Frank Lloyd Wright as an early environmentalist

Organic homes for all


“Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century” at the Milwaukee Art Museum examines Wright’s approach to designing in harmony with nature in an affordable way. Visitors may find that Wright (1867-1959) was as prescient about sustainability and cost as he was about other aspects of architecture.

Wright’s definition of “organic” did not come from the grocery shelves. “By organic architecture I mean an architecture that develops from within outward in harmony with the conditions of its being, as distinguished from one that is applied from without,” he declared.

The Milwaukee show assesses that notion with reference to some of Wright’s celebrated projects, not least of which was Fallingwater, built for a Pittsburg businessman, Edgar J. Kaufmann. But its main focus is Wright’s efforts to fight “grandomania” in addressing what he called “the small house problem”—building houses for the general population. Milwaukee is the only site of a complete, constructed block of Wright’s American System Homes (1916), so named for their efficient cheap design and use of local lumber and labour. These designs influenced Wright’s prefabricated Depression-era Usonian Automatic houses, and his suburban projects in the 1930s (Broadacre City) and 1950s (The Living City). Affordability becomes all the more topical as an element of Wright’s work, given the US mortgage crisis that has resulted in millions of home foreclosures.

A model of Broadacre City will be shown for the first time, as will many drawings from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona. In Milwaukee Wright’s design “laboratory” offers a reality check on his vision. “There’s a density of built projects in the region, and Milwaukee is in the middle,” said curator Brady Roberts. Also nearby is Wright’s studio/home, Taliesin, which celebrates its centennial this year in its third iteration, after destruction by fires in 1914 and 1925.

Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century

Milwaukee Art Museum

12 February-15 May

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Organic homes for all'