August 23, 2003

Falling Water's Falling Down

Falling Water: Nature Has Had It's Way
with Her from Day One

Michael at the erudite and too deprecatingly named 2Blowhards is busy committing his usual heresy. In no uncertain terms he declares: Frank Lloyd Wright Is Not God

Simple question: Would you want to live in one of his houses? I wouldn't, for two main reasons.

Most important is the way a Frank Lloyd Wright house never becomes your home; instead, you move in and become the curator of one branch of the Frank Lloyd Wright museum. You're just the custodian in a monument to his genius.

For the other, I wouldn't want to be in charge of (let alone pay for) the upkeep. Wright couldn't resist trying out innovative building techniques -- which has meant in practice that many of his houses are in semi-constant need of expensive repair.

As for the art and moral values his work is celebrated for -- openness, naturalness, a casual, flowing informality -- well, let's see. His ceilings are often very low -- uncomfortably low. Why? Because he was a vindictive short man who was resentful of taller people, and he liked ceiling heights that make tall people feel uneasy. Flowing and open? Sure: his use of space is often fascinating in an aesthetic sense. But in a human sense, it works only if you subscribe to the whole package -- if you don't mess with how and where he wants the furniture placed and the light to fall. It all works together or it doesn't work at all -- which is impressive but a pain. (There's nothing quite like being locked into someone else's concept, particularly when what you want to do is kick back in the comfort of your own home.)

As far as I can tell, and from what the owners of one house told me, his buildings are about as unadaptable as buildings can be. And those long horizontal lines which we're told are such eloquent reflections of the American landscape and psyche? Well, they collect water and leak, and the water drips down into the walls, and ....

All in all an estimable estimation of a man who has, like all men, been overrated since his death. From all accounts, dealing with Wright when alive was like dealing with a man who had mistaken himself for God. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Michael also goes on to note something that I caught my attention in the Wall Street Journal: the shabby state of that most iconic of Wright buildings, Falling Water. I realize that irony is dead, but for just a moment it sprang back to life when I learned that this house was broken from the day before it was finished. The price tag to bring it back to snuff? A cool $11 million.

Oh well, I suppose it is a mere bagatelle when you think of all the photos that the house has spawned, from the same angle, year after year and decade after decade.

Falling Water seems to be eternally spared from the wrecking ball, but, if I recall the Journalís article correctly, the same cannot be said for a number of the other 100 odd Wright homes in existence. The reason? They sit on some fine sites, but nobody wants to live in their tiny rooms any longer.

I'd score the whole thing six, six and one even for Wright. I mean, Falling Water's a nice house, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Posted by Vanderleun at August 23, 2003 10:51 AM
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