Arizona State Capitol, “Oasis"

Frank Lloyd Wright dreamed up this extraordinary--if perhaps too far-fetched--proposal for the Arizona state capitol building in 1957. It was never built.

Arizona State Capitol, “Oasis"

Night view

Lenkurt Electric Company

Another unbuilt project, FLW’s 1955 plan for the San Carlos, California, plant of Lenkurt, a microwave and telecom company, included some thoughtful features that are pretty common in corporate architecture nowadays (but weren’t then), such as a vaulting atrium and parking tucked under the building.

David Wright house

A 1950 sketch of a home in Arizona that Wright designed for his son.

David Wright house

The spiral-shaped house is built from organic materials like masonry, wood, and metal.

Fallingwater

Wright’s masterpiece. Read more Co.Design coverage of Fallingwater here.

S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. Administration Building

Opened in 1939, the administration building was the rare corporate office whose interior emphasized access to natural light. Sunlight filters into the space through glass pyrex tubes and a glass band between the structure’s wall and roof.

S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. Administration Building

The exterior

Unity Temple

Oak Park, Illinois’s 1908 Unity Temple represented a radical shift in the way architects used building materials: It was one of the world’s first monumental structures built entirely out of poured-in-place exposed concrete.

Broadacre City Model

Not everything about Wright’s work jibes with the sustainable ethos architects espouse today. Take his controversial vision for a planned city--presented in his 1932 book The Disappearing City--which actually looked more like a suburb: Each American family would be given its own acre of land and would have to hop in a car to reach schools, shops, and other services (that was supposed to be a selling point).

Frank Lloyd Wright

Not everything about Wright’s work jibes with the sustainable ethos architects espouse today. Take his controversial vision for a planned city--presented in his 1932 book The Disappearing City--which actually looked more like a suburb: Each American family would be given its own acre of land and would have to hop in a car to reach schools, shops, and other services (that was supposed to be a selling point).

Frank Lloyd Wright

Not everything about Wright’s work jibes with the sustainable ethos architects espouse today. Take his controversial vision for a planned city--presented in his 1932 book The Disappearing City--which actually looked more like a suburb: Each American family would be given its own acre of land and would have to hop in a car to reach schools, shops, and other services (that was supposed to be a selling point).

Co.Design

Frank Lloyd Wright: An Eco Visionary Before Green Became The Rage

An exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum tries to bill Wright's "organic architecture” as a predecessor to the environmentally minded design of today.

One imagines that Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most famous architect, would’ve laughed mightily at the suggestion that he is linked to the environmentally minded architects who litter the profession nowadays. They’re just so earnest the way they like to talk about their green roofs and their fancy solar panels and their taste for group work and collaboration. Whereas FLW liked to… well, he liked to do other things.

Yet, as a new exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum tries to show, Wright’s signature “organic architecture” was a powerful predecessor to today’s sustainable-design movement. You see it in everything from Fallingwater in Pennsylvania to Taliesin West in Arizona and many of the lesser-known projects in between: “Wright’s concerns with materials, efficient use of space, sustainable manufacturing, attention to local environment and use of natural light mirror those of contemporary architects worldwide,” James Ballinger, director of the Phoenix Art Museum, says. “This exhibition provides an exciting forum for which Wright’s work can be re-examined and applied to concerns of the day.”

That seems to ring particularly true in Arizona, where Wright designed more than a dozen buildings. But looking out over the state’s mind-numbing landscape of highways and tract houses, you wish architects drew on his ideas a little more.

Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century runs through April 29. More info here.

[Images courtesy of the Phoenix Art Museum]

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7 Comments

  • Mark MacKay

    A friend of mine grew up in one of Wright's Oak Park houses. She hated it. The family were all over 6ft tall and they constantly bumped their heads. I loved visiting the county government building Wright designed in Marin County. It was used in the film Gattacca because it still looks so design forward and a  bit sci fi goofy. I noticed that most of the terraced outdoor spaces were unused and a bit disheveled. If you really love FLW's work you can live with it forever at his Blue Sky Mausoleum - http://www.blueskymausoleum.co...

  • company2keep

    Our first home was influenced by Franklin Lloyd Wright.  It is situated in Muskoka on a vein of pink and black granite, which made its presence felt periodically throughout the house.  Equally formidable was the 300 year old oak tree positioned in the middle of the house's 'u' shape which we could see from wherever we stood in the house.  This tree shaded the house throughout the summer months and over the winter allowed us to be bathed by the warmth of the sunshine through our south-facing floor to ceiling windows. We had a brilliant view of the western sky and the glorious sunsets that mark this part of Canada.  Not a day went by that we didn't marvel at some element of nature.  We still feel truly blessed by our experience living there and carry deep lasting memories.

    Cathie Guthrie

  • Kevin Hite

    He was a visionary for architects but a nightmare for smart growth with ideas of  decentralization with is concept of Broadacre City. 

  • Brian

    FLW was one of the first architects of the modern era to bring the outdoors indoors, a seamless transition, engaging the landscape around the building.  I would argue that even in the Prairie Style, it was more about the indoor perspective looking out, yet most photographs focus on how the building blends into the landscape from the outside.  I think we would all like to sit down and have a conversation with him about his organic architecture.

  • Gee

    Ummm. FLW was a huuuuuge fan of cars. So he loved them highways. He also envisioned people would soon use helicopters instead. The other points are still valid though.

  • austinmiles

    The crazy spire in the first picture ended up getting built at at shopping center on Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd in Scottsdale and is credited to him. 

  • Ben VanderVeen

    FLW was a visionary's Visionary. He was leagues before his time, and I only wish some of his more radical designs were realized (Mile high skyscraper, anyone?)