American Architectural History: A Contemporary Reader

By Keith L. Eggener | Go to book overview

Part 4
Visions of a new era: seeing self, seeing others,
being seen

By the 1890s the US had begun to emerge as a world power. With this new role came increased self-scrutiny, as well as heightened attention to, and from, others outside the country. The essays in this section deal with issues of representation and seeing in an increasingly internationalized architectural environment.

The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1892–1893, was a pivotal event on many levels, not least in these terms of international contact. The sophisticated planning, elaborate neo-classical architecture, international pavilions, and ethnological exhibits of what came to be called the White City dazzled the millions of people who poured into Chicago from around the country and around the world (and in the process also confronted the new skyscrapers of the Loop). Yet, as historian Robert W. Rydell illustrates, in an essay influenced by post-colonialist scholarship, there was a dark side to the White City. Juxtaposed with the glistening white classical temples celebrating American and European achievements in science, industry, agriculture, and the arts, were living displays—located on the Midway Plaisance, the fair’s entertainment zone—of Native Americans standing beside tipis, Dahomeyan tribesmen before mud huts, Arabs riding camels down “Cairo Street,” and other such “exotic amusements.” While the fair’s architecture and planning provided a setting for white Americans and “others” of all varieties to see more of one another than most previously had, it also served to reinforce and even dramatize existing attitudes about racial and gender hierarchy.

The next two essays in this section provide complementary views of Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most famous architect, both nationally and internationally. James F. O’Gorman concentrates on Wright’s seminal prairie house designs, analyzing the forms and sources of this distinctly regionalized modern house type. Celebrating the idea and image of American place, deeply rooted in American cultural and natural history, the prairie house looked back to colonial and federal architecture, and to the work of Richardson and Sullivan, while it also referenced American literary sources and regional botanical and topographical elements. At the same time, the prairie house also expressed Wright’s awareness of more far-flung sources, such as the Japanese Ho-o-den pavilion that he saw at the World’s Colombian Exposition in 1893. Published in Berlin in 1910–1911, Wright’s prairie style American architecture soon came to the attention of a host of architects working in Germany, Holland, Austria, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere. Looking closely at the early foreign dissemination and reception of Wright’s work, Anthony Alofsin demonstrates that Wright’s influence outside the US, and his relationship

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