Saturday, August 17, 2013


Frank Lloyd Wright's Larkin Administration Building, Buffalo, NY 1903-1906 (Photo by Clarence Fuermann and Henry Fuermann and Sons, Chicago)

Donald Johnson, an architect and longtime Wright scholar at the University of Adelaide, Australia, has just published On Frank Lloyd Wright’s Concrete Adobe: Irving Gill, Rudolph Schindler and the American Southwest (Ashgate Press, 2013), a study of Hollyhock House and the four concrete block houses that Wright design in Los Angeles in the early 1920s. It contains some surprising new information on an old Buffalo favorite, the Larkin Building.

When Walter Burley Griffin and his wife, Marion Mahony, went off to Australia in 1912, they were initially befriended by George and Florence Taylor, the founders of Building, a building construction magazine that existed in various forms from 1907 to 1972. The powerful, energetic, and conservative Taylors traveled to the United States in 1914 in search of material for their publication. The Taylors spent time in Chicago meeting many of the Prairie School architects familiar to them by way of the Griffins.  Then, on to Buffalo. According to Johnson’s research they found the Larkin Building “bleak-looking” and “mausoleum-like,” “designed by a soulless engineer.” Upon returning to Chicago they finally met Wright who showed them photographs and drawings of the Larkin Building. The Taylors apparently expressed their reservations about the building to which Wright admitted that it did have a

Forbidding aspect…[but] I wished to suggest that the work of the office [i.e. Larkin’s personnel] is a thing apart from the sordid world around it; that the quietness and calm necessary to every office interior should be preserved by giving the building an exterior appearance of “keep out, this is no place for the curious – move on.” [quoted from George Taylor’s There! A Pilgrimage of Pleasure  (Sydney, Building, 1916)*

Florence Taylor was not impressed and wrote:

We have laws [to check] any daring break from public opinion. Convention is often the law of the majority, and the man who would be original enough to dare such a thing as that might dare to break the convention in other things and be dangerous to [from Taylor above]*

Wright (and the Larkin Building) somehow survived the Taylors, at least until the 1950s but after they returned to Australia the Taylors turned against the Griffins, made life very difficult for them there, and ultimately drove them away to India to yet another chapter in their amazing career.

*quoted from Donald Johnson’s book cited above.

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