Exactly Right

In this miserable web world, full of nekulturny double-blowhards, jumped-up engineers, Den Beastly fatheads and other clueless types, A.C. Douglas is not to be missed, not ever.

“…(Frank Lloyd)Wright’s houses are notorious for their leaky roofs. As a house is the most elemental and paradigmatic instance of a shelter, a leaky roof would seem a most damning and fundamental fault. And so it would be were the house merely a building. With the possible exception of his very earliest work, none of Wright’s houses qualifies as a mere building. They’re all, as is all genuine architecture of any sort whatsoever, first and principally works of art. That’s to say, a concern with the aesthetic trumped all else in their design, and that’s only as it should be as that concern is architecture’s principal defining characteristic. Such has it been from architecture’s earliest beginnings, and such shall it always be.

Should Wright have taken more care in working out the nuts-and-bolts engineering details of his house designs? Perhaps. But it’s not as if his houses were ever dangers to, posed undue difficulties for, or were even experienced as inconvenient by, their original owners; not even the structurally problem-plagued, cutting-edge-innovative, and justly aesthetically world-famous Kaufmann house, “Fallingwater”, which only today, some 65 years after its building, is (was) in danger of collapsing without extensive (and wildly expensive) correction of its fundamental engineering faults. Like Kaufmann, Wright’s clients were invariably thrilled by, and felt privileged to own and occupy, what Wright gave them.

I’m perfectly willing to confess freely that Wright played fast and loose with the nuts-and-bolts engineering details of all his buildings. After establishing that a design he envisioned could be built without subsequently falling down or otherwise causing harm to his client, he considered attention to that sort of detail to be merely a nuisance, most especially if closer attention to such engineering details might have indicated that an aesthetic detail(s) would have to be altered in consequence. Wright’s attitude to his buildings, and to his clients and their use of those buildings, is best summed up in his (in)famous retort to a client who, at first, bitched to Wright about the leaks in the roof of his new house. Said Wright, “That’s what happens when you leave a work of art out in the rain.”

Glib, arrogant, cavalier, and the effusion of a monstrous ego most certainly, but in Wright’s case, essentially true nevertheless. And only an architect of Wright’s transcendent genius could (or should) get away with saying — and brag about saying — such a thing.

And what about the whine of, “…a Frank Lloyd Wright house never becomes your home…. […] You’re just the custodian [of] a monument to his genius. […] What if….you prefer to live by your own rules and you expect your house to play along?”

In short, and straightaway to the point, the answer is you let your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages, and from there select a good, solid, bourgeois builder to build your house for you, and leave the all-too-rare Wrights of this world free to serve those worthy of their genius.

See how that works?

(I must confess, part of the pleasure this uncompromising aestheticism gives me is the way it almost casually puts the boot to that creepiest of creepy creeps, the horrible James Howard Kunstler. But I doubt that was Douglas’ intent, by any means. I doubt he’s ever even heard of Kunstler.)

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4 thoughts on “Exactly Right”

  1. I don’t get it. If the purpose of architecture is to build pretty sculptures that look like houses but are not meant for human use, fine. But we already have a word for that. It’s called sculpture. It seems to me that the mark of a great architect should be the ability to create buildings with both aesthetic and utilitarian value, and not exclusively one or the other. This whole, “I’ll build what I want, fuck the people who have to live in it” seems like juvenile Randianism.

    Heh, I just followed the original link and I see that one of the author’s correspondents made the same point as I did. Great minds think alike, I guess. And I’m humble, too.

  2. People who think I’m hard on James Howard Kunstler should take this statement of his:

    As America slides into the post-cheap-oil clusterfuck, houses like these will lose their value dramatically, and the people who bought them will be both stranded and ruined.

    and add the unspoken but obviously present addition:

    …I hope.

    Creepy creepy creep Kunstler deserves a flaying all of his own in these (virtual) pages, and may get one, if I live long enough.

    He isn’t a bad landscape painter though. Too bad he’s a creepy, creepy creep.

    (A tip of the spiky mask to Grand Royal Magazine, the Beasty Boys and my friend S. for “creepy, creepy creep.” It was a long time ago…)

  3. In short, and straightaway to the point, the answer is you let your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages, and from there select a good, solid, bourgeois builder to build your house for you, and leave the all-too-rare Wrights of this world free to serve those worthy of their genius.

    See how that works?

    See how that works, Ghertner?

  4. In short, and straightaway to the point, the answer is you let your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages, and from there select a good, solid, bourgeois sculptor to build your sculpture for you, and leave the all-too-rare architects of this world free to serve those worthy of their genius.

    See how that works?

    See how that works, Sabotta?

    Words have meanings. Architecture is the art and science of designing and erecting buildings, not sculptures. Wright may have been an excellent sculptor, and even an excellent architect. But insofar as his buildings did not serve the basic purposes that buildings are supposed to serve, he was not excellent an architect in that respect.

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