Continuing through April 29, 2012
Pulling together the far-reaching ideas of an iconoclast like Frank Lloyd Wright is a gargantuan task. This retrospective is a commendable effort that is heavy on historic drawings while ardent in its effort to link Wright’s ideas to the present. “Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century” is timed to coincide with Arizona’s Centennial and, as such, it is a fitting tribute to a 20th-century genius who drew inspiration from the desert and whose works in the Phoenix area remain state treasures.
The exhibit puts aside the mystique of Wright’s overwhelming personality and concentrates on his professional legacy. The overriding theme is that Wright’s ideas live on. Wright pioneered the use of energy-efficient materials, boldly implemented new technologies, created structures that are responsive to their environment and envisioned the building of organic communities.
Mini-cities, grand office buildings, resort hotels, individual homes, houses of worship - Wright tackled them all. The many drawings included show various stages of the building approval process, providing evidence of the Wright dictum: “Form and function are one.” The most attractive pieces in the retrospective are several sprawling models that manifest this idea. The ceiling-high rendition of “The Illinois” at the entry point to the show expresses Wright’s utopian vision at its best: the skyscraper to honor Chicago would have stood a mile high had it been built. Even as a model, its elegance and soaring optimism are evident.
Another important model, and another that was unfortunately never built is the “Oasis” (1957), an Arizona-centric proposal for a Capitol building and grounds. Wright envisioned using desert-compatible materials for porticos, colonnades, spires, pools and fountains, all radiating from a lattice copper-and-concrete dome.
Other exhibits shed light on Wright’s progressive ideas that actually came to fruition, such as the Johnson Wax Building (1936) in Racine, Wis.; Taliesin West (1937-59) in Scottsdale, Wright’s winter home and mecca for apprentices; and Fallingwater (1936), the beautiful Edgar J. Kaufmann House in Mill Run, Pa.
At perhaps his most ambitious, Wright drew up plans for Broadacre City, which would have offered low-density housing in a decentralized arrangement. Walking around the model, we can see Wright’s underlying quest for residential equality without undercutting individuality.
“The complete architect is master of the elements: earth, air, fire, light, and water,” Wright liked to say. This and other Wright principles still echo among architects, further demonstrating Wright’s lasting influence not just in Arizona but around the world.