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In 1925 Wright wrote: "All the buildings I have ever built, large and small, are fabricated upon a unit system as the pile of a rug is stitched into the
warp. Thus each structure is an ordered fabric; rhythm, consistent scale of parts, and economy of construction are greatly facilitated by this simple
expedient -- a mechanical one absorbed in a final result to which it has given more consistent texture, a more tenuous quality as a whole."
This is an easy statement for Wright to make, following the Textile Block work; it doesn't in fact apply to construction in many if not most earlier
cases nor does it emphasize the unit as deriving from a planning grid. This is in fact a vital distinction, I believe. Wright's final phrase gives him room
to suppress or even ignore a unit system, as suits the occasion ?
In discussing Wright's acknowledged influences in their "Frank Lloyd Wright: between principle and form" (Laseau and Tice; Van Nostrand Reinhold,
1992) the authors take up first the Froebel kindergarten "gifts," citing Richard C MacCormac, 1968 and 1974, and then "The Grammar of
Ornament," by Owen Jones (1865), then Sullivan's method of developing (decorative) form, as illustrated in Thomas Beeby, "The Grammar of
Ornament/Ornament as Grammar" (1977).
I do not find Laseau and Tice specifying when the planning grid first appeared overtly in the work. The summer cottages for Walter Gerts,
Whitehall, MI, 1902 are drawn on very prominent 3-foot grids; in one of these plans there are interruptions of this grid, two rows in each direction
reduced to 2'-4" or 2'-6" to suit particulars of the plan. This would be reminiscent of the so-called tartan grid which appears in a number of plan
drawings in Laseau and Tice, where wider and narrower units alternate in each direction.
The authors provide four house plans with a tartan grid superimposed. They do not state that Wright drew the designs on these grids. "Wright has
employed a grid as the vehicle for translating principle into a course of action that governs his approach to creating and refining spaces. Our
analysis of the plans of the four houses [Hardy, La Miniatura, Freeman, Fallingwater] shows the influence of the tartan grid. At the most general
level the broad zones of the grid define spaces for congregation or rest, and the narrow zones define spaces for circulation. Furthermore, the broad
zones define exterior extensions of space, and the narrow zones define residual or transitional spaces, such as storage or roof eaves, that is,
transitions between inside and outside space. Although the tartan grid appears to provide a strong foundation for generating designs, Wright does
not allow his plans to become slaves of the grid. The ordering potential of the grid is always balanced by the search for dynamic experiences of space
in harmony with the site."
There is a danger here of conflating the regular unit grid with these looser tartan planning grids. It would probably be impossible to prove that the
latter were in fact employed consciously by the architect.
Grids do provide order and rhythm, but they can also be a crutch in the wrong hands. Likewise tossing the grid out can result in some pretty sloppy compositions.
I would love to see drawings of Martin or of Taliesin showing a planning grid. Wright's grids become clear in the Usoninan-period plan and elevation drawings, where they often take the form of numbered (lettered) parallel lines running across the sheet.
Drawing sheets for the Dorothy Martin Foster house for Buffalo, 1921-3, are given a prominent "waltz-time" grid extending horizontally and vertically on elevation and plans alike.
Look into "The Grammar of Ornament," by Owen Jones (1865). Wright spent hours tracing the patterns he found in this book, which fortunately for him (and us) presented a very sympatico system of form analysis and generation, based on geometric patterns and systematic elaboration of same.
Yes, there are curved plans drawn on square, rectangular or even triangular grids, and angular plans on orthogonal grids. No rule existed which couldn't be broken. One is comfortable breaking rules which one has imposed in the first place . . .
FLW went off the grid many times. Bulbulian keeps the square grid, but the living room goes of at an angle, while Edwards' and Neils' living rooms get their own orthogonal grid. Then there's Lamberson, with its square grids taking off here and there, with hex-mod terminals. FLW seemed willing to distort all his rules commission by commission. Nevertheless, there is always a grid.