Architecture or Just Art?

Ennis House

Ennis House, courtesy Wikipedia

I get that Frank Lloyd Wright is one of America’s great artists. His works are magnificent, a thing to behold. But to count as one of America’s great architects, too, don’t his buildings have to actually work as buildings? Like, to not fall down and stuff?

At more than 6,000 square feet, Wright’s Mayan-influenced design is the largest of his four “textile-block” houses in Southern California, so named because their concrete blocks were knitted together to serve as structure and decoration, inside and out. Ennis House consists of more than 27,000 of the blocks, which deteriorated over time, sustained serious damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake and then partially collapsed during heavy rainfall in 2005.



  1. Where do you get this stuff, Steve?

    Brendan Gill’s wonderful biography of Wright documents, in loving detail, his inability to bring houses in under budget – of lowballing the price to get the deal, then coming in vastly over his original estimate: “Again and again, he struggled to remain inside the terms of a budget that he had reluctantly consented to or perhaps helped to devise as the necessary fiction that would bring a project to the point of his being able to break ground; again and again, he failed.”

  2. Wright tried many ideas, some worked pretty well, some didn’t. As they say around here, “if you haven’t failed, you’re not trying hard enough.”

    I’ve toured Falling Water & Kentuck Knob (about an hour East of Pittsburgh, PA) and the Hanna House @ Stanford, and I know someone who lived there for 6 months (and loved it).
    our house is 50+ years old (an expanded Usonian)& designed by one of Frank’s students and seems to hold up pretty well. Frank was certainly an interesting character 🙂

    The latter two are among Frank’s rare “hexagonal layout” homes.

    I think he tended to do better on budgets in the Usonian end, rather than the FallingWater end.

  3. Hmm, apparently it’s what I get for basing comments on stuff I read years ago. Probably I conflated the budget lowballing with coming in under. But the upshot — corners getting cut to save money — seems to be the same. I suspect that can’t have been true for the bulk of his projects, and of course it’s no reflection on any of his students, and having not researched Wright in any detail it’s probably unfair to draw such a conclusion just from JF’s example and Fallingwater.

    Probably also I was a little over-ready to leap to conclusions since I’ve been a close witness to the seamy underside of architecture.

Comments are closed.