Today is the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth. I am one of Wright’s many admirers; in fact, for years I have kept a photo of him near my desk for inspiration. Most of the commemorations today will probably emphasize his architecture, and justifiably so. I love it, too.
Beyond design, however, Wright inspires for the way he lived. He wasn’t always a role model in his personal life, but Wright had a monumental spirit. He was a fiercely independent thinker, who had no regard for cant or sacred cows. With the exception of a few lulls, he was tirelessly productive, and he was still doing meaningful work in his 80’s and 90’s.
Above all, he seemed always willing to evolve as an artist. His portfolio contains a staggering variety of design. Works like the Larkin Building, the Guggenheim, the Johnson Wax Building, and the Beth Sholom Synagogue, to name a few, are in many ways as different as they can be, yet they are all products of the same mind. Over many decades of work, Wright avoided capitulating to a single style. Instead, he kept himself free simply to design as he saw fit, true to his own insights and explorations.
All of this bespeaks Wright’s commitment to artistic truth. His mother’s family motto was “Truth against the world,” which says a lot about the origins of Wright’s independence and combativeness. My favorite Wright aphorism is, “The truth is more important than the facts.” I take this to mean that there are truths that transcend data and proof; principles and visions to which we must commit regardless of the noise and clutter of daily living. Wright had an incredible drive to seek these truths, and to make them manifest in his art. It is for this, as much as for the buildings themselves, that we should celebrate his life.