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Grant Carpenter Manson's Interview w/ Marion Mahoney Griffin
Posted: Fri Feb 03, 2006 6:41 pm
I stumbled across this material while researching the Davenport House in the archives of the Oak park Public Library today. These are excerts taken verbatim from Grant Carpenter Manson
Re: Grant Carpenter Manson's Interview w/ Marion Mahoney Gri
Posted: Sat Feb 04, 2006 10:23 am
I will offer my own commentary as an architect on the notes of Grant Carpenter Manson. I have an understanding of professional practice gained from running my own 10 person architectural firm for 21 years and prior to that I was a Senior Architect at two internationally recognized architectural firms here in Chicago, Murphy/Jahn and Skidmore Owings and Merrill.
pharding wrote:Interview with Marion Mahoney Griffin January 1940 at 1946 Estes Avenue Rogers Park.
Posted: Sat Feb 04, 2006 2:38 pm
Well said, Paul. A wealth of talent accumulated around the studio in the early years. Still, from beginning to end, Wright was always at the center of any "universe" he inhabited. This was the case right through to the Fellowship, by which time there was no mistake about the order of things. Note that Fellows who left in an attempt to be their own person did not affect the same dissatisfaction concerning their experience with Wright, as did many of the early collaborators.
Many eventually were given their justified due, an almost impossiblity at the time along side such a giant as Wright. It must have been very frustrating as a creative person, especially since Wright was always loathe to acknowledge the influence of others upon him or his work. It would make any talented person crazy. He was certainly aware of others' abilities, but it appears Wright made little effort (if any) to soothe the egos of the talented people worki9ng with him. Some things don't change, and quality workers usually expect acknowledgement of their efforts in some form. With Wright, it probably was not verbal or through steady compensation. It would be fascinating to know more about these relationships.
After all is said and done, no matter where anyone fit into the scheme of things, Wright's genius shone above all others. It still does, and for ill or good, he knew it!
Posted: Mon Feb 06, 2006 10:46 am
The strongest argument against giving MMG more credit than she was obviously due is the quality of the work that is undeniably her own, such as the mishmash she designed for Henry Ford. The Wright designs she had the most control over, the two Mueller houses, are also among the least successful of the Oak Park Studio works. The same holds true for all of FLW's employees and apprentices; to find out just how brilliant they are, look at the work they did on their own.
Posted: Tue Feb 07, 2006 11:57 am
The above comments miss the mark. Architectural design is a collaborative, fluid process. While the principal architect who is responsibility for design usually initiates the concept, guides development, and necessarily has the last word, he or she seldom works in a vacuum. Substantial input is often made by employees (and consultants) that has an enormous impact on the aesthetic and functional outcome of a project. Talented employees such as Mahony, Griffin, Drummond, Brodelle, and Schindler often chose to work in a subordinate position in order to focus on a particular aspect of interest, such as design development, illustration, furniture design, interior design, landscape design, detailing, management, marketing and so forth. I think to suggest that they selected that path as a means of risk avoidance is not only a discredit to their importance, it is misleading. Wright constantly projected an image of himself as the lonely genius ... the greatest architect known to western civilization. He always and loudly denied influences of any kind, whether through the written architectural theory of others or the designs of his fellow architects. That well-known historians bought into this ruse for so many years and continue to do so today is remarkable. Wright was a kind of architectural sponge, reading constantly, observing buildings and nature wherever he traveled, and listening to the most current thoughts of colleagues. His greatest ability was to ponder and sort through this myriad of influences as he struggled to generate something that was new; uniquely his own statement. Without the constant daily presence and interpretive efforts of (and dialogue with) Mahony, Griffin and Drummond, I don't think Wright would have been able to make his extraordinary break-throughs of the early 1900's. Similarly, I think he was dependent on the work, design strategies, insight, and methodologies of Henry Richardson and Louis Sullivan (and to a lesser degree Stanford White, Bruce Price, Elbert Hubbard, Harvey Ellis, Gustav Stickley, Arthur Dow, Frederick Olmstead, Jens Jensen, Charles and Margaret Mackintosh, Josef Hoffman, CFA Voysey, Erich Mendelsohn, and many, many others) to suggest directions and to clarify his own ideas. Without the highly experimental work of Richard Schindler, I don't think there would have been a Usonian resurgence in the thirties and early forties. Wright was always at his very best when he was responding to thoughts and work of others. It is stated that one only needs to look at the work of his employees when they were on there own to determine that they possessed inferior abilities and that it was his vision that determined the quality of output from his studio. Perhaps that is true. But, in fairness, one can look at Wright's work in the twenties (when he was practicing in virtual isolation) and find designs that are either horribly tedious or comically quirky. Or look to the last years of his life when he replaced the give and take of a highly competant staff with a collection of Taliesin sycophants, producing designs that are downright bizarre. I think the tragic downside of Wright's creation of the myth of an isolated genius producing work that is completely unanticipated and original, denying the complex realities of interactive practice, is that his theories and methods of creation have remained poorly understood and have failed to effectively influence later generations of architects. At the same time, the barren, mechanistic work which he detested has become ascendant ... as has the much worse anti-design product of developers and home-builders.
Posted: Tue Feb 07, 2006 1:00 pm
"... miss the mark" is not the case at all. Just as you say, anyone who is at all creative is influenced by the creative community around him and the creative company that he keeps ... not just FLW, but any artist. The point is that some of FLW's employees in the Oak Park era, most pointedly MMG, took much more credit than they were due. MMG could justifiably take credit for many of the superb renderings that came out of the office (which FLW himself thought often to be overly precious), but her assertions of influence on his designs are not nearly as credible, if credible at all. As to the "quirky" nature of FLW's designs of the 20s, the National Life Insurance project was brilliant, and decades ahead of its time. Other designs done without clients were experimental and ultimately resulted in real commissions down the road: the Cathedral for a Million People begat Beth Shalom, House on the Mesa became Wingspread and the Price Tower derives from St. Marks. If you consider the built works of the 20s tedious or quirky, all I can do is disagree. To credit Schindler (Richard or Rudolph) with FLW's work of the 30s truly does "miss the mark!" The biggest problem of the post-war era was celebrity. FLW got so famous that even if he had been in good enough physical shape to handle a heavy workload, the number of commissions he accepted would still have overwhelmed him. I suspect that if he had toured his late work, much of which he never saw, he would have disowned quite a number of misbegotten designs. Not that he was not responsible for such errors as Bulbulian, but generally the aesthetically challenged late work snuck by him "without benefit of clergy."
Posted: Tue Feb 07, 2006 1:24 pm
gwd wrote:The above comments miss the mark........
While many of your points about Wright and his process of getting his work built are valid, you don't seem to acknowledge, or grasp, the extent of Wright's genius. Any influences or personnel are practically incidental to his strengths. If anything, many followers have actually been given too much relevance and importance, Griffin comes to mind, and Schindler and Neutra to a degree. Great designers, sure, but genius's and ground breaking masters of architecture? Hardly.
Wright's body of work speaks for itself. Again I ask, whose accomplishments compare?
"Without the constant daily presence and interpretive efforts of (and dialogue with) Mahony, Griffin and Drummond, I don't think Wright would have been able to make his extraordinary break-throughs of the early 1900's"
No offense, but frankly: what a stretch! Creative associations are valuable...but who worked for who?
Posted: Tue Feb 07, 2006 1:36 pm
I'm occasionally in Rochester, MN and have strolled by the Bulbulian and Keyes residences (they are virtually neighbors). [The smaller Keyes residence seems to better integrated into its site and the additions by John Howe are barely percetible from the street.] Aside from the awful pink paint on the brickcrete, what are some of the flaws that make the Bulbulian house a poor example of FLWs later work?
Posted: Tue Feb 07, 2006 2:20 pm
You have to get inside to see the heavy-handed detailing and the awkward intersection of the bedroom wing and living room roofs. The layout of the living, dining, kitchen area is poorly thought out. Of course, one must keep in mind that when dissing Bulbulian, it is in comparison to other FLW houses; compared to the usual tract disasters, it's just fine.
Posted: Tue Feb 07, 2006 3:04 pm
Having recently been fortunate enough to tour the spectacular Kaufmann residence in Palm Springs, as well as several others by Neutra in the Silver Lake area of L.A., I'm not so sure that I agree with the assessment that he (Neutra) was little more that a "great designer".
The buildings I referenced above indicate to me that Richard Neutra, along with E. Fay Jones and John Lautner, were disciples of FLW who truly understood the concepts of organic architecture, and took their understandings of these concepts and created their own styles of this unique form of architecture, rather than to try to copy or re-create the works of their teacher, and undoubtedly, the master of the genre.
Posted: Wed Feb 08, 2006 8:40 am
To include Neutra as a disciple of Wright is questionable. Neutra used Schindler and Wright to get to America and become established, but I don't believe he was ever very strongly influenced by Wright's work. While many people try to figure out who influenced FLW's work, or actually designed it (like that old and enduring search for the true author of Shakespeare's plays and poems, which one wag in the 50s concluded, after careful analysis, had to have been Dwight D. Eisenhower), not many have noticed how dramatically Neutra's work changed from one commission to another according to the collaborators that he listed on his various projects, including the classics, Lovell and Sternberg, his two best by far. Parsing out who did what on any architectural endeavor is mostly just a trivial pursuit, and not a very fruitful one where Frank Lloyd Wright is concerned. But a trip through Neutra's orchard might be fructifying.
Posted: Wed Feb 08, 2006 11:37 am
Wrightgeek wrote: little more that a "great designer".
Lautner, Jones, yes, more than great designers, and along with Goff they stand apart from many apprentices offering real contributions. With Neutra-great clients; Schindler at least was not as addicted to international modernism. I see little organic thought or evidence of genius in their work, at least in the context of, or comparisons to, Wright. They essentially remained European modernists, the first wave before the invasion of Gropius and Mies into academia cemented their stranglehold on American architecture.
Actually, Frey in Vegas eventually did much more interesting work at times.
Posted: Wed Feb 08, 2006 1:57 pm
I'm sure it was just a slip on your part JimM, but as you probably already know, most of Albert Frey's work is located in Palm Springs, not Las Vegas.
I certainly agree with you that Albert Frey is an often overlooked and underappreciated practitioner of organic architecture who deserves to be mentioned in this discussion.
While there is no denying that Neutra was certainly a modernist, his best works also demonstrate a virtually seamless blending of interior and exterior spaces and vistas, in keeping with some of the most basic tenets of organic architecture.
Posted: Sat Feb 11, 2006 6:07 pm
gwd wrote:...Without the constant daily presence and interpretive efforts of (and dialogue with) Mahony, Griffin and Drummond, I don't think Wright would have been able to make his extraordinary break-throughs of the early 1900's. Similarly, I think he was dependent on the work, design strategies, insight, and methodologies of Henry Richardson and Louis Sullivan (and to a lesser degree Stanford White, Bruce Price, Elbert Hubbard, Harvey Ellis, Gustav Stickley, Arthur Dow, Frederick Olmstead, Jens Jensen, Charles and Margaret Mackintosh, Josef Hoffman, CFA Voysey, Erich Mendelsohn, and many, many others) to suggest directions and to clarify his own ideas. Without the highly experimental work of Richard Schindler, I don't think there would have been a Usonian resurgence in the thirties and early forties. ....
The above statements are questionable. Of course there was dialog between those three employees and FLW. That is how architectural firms produce work. Virtually every architectural office has worked that way. To somehow suggest that FLW would not have created a wonderful modern architecture at the turn of the century without Mahoney, Griffin, and Drummond is absurd. Neither of the three is considered a great architect in their own right. I respect what they each did after they left the employee of FLW, but they did not produce great architecture when left to their own devices.
To suggest that FLW was "dependent" on other architects is not accurate. FLW like other great architects was aware of what is happening around them. Every architect, mediocre or great, is aware of what is happening at that time. Does that mean that they are dependent on those other architects? Of course not. On Thursday I went to the Paul Cezanne Exhibit at the National Gallery of art in Washington. He borrowed some ideas from other Impressionists early in his career. Does that somehow detract the greatness that he achieved? Do knowledgeable art historians say that he was dependent on those other Impressionist painters? Of course not. The bottom line is that he produced a significant body of great paintings.
Schindler borrowed from FLW and International Style architects in Austria and created his own architecture. FLW may have been influenced by the same International Style architects as Schindler. Certainly Schindler was not the only International Style architect. I have the highest respect for Rudolph Schindler. He did achieve greatness, but he did not have a monopoly on the International Style. FLW certainly did not rely on Schindler to create those wonderful Usonian houses.
Posted: Sun Feb 12, 2006 3:44 am
Wrightgeek wrote:I'm sure it was just a slip on your part JimM, but as you probably already know, most of Albert Frey's work is located in Palm Springs, not Las Vegas..
Yes, Palm Springs...too quick sometimes when a thought enters my mind.