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Sam Hall Kaplan

Famed Architect Had Wright Stuff

October 25, 1987|Sam Hall Kaplan

Twenty-eight years after his death, Frank Lloyd Wright is still the greatest, most recognizable, name in American architecture.

In a career that spanned 70 years, including some very productive ones in Los Angeles, the flamboyant Wright was almost constantly in the public eye promoting and producing new design concepts.

So bright was his star, so strong his personality and public image, that Wright left much of the profession in the shadows, including the architecture careers of his own talented sons, John and Frank Jr.

To establish his independence as an architect based in Los Angeles, Frank Jr. altered his name to simply Lloyd Wright. John in his California practice was less identified with his father, a situation helped by his invention of the Lincoln Logs building set for children.

And though Lloyd Wright designed some singular structures here, including the Wayfarers Chapel in Palos Verdes and the Samuels-Navarro House in Hollywood, he remained in the shadow of his father's reputation, according to his son, Eric Lloyd Wright, an architect himself.

"There is no question about it that grandfather was a force, and though an inspiration to father, dominated his practice long after he died in 1959 and until father died in 1978," commented Wright recently while discussing his heritage and his own career as a third generation architect.

Wright made his remarks sitting comfortably in the shade of a tree on an expanse of land he owns above Malibu. On the land is a mobile home which serves as his architecture office, and nearby the foundations of a distinctive home and studio he has designed for him and his family and practice, and which he is handcrafting with the help of his sons and friends .

Having worked and studied under his grandfather for eight years and then his father for 22 years, the 57-year-old Wright said that it took him some time to come to terms with his heritage. "I feel now nearly 10 years on my own, keeping my practice small and in control, and more and more confident in my creativity, I can talk about it with some objectivity," declared Wright.

Wright said in some ways his family heritage has made it more difficult for him as the chief designer in his three-person office. He explained that some potential clients expect him to produce drawings and designs like his grandfather. "Among the things I learned from him, and my father, was not to be an imitator," he said.

However, Wright said he does embrace his grandfather's concept of organic architecture, which he explained was an architecture that grows out of the site, the needs of the client, the nature of the materials, and a hope that it improves the surrounding area, and, generally, society.

"I guess you could say I'm an idealist. But I think architects should be idealists, for what they create affects so many more persons than just themselves, and in all probability will be around for a good many years," added Wright.

"Grandfather did not try to create unique buildings just to be different, but rather to solve the problems presented by the sites and the users," said Wright. "Today it seems a lot of architects just want to be different."

(Last week, the Los Angeles Conservancy sponsored a tour of his grandfather's famed Storer House, above Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, a home which the younger Wright has restored. For the second year, the tour was a sell-out.)

Wright scoffed at the current crop of designs generally described as Postmodern, which he felt were imposed on sites rather than having grown out of them. "Not only don't they seem to respect the sites and users, they also don't seem to understand the nature of building materials, and they abuse them."

Because of what Wright termed the pandering and politics of the architecture profession, he said he does not enter competitions, vie for awards or belong to the American Institute of Architects. "I guess being a renegade is a family tradition," he explained, adding that he felt, as did his grandfather and father, that such activities are not really motivated by the creative and social aspects of architecture, but simply self promotion.

"It is a tough business, and when growing up I was not drawn to it," said Wright. "At mealtime all I always heard was about the problems of architecture, the battles grandfather and father were having with contractors and clients. It also was their lives, and came before their families, and I guess I resented that also. What I wanted to be was a farmer."

When Wright was 15 years old he went to work during the summer in his grandfather's studio at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wis., and fell in love with the design process. "The talk in the drafting room about buildings, the passion with which grandfather reviewed plans, the models--everything--was just so exciting."

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