Frank Lloyd Wright: A Precursor of Sustainable Architecture

Article excerpt

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The notion of sustainability relates to the necessary balance between a specific species, its natural environment, and the system of which it is a part. The end result must extend beyond maintenance of the system without jeopardizing the survival of future generations; to the extent possible it must strive to improve the system.

Sustainability applied to architecture and urban design pertains to the system that views people from a twofold perspective, as individuals and as members of a community, together with the planning and building activities they carry out to modify the system with a view to enhancing it in the future.

Also known as green architecture or eco-architecture, sustainable architecture proposes architectural and urban planning designs that make use of natural resources with minimal impact on the environment, through the rational design of buildings and their materials and infrastructures, and that provide their inhabitants with a sense of well-being.

The 20th century witnessed profound changes and a major revolution in ideas and forms of artistic expression. In architecture, the search for the new art that ushered in the century entailed a radical departure from the past and with it from traditional forms of planning and building. It seemed obvious that, by rejecting old methods and exploring the infinite possibilities of new materials and manufactured products along with the fresh ideas inspiring creative processes, success would be ensured. However, those new interests abandoned basic principles and have led to many of today's problems, which make the pursuit of architectural sustainability a priority objective.

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The figure of Frank Lloyd Wright in this context assumes great importance. His search for balance and harmony with nature inspired a new architecture. which made him the precursor of that first generation of heroic architects, the fathers of modern architecture, whose impact has not yet been surpassed. He was the precursor of the concept of architectural space and demonstrated that universal principles derived from human nature itself were all that was needed to produce the innovative architecture called for by the new century.

This American architect, born in Wisconsin in 1869, applied the principles of sustainability to his architecture with great ease and spontaneity. He did not make reference to them explicitly but rather inescapably, as a result of his training combined with his parents' work ethic and the years he spent on his uncle's farm in an unspoiled natural environment. He was educated in the classics of literature and music while witnessing an industrial revolution in full swing. His rich imagination merged these factors to direct his work toward a quest for balance among people, their ability to bring about change, and their natural environment.

Frank Lloyd Wright explained the principles behind his architecture in the periodicals Architectural Record and Ladies Home Journal. It was there that he expressed his ideas: The closer man associates with nature the greater his material and spiritual well-being. This notion of sustainability, although the term was not used, was an ideological principle underlying his architecture, from the first sketch to the finished work. He also said that everything without a real use or function should be avoided and that all visible elements, though integrated, should retain their original character. He was in favor of as many houses as there are people and was distrustful of an industrial cookie-cutter approach and of widespread mass-produced tract housing. Anonymous and impersonal production would result in architecture that created a chasm between itself and the natural environment.

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This masterful blending in his architecture of the most innovative use of new materials and building technology and the permanence of people's transcendental, cultural values and their natural environment helped create the rich, innovative personality that made him a pioneer of a balanced architecture rooted in the natural environment or, in other words, what we know today as sustainable architecture. …