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DMA debuts the world according to Frank Lloyd Wright

ON JANUARY 19. “FRANK LLOYD Wright: In the Realm of Ideas” debuts at the Dallas Museum of Art and the LTV Center Pavilion in the premiere showing of what will be a two-year, national tour of the architect’s work. The exhibition should be impressive, a well-rounded look at the good works and masterful vision of an inimitable man. Before he hit thirty. Wright had single-handedly defined and delineated the first all-American architectural style. By the time he died in 1959, at the age of ninety-two, he had dominated American architecture with zeal for almost a century.

Wright and his architecture changed the way we dwell on the planet. He designed structures that differed from the work of his peers not only in appearance, but in principle. He called his architecture organic, and in it the site, the structure, the interior, and ultimately the furnishings were one serene, integrated master plan, designed to ease the day-to-day of the life forms within.

Wright’s theory was, if not revolution, at least heresy, and part of it was simple timing. He was an enlightened proto-Yuppje of the industrial age, and he made good use of the deluge of new technology, materials, and theories that most architects of the day were slow to assimilate. Using reinforced concrete, steel, sheet metal, plate glass, and electronics, he liberated interior spaces; that, in turn, redefined the exteriors.

Citing the spider web as reference, Wright designated concrete and steel strands with open space in between: the tensile strength meant liberation from tradition. Forms were cantilevered, rather than simply stacked, the structure accommodating the natural beauty and topography of a site rather than combating it. Wright called it “breaking the box.” That concept pervaded everything he built, and shook the architectural status quo to its very foundation.

From the cramped, encapsulated rooms and nooks and crannies of American Vic-toriana to free-flowing, light-filled, organic simplicity, the import of “breaking the box” was such that had it debuted in the Eighties, it would be fodder for talk shows and mantra on T-shirts throughout the land.

Wright saw himself as sort of an architectural prototype. He felt charged with the task of bringing his civilization into harmony with what he defined as the natural systems operating in the universe. The “box” stood in the way of all that.

“Down all the avenues of time architecture was an enclosure by nature, and the simplest form of enclosure was the box. The box was ornamented, they put columns in front of it, pilasters and cornices on it, but they always considered an enclosure in terms of the box. Now when Democracy became an establishment, as it is in America, that box-idea began to be irksome, As a young architect, I began to feel annoyed, held back, imposed upon by this sense of enclosure which you went into and there you were-boxed, crated. I tried to find out what was happening to me: I was the free son of a free people and I wanted to be free. I had to find out what was the cause of this imprisonment. So I began to investigate.” (From Frank Lloyd Wright: His Life, His Work, His Words, by Olgivanna Lloyd Wright.)

Wright was a catalyst, frustrating the architectural community with his controversial genius, his dogmas, and his self-confidence, and at the same time demanding and winning total allegiance to his cause. Adoration and acclaim did not make him a popular man. Then and now the Wright doctrine is a love/hate kind of thing, setting off firestorms of debate.

Wright helped build the figurative ivory tower architects still alternately enjoy and try to climb down from. He was not a man to run from his own celebrity, cutting a dashing figure in his infamous cape. But over the years, the stress of such architectural vision often exceeded suggested limits. Along with the glory came more than a little tragedy.

Wright juggled frequent financial crises. His mentor, architect Louis Sullivan, died penniless and forgotten. He suffered the divorce of his beloved parents and failed miserably a( his own first two marriages. Taliesin. his home and the site of the in-residence/apprentice architectural school that was the dream of the architect and his third wife Olgivanna, burned, the work of arsonists. And though his third marriage was a true romance, Wright had endured the

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