Interdisciplinary Studies in Letters & Science

Chabot College - Spring 2006

Selected Readings from

In the Cause of Architecture

by Frank Lloyd Wright


Essay 4: "Part IV. Fabrication & Imagination" - October 1927


"Time was when the hand wrought. Time is here when the process fabricates itself.

"Why make the fabrication a lie or allow it to become one when we try to make it 'beautiful'? Any such lie is an abuse of Imagination.

"Reason and Will have been exalted by Philosophy and Science. Let us now do homage to Imagination."

By this decade, industrialization had taken hold in almost every industry; what once had to be hand-built could now be formed faster, and less expensively, by machine.

"Let us call Creative-Imagination the Man-light in Mankind to distinguish it from intellectual brilliance. It is strongest in the creative-artist. A sentient quality. To a degree all developed individuals have this quality, and to the extent that it takes concrete form in the human fabrications necessary or desirable to human life, it make the fabrication live as a reflection of that Life any true Man loves as such - Spirit materialized."

Consider the nature of Wright's essay here - as much (or more!) philosophy than architecture. Recall that he, and he grandson in the Burns' video, talked about the need for a new "grammar" for architecture. You can get a sense of the man from his words.

"It is a good record of this primitive period in the development of concrete building when it was necessary to pour the material into boxes to 'set it' into shape. It is a 'natural' building, therefore, in a transition-period of the development of the use of concrete.... Now, in this easier more plastic method, standardization enters as the unit-system. A unit-mass of concrete, size and shape determined by the word intended to be done and what weight a man can reasonably be expected to lift and set in a wall, is fixed upon."

Wright refers here to the transition in style from his later prairie houses, with slabs of concrete and cantilevers, to the "block" style characteristic of the houses and buildings he designed in the '20s.
"Here the making of the structural-unit and the process of fabrication become complete synchronized standardizations. A building for the first time in the world may be lightly fabricated, complete, of mono-material - literally woven into a pattern or design as was the oriental rug... " Wright's later style - the "usonian" - and here we see the seeds of his goal for inexpensive (to produce) housing (with profound design) for all Americans.

"Is Machine-Standardization a hindrance? No, a release. Boundless possibility, and with that, comes increase of responsibility. Here, in the hand of the creative-artist, in fabrication in this sense, lies the whole expression, character, and style, the quality, let us say, in any spiritual sense, of modern life. The integrity of it all as an expression is now a matter of the creative-artist's Imagination at work."

Unlike others who lamented the decline of "craftsmanship" because of the rise in machines, Wright saw opportunity - for those few capable of Imagination.
V. The New World

"And Architecture now belonging to, and refreshing as the forests or prairies or hills, the human spirit is free to blossom in structure as organic as that of plants and trees. Buildings, too, are children of Earth and Sun."

Wright's organic architecture remains one of his guiding principles, now 20 years since the publishing of his principles.

"We are in a corner of the Twentieth Century emerging into the Twenty First - and the first Democracy of being not seeming. The highest form of Aristocracy be it said the world has ever seen is this Democracy, for it is based on the qualities that make the man a man."

Wright was a firm believer in the ability of the common man to appreciate his art, just as he believed that each man had a place in the democracy that was the American ideal..


Essay: "Part IX. The Terms" - December 1928


"Perhaps these articles have been guilty of 'poetic' interpretation now and then, turning these 'materials' over and over in the hand. The imagination has caught the light on them, in them as well, and tried to fix a ray or two of their significance in the sympathetic mind." Wright, looking back on the articles he has written so far, wonders if they have been too 'poetic'? But he goes on from here in the essay to define his sense of poetry, poetic, romantic, and ideal, applied to his art.
"Those words - romance, poetry, beauty, truth, ideal - are not precious words - nor should they be specious words. They are elemental human symbols and we must be brought back again to respect for them by using them significantly if we use them at all, or go to jail." Philosophy and Architecture were one thing with Wright.
"What, then, is Poetry of Form? The term has become a red rag or a reproachful tag to architects at home and abroad....For all clients are, to some degree, infected by this contact with architects.... It is a new form of the plague - 'this poison of good taste,' as Lewis Mumford has precisely called it. "  

"In this visible shaped or form you will see not only what was harmonious in the existing conditions inside and outside and around about the building, but you will also see, in this sentiment of the architect, a quality added from the architect himself - because this ultimate form inevitably would be his sense of Beauty, living now for you in these known and visible terms of his work."

More of Wright's organic architecture, now including the artist himself as well as the building site, building design, purpose, materials, inhabitants, and Nature surrounding it.

"We have heard of the fourth dimension frequently, of late, to meet this need. Why a fourth dimension, when we so little understand the possibilities of what we already use as the three dimensions?

"If we make the first two (length and width) into one, as really they are both merely surface, and then add the third (thickness) as the second, thus getting mass, we will have an empty place as third in which to put this new sense as the missing dimension I shall describe.

"Or suppose we arrive at it another way, by simply giving spiritual interpretation to the three dimensions we already use. Say length (the first dimension) becomes continuity, width (the second dimension) becomes that breadth of which we speak when we refer to the measure of some great man's mind or a great prospect. Then thickness (the third dimension) becomes "depth" and we give to that word, 'depth,' the meaning we give to it when we speak of the 'profound.' the organic, the integral - again we have the third dimension."

Wright uses the traditional sense of 3D in his own unique way, shortening standard 2D into one entity (surface) and leaving the third spatial dimension as one of spirit, rather than of (material) substance.

"This, then, is what I mean by the third dimension. Either an interpretation of the physical third, an interpretation that signifies this quality of "at-one-ness' or integral nature in anything or everything. Or, arrive at it by naming the three dimensions as now used as actually but two, adding the third as a new concept of organic-integrity, or more properly speaking, as that quality that makes anything of the thing and never on it."

Organic Architecture *was* the third dimension, for Wright.


Essay: "Organic Architecture Looks at Modern Architecture " - May 1952


"Organic-architecture was Middle West. Out of the 'Cradle of Democracy' at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, came this new sense of architecture... Organic-architecture thus came of America - a new freedom for a mixed people living a new freedom under a democratic form of life. Susceptible of infinite variety, it changed the proportions of building throughout the world." Wright is now 85 years old, and has entered into the last phase of his design, which will culminate in public buildings like the Marin Civic Center and the Guggenheim - building that still are labeled as "modern" almost 50 years later.
"The original and elemental affirmative characteristic ... [of] Organic-architecture in three-dimensional structure, the Machine dedicated to it, now reappeared as a bare two-dimensional facade dedicated to the Machine! The streamlined novelty of the original negation became thus a fit fad for Fascism. But our provincials began to import it because the culture-mongrel of our country and our museums believes, and will continue to believe, that American 'culture' is a bastard. 'Culture comes from Europe.'" Wright condemned the warping of his organic architecture into a European style of bland, unadorned boxes. The "Bauhaus" style, known later outside of Germany as the "International School", spread to America and resulted in skyscrapers and expensive houses unadorned, and in Wright's eyes, un-organic.
"The imported cliché was not only easy to teach. 'Less is more' unless less, already little, becomes less than nothing at all and 'much ado about nothing'."  

"Organic-architecture based upon fundamental human and structural principles insisted upon integral method and always significant form true to structure throughout. Or none."

"Thus Modern-architecture is Organic architecture deprived of a soul.."  

"As this pretentious shell, empty of true organic significance, goes rapidly toward the gutter of fashion - let us observe...' there goes to the gutter the architecture of this modern era from which succeeding generations will probably perceive what was missed and being to build again on the basis of what was lacking when the gutter was reached.'

"I hope. And I believe."



Last Updated: 3/31/06 - SH

ISLS - Spring 2006 - Frank Lloyd Wright

Back to ISLS Home Page

Chabot College