Monday, July 20, 2009

Guggenheim's Wright Exhibit Inspires

By Joseph Kellard

I became interested in Frank Lloyd Wright through studying Objectivism and, subsequently, by browsing through or buying pictorial books on his work. Outside of the Guggenheim Museum and a replica of a prairie house interior at the Metropolitan Museum, I've yet to experience his buildings firsthand. In short, my knowledge of his life and work is superficial. And so I left the ongoing Wright exhibit at the Guggenheim, which celebrates the museum's 50th anniversary, with a deeper appreciation for the great American architect.

What intrigued me most were the renderings — some of them broad drawings spread out like battlefield maps — of his commissions that never materialized. The most ambitious of these is the Mile High Office Tower (528 floors!) for Chicago. (I didn't take the audio tour, so I'm unsure how serious Wright actually was about building this massive, soaring project.)

Other impressive but unbuilt projects were the Pittsburgh Point Park Civic Center, the Huntington Hartford Sports Club/Play Resort, and the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective and Planetarium. Wright even made cityscape plans for Baghdad, where he was originally commissioned to design an opera house.
The theme of the exhibit, which is entitled "From Within Outward," is that Wright developed original interiors based largely on their relation to their exterior environments. "As a result, exteriors became pure projections of the space that was shaped on the inside," reads the program. The exhibit also features models and animated video of his buildings.

Of course, walking through this exhibit in one of Wright's masterpieces certainly heightened my experience — especially since the section on the Guggenheim came last, at the apex of the museum's spiraling rotunda.

I left with a greater understanding of the architect's original, innovative mind and marveled at the scope of his work. He designed everything from homes, houses of worship and hotels to office buildings, schools and an aquarium. He drew up more than 1,000 projects and developed about 500 of them. Wright worked into his 90s, dying just months before the Guggenheim opened in 1959. In addition to his productive longevity, his career and life clearly ended on the highest of notes.

The exhibit is open until August 23.

Joseph Kellard is a journalist living in New York.


Bill Brown said...

Living as I do in one of the twin focii of the FLlW universe (Phoenix/Scottsdale), I've seen plenty of his buildings up close. The Baghdad Opera House you mention was, in fact, largely the model for the Gammage Auditorium at Arizona State University and it is spectacular in person.

As for the Mile-High Tower, I believe it was a speculative project not done at the behest of any investors.

Joseph Kellard said...


Thank you for your reply. I appreciate the additional insights.

~ JK