Frank Lloyd Wright + Walt Whitman – New America?


I write to you on this beautiful first day of Autumn where the temperature is a brisk 52 degrees and the pugs start waking up with cute sniffles.

What a more fitting theme to write about than nature? As the leaves change colors we begin to contemplate life and what will happen to us as the seasons change. Will we grow fat as we hibernate and bundle up for the winter? Will our grow to a Neanderthal length? Will we look like BigFoot? What happens if a Werewolf finds me tonight and changes my life forever? You just don’t really know. One thing for sure, though, is changing leaves as we venture into Autumn. What a better post than to talk about trees and how they influence the humanities and other fields. More generally, how nature influences products of our imagination.

Last week I went on an Architecture Field trip with my Third Year class to Oklahoma City. On the way back we visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s only sky scraper ever built, Price Tower. It was originally planned to be built in New York City with all the other big sky scrapers, but a group of people with Phillips 66 convinced Wright for it to built in Bartlesville, Oklahoma as a headquarters. Because of this, Price Tower is described as,

“The tree that escaped the crowded forest.”

Price tower           Price tower 2

This title fits Price Tower so well because it is in fact modeled after a tree. The tower has four main elevators grouped next to each other in a square-ish form that essentially make up the trunk of the tree. The branches are the different functions of the building as it moves vertically represented by the Vertical and Horizontal chemically-treated copper louvers that are supposed to resemble leaves. The vertical louvers mark the function of Residential Apartment units and the horizontal louvers represent office space. There is also an emergency staircase on the other side of the building that acts as a third function and strengthens the idea of a trunk. Great logic by an architect right?

This was one of the reasons why Frank Lloyd Wright was such a well-known architect. He really led the movement of using different geometry and a-symetrical and symmetrical forms to not only simplify architecture while adding complexity, but also highly relate architecture to nature. Wright loved to use horizontality to ground the building and used abstraction to make the building read as a whole rather than many individual parts.

Price tower 3          Price tower 4

Now you may be asking, “How does this relate to the humanities?”

There is a quote inside the building that Wright wrote (though not original to the building) that includes lines from Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass. Due to infringement policies, no pictures could be taken in the tower. However, I was lucky enough to find a picture of the poetry on Flickr (YAY!!).

Toward all

I raise high the perpendicular hand – I make the signal

To remain after me in sight forever

For all the haunts and homes of men

–     –     –     –     –

Where the city of the faithfullest friends stands

Where thrift is in its place but prudence is in its place

Where behavior is the finest of the fine arts

Where outside authority enters always after the

Precedence of inside authority

Where the city that has produced the greatest man stands

There the greatest city stands.

– Walt whitman 1860″

During the explanation of this during the tour, the guide said that Wright wrote this poem type thing, but stole lines from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and used the words to describe himself. Now I don’t know how much you know about Wright, but he was a very arrogant man. In many of his houses, he would make and place furniture and expect the family living in the house to keep it in the same place. As well keep the ceilings low mainly because he was a short man. So the fact that he would write this poem describing himself as a great man that makes the greatest city is not really a surprise.

–     –     –     –     –

Walt Whitman’s poetry connects different individuals to each other and makes the individual question how it can be celebrated and valued while, at the same time, how this can shape how one sees the world.

On the other hand, Wright takes his individual designs and evolves them over time relating them to each other while, at the same time, evolving the ideas to change an individual’s perception on how to conceptualize architecture to its surrounding.

Boiled down, both relate their works to nature and how nature shapes the individual’s perception of the world by using visual, abstract illustrations. Both shaping their medium into a new idea.

Nature is connected to the human. Connecting all fundamentals of life to nature better connects humans to nature and stick to our “roots”. Experience of the individual connects the human to nature. For example, Placing a person into a scene of literature and making the individual experience the literature. In relations to architecture, proportions relating to the human body connect not only the building with nature but also make the individual experience repetitions of nature within the building and connect the individual to the outside world.

Connecting the inner mind to the outside world, and changing the individual’s perception of life.