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Sketch of future city by Frank Lloyd Wright

Such Were the Cities of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dreams


The ambition of architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, found its most perfect expression in the cities he designed.

The layout and design of any city are complex. Of all the spaces that human beings have inhabited, perhaps none has been so changeable, nor so subject to the needs of its inhabitants, as the large metropolis. It’s an amazingly adaptive ability. If any space can respond nearly immediately, organically, to the people living there, it’s a metropolis.

One of the first great architects to see the potential of big cities was Frank Lloyd Wright. He always thought of the city as the space, par excellence, for communications – both immediate and at a distance.

But interestingly, the idea of the city of Wright was very different from any city’s reality. Large cities are characterized by a kind of “functional chaos.” It’s a complex coincidence of countless factors which, against all the odds, find a way to interoperate. But Wright didn’t find this admirable. To the contrary, against the saturation of cities, Wright proposed all of the elements lacking in urban areas: air, space, light and silence.

Among the qualities that characterize Wright’s urban designs, from the civic center in Madison, Wisconsin to the Point in downtown Pittsburgh, among others, he always sought to promote a connection between members of a community and their multiple interests. Wright understood that social life was composed of many elements: art, entertainment, politics, fortuitous daily living, jobs and more.

Sketch of future plan for Ellis Island by Frank Lloyd Wright

The focus of an exhibition of Wright’s urban designs a few years ago at the Museum of Modern Art, according to Morgan Meis in The New Yorker, was the architect’s peculiar extremism. He imagined spaces densely occupied, buildings impossible to build, and suburbs that were almost rural, bucolic. Utopia was an exercise in imagining, and one specifically realized in “Broadacre City,” a metropolis of wide open spaces where the daily lives of inhabitants would be facilitated by mechanical technology and communication.

Both in feasible projects and in uncontrolled fantasies, the idea of a perfect coexistence is carried through, between artificial spaces and nature, buildings and their environments, buildings and what surrounds them: trees, river, and mountains.

It’s in this sense that we speak of “organic” architecture in the ideas of Wright. The designs may at first glance appear rigid, of hard lines and inflexible forms, but when viewed in relation to their environments, their correspondence is revealed, in the coincidence of every planned detail.

For Wright, in both the utopic and in the designs that were realized, the architect was a sort of demiurge who could weigh even the smallest elements of urban space against what really happens in a city. Less the result of chance or chaos, he sought objective results, almost as a scientist putting vitality into a dialogue with logic. And that may be the great teaching of his work: that in cities, it is possible to live sensibly.

*Images: Flickr – Kjell Olsen: 1) Wright Plan for Ellis Island; 2-5 ) Wright Sketches for Broadacre City / Creative Commons

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