Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Following Frank

Being in the US is good opportunity to visit some of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings. Frank Lloyd Wright is an architect I always admired. I came across his buildings only through literature and books; I have never actually been inside the buildings he had designed, until now.
So far, I have been in two of his buildings: the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Beth Shalom Synagogue in Philadelphia. The Falling Water - another famous building designed by Wright - is apparently closed at this time of year because of the weather, so sadly I will not be visiting this one, which is considered to be the highlight of Wright's works.
Stepping inside Wright's designs is quite a strange experience. You would expect, having learned a lot about them, that upon entering his buildings, for something dramatic to happen. However, nothing could have been more ordinary. Both the Guggenheim and the Synagogue are mortal buildings and not immortal like what was described in the books. What is more, the buildings are not well kept, they are honestly in quite a bad shape. For instance, the Synagogue's ceiling, formerly made entirely of glass is now covered with semi-transparent material blocking the intended view to the sky and according the tour guide it, nowadays, 'leaks'. Also, the Guggenheim's white and supposedly smooth facade is actually quite wavy and coarse because of the decaying plaster.
At a different level, the Guggenheim's famous spiral ramp is a bad way to exhibit art, I think; it does more for the architecture than for the art. People don't visit the museum because it has paintings by Picasso, Modigliani, Malevich and Kandinsky but rather because it is a Wright's building. And that, for itself, misses the point.

But Frank Llyod Wright was more than what his buildings are and that's why I forgive him. I think the greatest thing about his work is that it changed as time went on and he had such a variety of ideas, which shows that he, both as a person and as an architect, was in search of something. At some point in his life he acknowledged that he was not the best; by the time he was building his village houses, Le Courbosier and Mies Van Der Rohe had ventured the modernist discipline and he knew that he needs to adapt himself and to develop. By doing so he acknowledged his mortality and thus he became immortal. 

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