Liberal Arts Blog — Frank Lloyd Wright II

Liberal Arts Blog — Friday is the Joy of Art, Architecture, Film, Design, and All Things Visual Day

Today’s Topic: Frank Lloyd Wright II: the Tokyo Imperial Hotel, (1915–1923), Johnson Wax (1936–1939). Taliesen East (1911) and West (1937)

Last time, the Robie House, Falling Water, and the Guggenheim. Today, a look beyond Wright’s best-known works. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

THE JOHNSON WAX BUILDING (1936–1939): the “Great Workroom” and the “Lily Pads”

1. What a sharp contrast to the “Prairie Style”!!! Reminds me of Saarininen’s “tulip chairs” (inverted).

2. He had a hard time getting a building permit because of the slenderness of the columns.

3. A 14-story high-rise “research tower” was added to the complex from 1944–1950: one of only two high rises Wright ever designed.

Johnson Wax Headquarters

TALIESEN — EAST (Wisconsin) AND WEST (Arizona)

1. Taliesen East (above) was his home from 1911 to 1937 and then his summer home from 1937 to 1959. The house was destroyed twice — in 1911 when a disgruntled employee set fire to it and ax-murdered Wright’s lover, her two children, and three others; and again in 1925 (caused by an electrical failure). Taliesen East is sometimes referred to as Taliesen III for this reason.

2. Wright on the first re-rebuilding: “There is a release from anguish in action. Anguish would not leave Taliesin until action for renewal began. Again, and at once, all that had been in motion before at the will of the architect was set in motion. Steadily, again, stone by stone, board by board, Taliesin the II began to rise from Taliesin the first.”

3. Taliesen West (in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard) was his winter home from 1937 until his death. “Taliesen is a look over the rim of the world.” The name is that of an ancient Welsh bard and means “radiant brow.”

NB: “The mission of an architect is to help people understand how to make life more beautiful, the world a better one for living in, and to give reason, rhyme, and meaning to life.” (Wright)

The School of Architecture at Taliesin

THE TOKYO IMPERIAL HOTEL (1919–1923) — “Mayan revival style” and the Japanese connection

1. Commissioned by the Japanese Emperor in 1915. Withstood the Earthquake of 1923 reasonably well. Severely damaged by firebombing during World War II. Demolished in 1967 to make room for a high rise.

2. Oddly, the style is “Mayan Revival” (very popular in the 1920s and 1930s). The appeal of the style to Wright is even more evident in the pyramidal Beth Sholom synagogue in Philadelphia (completed in 1959, the year of his death).

3. Wright was obsessed with Japanese art and culture. For a while, his “side gig” as a dealer in Japanese art may have earned him more money than his architectural commissions.

NB: On the deepest level, what I love best about Wright’s houses is the integration of the interior and the exterior, of nature and structure. To me, very, very Japanese in sensibility.

Imperial Hotel, Tokyo

Beth Sholom Congregation (Elkins Park, Pennsylvania)

Mayan Revival architecture


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