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Building on a Rich Tradition : Eric Lloyd Wright, third in a family dynasty of architects, finds peace and satisfaction in his simple, subtle designs.

July 09, 1993|SUSAN VAUGHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Susan Vaughn writes frequently about architecture for Valley Life. and

Eric Lloyd Wright stands in a clearing in the Malibu mountains, describing a house he is building.

It will rise from the ground like an extension of rock. Earth-colored, it will blend with brush and stone nearby. Inside will be a continuous flow of space, an expanse of glass wall, a monumental two-story fireplace and a trickling stream of water.

The elements of nature are united in Wright's design. Grandfather Frank Lloyd Wright would approve.

Nearly a century ago, Frank Lloyd Wright was experimenting with a new style of architecture at odds with the ornate designs of his time. He deplored the fake Grecian temples and French palaces that lined the wealthy residential streets of America. He sought to create buildings that eulogized nature.

Frank Lloyd Wright developed the concept of "organic architecture"--what is built on the land should merge with it, not challenge it. He emphasized simplicity, space and harmony in his designs. His work revolutionized modern architecture.

Eric Lloyd Wright, 63, third in a dynasty of Wright architects, follows his grandfather's philosophy, but adds his unique signature to his designs. He prefers soft curves to his grandfather's sweeping linearity or his father Lloyd Wright's bold angles. Eric's color schemes are subtler, too--perhaps a reflection of his more easygoing personality.

"I was greatly influenced by my grandfather's belief in individualism and democracy," says Eric, who studied with Frank Lloyd Wright's apprentices. "He had been trying to develop an architecture for a democratic society . . . in which families had their own homes, surrounded by land. It's something important to me, too."

Two assistants, a husband-and-wife team, toil with Wright in glass-paneled trailers where he works deep in Malibu Canyon. Nearby is a Wright-made pond, stocked with bluegill, bass and catfish, that Thoreau would have treasured, and a breathtaking Pacific seascape.

Eric Lloyd Wright is less of a social animal than his grandfather, preferring the quietude of his Malibu mountain retreat to the bustling Los Angeles suburbs miles away.

Both father, Lloyd, and grandfather, Frank, suffered great frustrations when their unusual works were not built. Eric, however, is philosophical about the contretemps of architecture. He seems at peace with himself and his work.

"I got to see the difficulties of the business early on," says Wright. "I watched my father deal with client problems, contractor problems. . . . Some of his most dramatic designs were never built, and others which did get built, like the Hollywood Bowl, were changed in some way. It made me more realistic."

Wright is designing a housing development in Murietta, Calif., a conference center in West Bradford, Pa., and another family residence in Malibu. Recently, he finished redesigning a La Crescenta home, adding a skylight to its entrance way, an open fireplace, a two-story mitered corner window and a wraparound porch.

Perhaps his most famous construction is the Silver Lake home he built in 1962 for his older half-brother, Rupert Pole, and Pole's lover, writer Anais Nin, for $22,000.

The home is deceptively small--1,400 square feet. Inside it seems cavernous. Light spills through clerestory windows onto red concrete floors. Built-in furniture created by Wright is draped in bold fabric chosen by Nin.

A glass expanse of western wall reveals an earthy-green pool and a wild garden. The Silver Lake Reservoir and Sierra mountain range loom in the distance.

"Wherever you are in the house, you have a wonderful feeling of outside coming in," says Pole. "After Anais died, I thought I might not be able to stay in this house. But . . . there is still so much of her in it. I enjoy it more every year."

Eric Lloyd Wright continues to guide restoration of his grandfather's masterpieces, such as the Oak Park Unity Temple and Frank Lloyd Wright House in Chicago, and the Storer House, Hollyhock House, and Ennis House in Los Angeles, while designing structures of his own.

At a time of ecological turmoil and urban sprawl, Wright's commitment to Wrightian principles bodes well for the land upon which he builds.

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