Someone once asked the legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright if he believed in God. He replied, "Yes. And I spell it 'n-a-t-u-r-e.' That helps form the basis of Wright's ideas of how nature is part of everything, including architecture. Today, Frank Lloyd Wright's philosophy of "organic architecture" lives on with his grandson, Eric Lloyd Wright. He is using it in his own design work and teaching others about the concept.
One of Frank Lloyd Wright's best-known buildings is a house in western Pennsylvania built around a waterfall, called Fallingwater. Blending in with its surroundings, Fallingwater is a fine example of his use of organic architecture, as his grandson explains.
"Organic architecture is architecture of the land that grows out of nature, out of the natural environment, out of the nature of the client for whom it's being built for, the nature of the society in which it's in, the nature of the materials used in the building, and the nature of the technology available at that period of time," he said. "These are all part of the natural elements that form the building."
A basic idea of organic architecture building from within might be seen as opposite of some of today's architectural trends. For example, Mr. Wright notes that the work of Frank Gehry, with its sculptural approach using abstract metallic forms, emphasizes the exterior.
"It's not the shell of the building that's important, it's the space inside the building What that space is doing if you're properly following the principles of organic architecture is that the interior space shapes the building. The exterior expresses what's on the inside," he said. "My grandfather always liked to quote the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tze. Lao Tze said in one of his commentaries that the reality of a teacup is not the cup itself, but the space within the cup. My grandfather saw that quote and said, 'That's what I'm doing with my architecture.'"
Among Eric Lloyd Wright's first exposure to organic architecture was his grandfather's architecture school in Scottsdale, Arizona, called "Taliesin West."
"The rooms were covered with canvas, because that was a material he felt was good for the desert," he recalled. "Taliesin West was considered a desert camp, his winter home. [His summer home was in Wisconsin.] There was the use of a fabric material, which fits with the desert and 'breathes.' As it moves up and down [in the wind], it breathes, letting the air in and out. For the drafting room, the canvas gave a completely diffused light. So when you're inside drawing, it cast no shadows."
Although Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater house may be the most famous example of his organic architectural ideas, his grandson suggests another home as a favorite example: Auldbrass Plantation in Yemassee, South Carolina. It's Frank Lloyd Wright's only major work in the American South and was saved from decay by the well-known Hollywood movie producer Joel Silver.
"The walls are canted in at a nine-degree angle," said Eric Lloyd Wright's. "When my grandfather said you look at the oak trees it's built in an oak 'swamp' they're always pitched-in slightly. So he pitched the walls in. The building, the main house, is like a great oak tree. It has brackets spaced like trunks of a tree coming up. The rafters go up from those to the peak of the rook like tree limbs. The roof is copper, so it's like leaves, when [the copper] turns green. The downspouts made of copper are abstractions of hanging moss that's on the oak tree. So the house becomes like an oak grove in itself. It lies low, with the broad overhangs like the broad limbs of an oak tree."
In addition to using organic architecture principles in his own design, Eric Lloyd Wright pointed out that he's spreading those ideas to new generations of architects.
"I have an organization called the Wright Way Organic Research Center," he said. "We have there a lovely deck, which was built under oak trees, and we hold seminars there during the summer. We've done them on sustainable architecture and solar energy. We've done workshops on perma-culture, and we have an organic garden. We're trying to build a sense of community. My whole [design] staff helps me with Wright Way; they're very much involved with it."
Looking ahead, Eric Lloyd Wright would like to follow up on his grandfather's plan for a new city. He says it would be different than other well-known "dream cities," such as architect Paolo Solari's Arcosanti, now under construction in central Arizona.
"He did, back in 1933, a whole concept which he called Broadacre City," he said. "It was very much a 'Jeffersonian' [diffuse, American] concept - whereas Arcosanti is more European and high-density in a small area. My grandfather's idea was different; it was spread out with everyone having a small, farm unit. But [they're] not suburbs. People blame [Frank Lloyd Wright] for being the 'father of the suburbs.' Broadacre City was not that. It was his theoretical concept, which he said was a 'city that's everywhere, but nowhere.'"
Eric Lloyd Wright, is the grandson of legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Also an architect, he is incorporating his grandfather's ideas of "organic architecture" into his own design and practice.