It's a Super Suburb ideal that is not in line with the environmental, population, energy, and natural resource realities we now face. Wright was wrong. That was the main thought I took from the exhibition. 

Green, sustainable: hang your bicycle in the light rail

To their credit, the Phoenix Art Museum did not try to mislead us, or hide Wright's suburban sprawl plans. In fact, models of them are included in the exhibit to consider critically, and to decide for ourselves what we might learn from them, complete with those goofy helicopter UFO thingies. We are probably meant to view the drawings and models and seek out ideas, make them our own, and grow them into green and sustainable concepts for this age. I dig textile blocks. Shade and integrating materials with place, I'm all over that. But as a whole, not in parts and pieces and derivative concepts, but rather as the title of the exhibition would imply, his is not an architecture for the 21st Century. In fact, looking back at some of my pictures from Palenque and Chichen Itza from my trip to la Ruta Maya, I'm thinking that they got the thousands place wrong: it may be a better fit for the 11th Century. This is not as snarky or mean-spirited a statement as it might sound, if you haven't seen those structures: the Mayan buildings blew me away, textile block fabrication is a technology they would have really appreciated, I think, and a different plan for their cities may have even helped them a bit with whatever it is that caused them to wither away.

How about, Reinterpreting FLW for the 21st Century: Deriving Elements of Sustainability for a Car-Crazy World.


  1. Yeah, a lot of Eastern U.S. residents don't realize that most of the urban roads in Arizona's cities were built Post-WWII. When EVERYBODY traveled by car, right? Ideal incubation chamber for Wright's sprawlin' ideas.

  2. What ever you do dont let that dino out!

  3. BlueCat, by car, at high speed, to get nowhere fast.

    Dan, the dino is already out, and available for purchase at any convenient retail outlet, and can even be placed on layaway.


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