Architectural Dooz-Gest: Frank Lloyd Wright, Gemini

Frank Lincoln Wright was born June 8, 1867, in Richland Center, Wisconsin. His mother, Anna Lloyd Jones, was a teacher from a large Welsh family. She lavished her son with undivided attention: he owed to her soaring self-confidence. In the autobiography, Wright spoke of “extraordinary devotion” and claimed that even before giving birth, Sister Anna (he gave her hallowed significance) inspired the architect in him by decorating the nursery with framed engravings of the English cathedrals. She also famously purchased her son a set of building blocks invented for the innovative pedagogical practices by the German education reformer Friedrich Fröbel. 

Gemini, the third sign of the zodiac, has to do with development of the mental aspects of the individual. It is Gemini’s job to never stop thinking, learning, perceiving, digesting experience — being a kid who never totally grows up — to come to terms with the environment by welcoming each day with curiosity and optimism.

A great architect is not made by way of a brain nearly so much as he is made by way of a cultivated, enriched heart.”

Frank Lloyd Wright

When Wright married Catherine Tobin at 22, he endeavored to give his children (eventually, they had six) what his mother had given him — the loftiest space in the house was the cathedral-like playroom. How appropriate that Wright’s second oldest, an architect, invented Lincoln Logs (a first toy set that has ever been marketed to both boys and girls and is still in production) sometime around 1916–1917 when John Lloyd Wright was collaborating with his father. The name suggests the connection to both Frank Lincoln Wright and the President.

An air sign Gemini gathers, processes, and distributes information. Air is associated with the principle of broad overview and according to Eve Jackson, “astrologically with looking down on things from above, detached (in contrast to the involvement of water), seeing things in perspective, with clarity and sharpness.” /Jupiter p40/

“Buildings, too, are children of Earth and Sun.”

In 1893 at age 26 Wright started his own practice. From 1899 to 1909 he designed more than 50 residences that became known as the Prairie School period. These houses took in the land they belonged on with deep protective overhangs. Low-pitched hipped roofs without attics kept the height to the minimum. Long rows of casement windows amplified the horizontal quality. Interior walls were minimized to emphasize openness.

Air is yang, the positive energy focused on external is associated with Gemini’s assertiveness and appetite for risk. The first sign to concern itself with the relationships of various elements in the environment, an outgoing Gemini needs to make connections.

“Why, I just shake the buildings out of my sleeves.”

Hollyhock House (1919-1921)

Hollyhock House (1919-1921)

Instinctively knowing the direction the wind is blowing, Wright always had a nose for local materials. The decorative elements that Wright draped across the exterior of the Barnsdall’s Hollyhock House (1919-1921) became integral to the next four concrete block houses (1923–1924) the architect designed in Los Angeles. Stamped by hand with a specific pattern, the blocks made out of sand or decomposed granite from each building’s site, elevated an experimental technique developed by Wright  (with significant input from his son Lloyd) dubbed as “textile-block” construction.

Compared to three other mutable signs, Virgo (earth), Sagittarius (fire), and Pisces (water), Gemini is probably most erratic. Since air is inherently mutable (like a breeze, it’s quick to blow away), Gemini loves to roam while blending opposites or blurring distinctions. Too strong a sense of good and bad limits opportunities.

“The architect must be a prophet... a prophet in the true sense of the term... if he can't see at least ten years ahead don't call him an architect.”

Responding to the financial crisis of 1929 and ensuing Great Depression Wright began working on affordable housing. A true Gemini, he pushed for refinement, adjustment, and dissemination. Wright’s Usonian predicted housing developments that populated American suburbs of the following decades by ushering in open-plan interiors, small kitchens, dining areas rather than separate dining rooms; concrete slab foundations instead of basements, carports in place of full garages. Changing course like the wind, mutable Gemini goes around obstacles without confronting them directly.

Thoughts have power to incite action. Energy follows thought. When committed to an inward exploration, Gemini — a sign concerned with the development of the individual — has capacity for self-examination.

“Get the habit of analysis - analysis will in time enable synthesis to become your habit of mind.”

In 1932 Wright founded the Taliesin Fellowship, an immersive architectural school based out of his own home and studio. It was an apprenticeship program conceived to provide a total learning environment. It integrated architecture, construction, farming, gardening, even cooking with the study of nature, music, art, and dance. Throughout his life Wright treated his students with paternal tenderness and used his considerable talents to teach others by having them become active in each aspect of his work.

Stability becomes stale fast. Tireless self-reinvention, on the other hand, feeds the need to stay forever young.

“Youth is a quality, not a matter of circumstances.”

Fallingwater (1934-1938)

Fallingwater (1934-1938)

In 1934, open to life and young at heart Wright re-entered the spotlight with Fallingwater (1934-1938), the country house for Edgar Kaufmann in rural Pennsylvania. In 1936, at age 69, he staged a remarkable comeback with several important commissions including the S.C. Johnson and Son Company Administration Building in Racine (1936-1939) and the Herbert Jacobs House (1936), the first executed Usonian house in Madison.

At the same time, Wright decided to build a permanent winter residence in Arizona and began the construction of Taliesin West (1936-1959). The architect preserved Geminian childlike appreciation of variety no matter how old he was.

Taliesin West (1936-1959)

Taliesin West (1936-1959)

According to Steven Forrest, Gemini refers to the way the world unravels its secrets. For Gemini in all of us, it is vital to take in as much as humanly possible. To live as intensely as we possibly can.

“The architect should strive continually to simplify; the ensemble of the rooms should then be carefully considered that comfort and utility may go hand in hand with beauty.”

Wright promoted architecture as “the great mother art, behind which all others are definitely, distinctly and inevitably related.” His metaphor for underlying unity was the Japanese idea of a culture in which every object, every human, and every action were translated into a work of art.

Margaret Hone in her The Modern Text-Book of Astrology writes: “The Geminian is at his best in any sphere where his natural urges can be expressed. He is therefore better in a non-static job where he can ‘blow in and out’ at a moment’s notice.” /p55/

“I have been black and blue in some spot, somewhere, almost all my life from too intimate contacts with my own furniture.”

Frank Lloyd Wright Stained Glass

Frank Lloyd Wright Stained Glass

One constant throughout a varied 75-year career was Wright’s extraordinary stringent control in furnishing his buildings. A truly organic building, in his opinion, developed from within outwards and was thus in harmony with its time, place, and inhabitants. An art lover and collector with a discriminating eye, he professed: “In organic architecture then, it is quite impossible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishings another and its setting and environment still another. The spirit in which these buildings are conceived sees all these together at work as one thing.” To that end, Wright designed furniture, rugs, fabrics, art glass, lighting, dinnerware, and graphic arts. According to Wright’s biographer David Hanks, the architect even designed dresses for his female clients.

Individually oriented Gemini and its opposite socially minded Sagittarius are complementary signs — they both hate to grow up. Gemini gets involved with fine details while Sagittarius is interested in the big picture, a vision of the future.

“Form follows function - that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”

Ability to apply knowledge gained in one area to another combined with perpetual self-reinvention and pre-disposition to socially motivated design have made Wright’s vision of democratic American values not just ahead of its time, but an eternal aspiration. His hope for architecture as a reflection of a beautiful life still seems to levitate out there, on the horizon.

Sagittarian side of Gemini is concerned with expansion and exploration; limitations are frowned upon.

“Respect the masterpiece. It is true reverence to man. There is no quality so great, none so much needed now.”

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1943)

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1943)

In 1943 Wright was asked to design a building that would provide a revolutionary way to exhibit the Solomon R. Guggenheim collection of non-objective paintings. Sixteen years in the making, Wright’s final scheme was the apotheosis of curated sublimation, “one of the highest experiences given to the urban modern man.“ Wright even chose to control the display of each painting by slightly tilting the wall surfaces simulating an incline of an easel.

In his own words, he conceived the structure “from within outward.” He envisioned that a museumgoer would enter at the ground level, take an elevator to the top and begin descent on a spiraling grand ramp that wraps around the entire central volume.

The Guggenheim turned out to be Wright’s most challenging undertaking (he executed 433 buildings); the architect did not live to see the museum open in 1959. Regardless, the vision “… to make the building and the painting an uninterrupted, beautiful symphony such as never existed in the World of Art before” was materialized.

 

Alla Kazovsky

 

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