LeGuin, Maybeck and Frank Lloyd Wright

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Tom
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Location: Black Mountain, NC

LeGuin, Maybeck and Frank Lloyd Wright

Post by Tom »

Probably my favorite writer is Ursula LeGuin.
Just found out she grew up in Bernard Maybeck's Schneider House in Berkeley.
Her family were the second owners and lived in it for 54 years.
In 2008 LeGuin published a 15 page essay about this house called: "Living in a Work of Art".
I'm tempted to transcibe the entire essay here.
But for now just this bit will do, what think you:

"Maybeck evidently would not have thought himself justified in seeing his relationship to individual inhabitants as subordinate to a theory he wished to illustrate or a "statement" he wished to make.
I have been in Frank Lloyd Wright houses which clearly exhibit Wright's idea of architecture as self-expression;
their inhabitants have no part in them but to accept and obey the whims and mandates of the Master.
Maybeck's approach was quite different.
Though he was as interested as Wright in the aesthetic value of the work,
to him aesthetic meaning was not a final declaration made by the architect,
but the result of an ongoing dialogue between builders and dwellers.
In it's inhabitation a house's beauty would be active and fulfilled"

Of course this excerpt covers old ground - yet well worded and nuanced.
Is it correct of her to imply that Wright understood architecture as "self-expression"?
Something tells me that's not exactly what he thought he was doing.

SDR
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Location: San Francisco

Post by SDR »

The term might be meaningless, if we accept that all artists' work can be called "self-expression." Do you believe that Wright was an artist as much
as a technician or a servant to his clients ?

I have come across no other architect who stressed his role as that of Artist so frequently as did Mr Wright. He explicitly referred to himself as "poet-
architect."

But your point is that, according to LeGuin---and many another observer of Wright---he was more interested in the integrity of his creation than in the
comfort and convenience of its occupants. Despite numerous examples, some of them exaggerated or even fabricated, of his single-minded intent
upon an effect, I believe he thought that he was enhancing the lives of his clients---and I think there is ample evidence of that as well.

Could Ms LeGuin have fallen victim to a popular trope ? We have to credit her with first-hand experience of Maybeck; did she spend time in a Wright
house as well ?

S

Tom
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Joined: Sun Jan 30, 2011 7:53 pm
Location: Black Mountain, NC

Post by Tom »

Helpful response.
LeGuin spent no comparable time in a Wright house.
Of course I think Wright was an artist. I also think that about Maybeck.
Need to cogitate some more about this ....

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

FLW to Roland Reisley: "Tell me what you want, or you will have to settle for what I give you." I doubt you could ever find any client more satisfied with what FLW 'gave' him than Roland.

On the other hand, even though Edgar Kaufmann wanted his house downstream with a view of the waterfall, FLW insisted on putting it ... well, you know ... much to Kaufmann's ultimate delight. In that instance, FLW knew better than his client. Downstream would have resulted in a constant mist of falling water drifting onto the windows facing the falls, and, on fulsome seasons, the roar of the falls disquieting luncheon on the terrace, where the diners would be splattered with water, as well.

I don't buy the idea that Maybeck would have been willing to roll over for his clients. His work is very diverse, but each house is as consistent in its nature as were Frank Lloyd Wright's.

jay
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Joined: Mon May 02, 2016 8:04 pm

Post by jay »

Even though Wright seemed to display a highly self-expressive personal attitude, his architecture doesn't seem to me any more self-expressive than any other celebrated architect. People went/go to these designers––Mies, Corbusier, Wright, Kahn, Gehry, etc––because they want precisely what the designer distinctly offers. Just about every famous architect follows the same criteria for design––balancing site demands, client needs, and their own vision (which they are paid a premium to supply). Perhaps a person who isn't well-versed in Wright's architectural ideas would find some of his design elements "whims(iscal)", but for me, humble non-architectural student that I am, I've never found a feature in Wright's works to be simply whimsical.

I'm a fan of Ursula LeGuin, but seeing her repeat the common Wright critique of 'people must obey the mandate of the Master' is disappointing. I have little appetite for artists who dismiss other artist's works (Wright included).

jay
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Joined: Mon May 02, 2016 8:04 pm

Post by jay »

Here's a favorite critique of literary criticism, by Gaston Bachelard, that I'll forever return to when I see unbearable dismissiveness of artistic works:

"Literary criticism sets itself the task of upholding the rhetorical prohibitions. It crystallizes the functions of supervision. The written word, duly taken to task by the critics, is thus submitted to a kind of perpetual censorship, a special censorship, a censorship somehow attached to the pen, a kind of insidious Reign of Terror that clots every apprentice writer's ink. It disturbs the very principle of the literary life. It places censorship, a censorship from the outside, on the same level as the writer's expression of his inner self. Far from assisting the incredible endeavor of verbal creation, it hampers it. Undoubtedly, every such critic is constantly subtracting something from verbal imagination."

SDR
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Location: San Francisco

Post by SDR »

Okay�that’s persuasive. (Now that I’m reading fiction on a “device,� I can no longer pencil in, very lightly, my edits to erroneous spelling, punctuation, word choice or factual error one finds in such work. Other library patrons will be spared my patronizing presumption.)

Nothing whimsical in Mr Wright’s work ? What do you make of Usonian perfs�their presence or their patterns ?

S

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Often critics find work, not because they are enlightened on the subject of their critique, but because they write well. I'm a lousy actor, but I know good work when I see it, and Pauline Kael, highly praised for her articles, didn't know beans about acting. She could critique a script, because she knew about writing, but her movie reviews were worthless when it came to performance or any other aspect other than the writing.

When Brendan Gill was crowned architecture critic of the New Yorker, Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. wrote to the editor: "You have just hired the Louella O. Parsons of architecture criticism."

Roderick Grant
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Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 7:48 am

Post by Roderick Grant »

We are walking a tightrope here, but I would resist calling the perfs whimsical, not because their specific patterns are devoid of whimsy (consider Weltzheimer in its apple orchard), but because they are integral parts of the overall design of the houses they grace.

Take a photo of the fireplace corner of Goetsch-Winkler and photo-shop the blank clerestories with some sort of logical perf, then judge to see if they improve the look of the house or not. Or look at before perfs and after perfs at Brandes.

jay
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Joined: Mon May 02, 2016 8:04 pm

Post by jay »

I also don't find the perfs to be whimsical, but I might see how others would. When I think of 'architectural whims' some of the post-modernist stuff comes to mind. Things like staircases that lead to nowhere but are designed for sitting or houseplants.

Curious thing about perfs, in my opinion, is Wright's overall restraint with ornament in the Usonian years. I mean, he was quite good at ornament, judging by the Prairie years. I personally love the little splash of gruff ornamentation that the plywood perfs supply. (But there I go, just obeying the mandate of the Master again....)

“Emotional in its nature, ornament is––if well conceived––not only the poetry but is the character of the structure revealed and enhanced.� - FLLW

SDR
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Post by SDR »

It's hard to argue about the perfs one way or the other; if the architect says that they "reveal and enhance the character of
the structure," we simply have to take his word for it.

At their best, the perfs provide an additional measure of visual privacy, in cases where they are at eye level. They certainly
can add to the "otherness" of the building---for me one of the strongest and most immediate effects of Wright's work on the
observer. At the Berger house they glimmer (or glower) beneath the heavy eaves, daring the visitor to draw near.

The analogy to "eyes" is readily made . . .


Image

Image

jay
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Post by jay »

Weren't the perfs designed as motif abstractions of their respective buildings? One might say the perfs are whimsical as a thing in itself, but hard to claim Wright was designing self-expressive "whims" with the perfs. He was very articulate in his many books of the Usonian era about 'all parts making up the whole' being the very basis of his design approach. Anyone who contracted Wright should've been clear about what he'd supply for them. And most, if not all, were. The people who don't seem to understand this are, sadly, like Ursula LeGuin, who seem to think that if a house is a highly-ordered object, then the inhabitants must be in a subordinating circumstance.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Any designer would expect what you do, namely a relationship between the decoration and the host object. Apparently Mr Wright thought that too obvious ?

This is one reason that I have a hard time taking the perf panels seriously. I believe it would be fair to say that the designs are arbitrary---more so, I believe,
than is most of his ornament. Perhaps this is part of their charm ?

I have detected no connection between the individual perf designs and their respective host structures, beyond the frequent use of Wright's favored 30-60
and occasional 45-degree geometries. Even there, the geometries in the perfs may or may not reflect the geometry found in the relevant house. If any of the
perfs contain an abstraction of the plan (for instance), I think it a fluke---or at best a rarity ?

Indeed, most other decorative motifs used by the architect to adorn (or "characterize") his work do relate to the geometries found in the buildings they dress.
In the case of the perf bands, the operative word is "band," isn't it---the repetition of the pattern is the major contribution to the whole ?

And, we don't have authors for the various perf designs; there is no evidence that Wright designed them as far as I know, nor are we told that the apprentice
who did the drawings was responsible for a perf pattern. Their origins, both as to form and to authorship, are one of the largely unasked questions in Wright
studies, it seems to me. Palli Davis Holubar has done the groundwork, an endless and largely unrewarded task I suspect. More needs to be known . . .?

S

jay
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Joined: Mon May 02, 2016 8:04 pm

Post by jay »

My mistake about the perfs as motif abstractions.... The Palmer House pierced blocks were such, guess I assumed all the perfs followed that concept.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Something has been made of the insistent use of the equilateral triangle at the Palmer house:

https://media.springernature.com/lw785/ ... 4_HTML.gif

http://math.unipa.it/~grim/Jsalaworkshop.PDF

Someone may have claimed that the Palmer plan is visible in its cast window block; I don't see it, I'm afraid.

https://aadl.org/N127_0127_006

ImageImage



Maybe the block belongs to the McCartney house ?

Image

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