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With a title like "Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outside," the Guggenheim's retrospective of the master architect--now filling his most iconic building as part of its fiftieth anniversary celebration--would seem to ring of transcendentalism, a passion of Wright's. But it actually applies to the show in more concrete ways. For one thing, it speaks to Wright's belief that, in architecture, the form of a structure and its function should be unified, with both emerging from the other. The title also reflects the exhibition's structure, which follows the progression of Wright's career from his revolutionizing of the domestic space to his near-Messianic plans for an imagined Megacity.
The originator of the “Prairie School” architectural movement, which emphasized horizontal lines and (notoriously leaky) flat roofs, Wright rose to prominence by embracing a resurgence of the Arts and Crafts movement and melding it with the landscape of the American Midwest. The result was a reinvention of the living quarters, replacing stuffy, ceremonial rooms and antechambers with one central multipurpose living room--a staple of architectural design today. The exhibition, which displays photographs and models of structures both built and unbuilt, exposes Wright as not just an architectural pragmatist, but a proponent of organic form and democratic utility.
After engineering the unification of the American home in his formative work, Wright went on to subvert classical notions of space by injecting elements of sanctity to the home, civics to the temple, and naturalism to the city. As his career advanced, his ambition for what architecture could accomplish grew exponentially. Perhaps the most enlightening pieces in the show--at least as far as considering Wright's stature as something approaching an architectural prophet, much like the far less successful Buckminster Fuller--are the designs for structures that were never realized. Take for example the "Illinois," a mile-high office tower that Wright designed for Chicago in 1956, envisioning an entire city contained in that one enormous centralized structure, or his multifaceted 1957 plan to revamp greater Baghdad into a Utopian metropolis. Exiting this show, one walks away with the understanding that Wright's buildings, as cherished as some--like Fallingwater--are, they are only the illuminated outline of a fantasy as grand and richly alien as the most enduring science fiction.
"Architect Without Limits" [via the New York Times]