Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wright Flakes Out in Michigan

Growing up in Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright was no stranger to snow.  

In fact, the poetic image that begins the "Prelude" of Wright's Autobiography is one of traversing a snowy Wisconsin field with his Uncle John, and taking the "path less traveled" through that starkly beautiful landscape (see "Frank Says" in the sidebar) in order to gather "weeds" that caught his eye.  If past is prologue, this sort of childhood vision may have inspired Wright the architect's later interest in the complex geometry of snowflakes.

The hexagonal geometry of a snowflake
Enter Carlton David and Margaret Wall some sixty-five years later, a twenty-something couple asking for a Usonian house.  Wright gave them what he described in Architectural Forum as "one of the more elaborate Usonian homes."  The Wall House represents the first time that Wright employed a 60-120-degree equilateral parallelogram module, adding this inherently dynamic shape to the Usonian plan vocabulary of rectangles, triangles and hexagons.  In the resulting plan, these parallelograms generate larger versions of themselves, as well as triangles and hexagons:  the shape that Wright cited as most conducive to natural human movement and to the union of house and environment.  From a bird's-eye view, the house's hip roof and pierced, cantilevered eaves produce snowflake-like forms, earning the house its distinctive name: "Snowflake."

The hexagonal hip roofs of the Wall House
Wright found hexagons in nature - whether produced by industrious bees or ice crystals - and employed them in other prominent Usonian-era structures, most notably the Hanna or "Honeycomb" House (Palo Alto, CA, 1937) and the Auldbrass Plantation (Yemassee, SC, 1938).  But the Wall House becomes associated with the snowflake form in particular, perhaps by virtue of its site in southeastern Michigan (whereas such a wintry association would be inappropriate for Auldbrass or Hanna).  And Wright surely realized on some level that the Usonian houses were akin to snowflakes in that they share common systems of generative geometry, and yet no two are alike. 
Partial Plan

And, as if to underscore this juxtaposition, PrairieMod currently features a selection of Holiday cards from "organic" architects.; the card by John Randal McDonald features abstracted snowflakes that look like progeny of the Wall House plan...

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