Frank Lloyd Wright’s long and eventful life spanned a period of tremendous growth and change. He was born into a rural America just two years after the Civil War and died only a decade before the first moon landing. Wright himself made a significant and enduring contribution to that changing America, with iconic creations such as Fallingwater, the Robie House, the Guggenheim Museum, and Unity Temple—buildings that manifested the spirit and the style of innovative modern architecture—each of which have been nominated for World Heritage Site status.
The public Wright could be brash, overbearing, and egotistical, a genius who could design a masterpiece but also deliver a leaky roof and a skyrocketing budget. The private Wright could be open, almost-shy, and generous. Bill Keene, a popular Smithsonian study tour lecturer in architecture and urban studies, examines both sides of the man whose life encompassed acclaim and triumph as well as scandal and tragedy.
In a richly illustrated seminar, Keene discusses Wright’s work, design principles and projects, and his view of architecture as an essential element of American democracy. Joining him is Tom Wright, who owns the Robert Llewellyn Wright house in Bethesda, one of two designed by Wright for his children and the only one still occupied by family. Wright discusses the joys and challenges of living in and maintaining this Wright property and his work to preserve this example of his grandfather’s legacy.
9:30 to 10:45 a.m. Deconstructing Wright
Wright’s family background and early years; interplay between his personal life and his work through scandals and tragedy; relationship to clients, critics, and the media; complexities and misconceptions of his personality; overview of Wright’s styles from the earliest houses through masterworks.
11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. An Innovator of Style and Design
Wright’s rejection of the neo-classical Beaux Arts style and his emphasis on the use of natural materials, horizontality, cantilevers, low-pitched roofs, indirect lighting, and built-in furniture; the evolution of his use of abstract natural forms and geometric patterns as reflected in such works as the Hanna House, Beth Sholom Synagogue, and the Guggenheim Museum.
12:15 to 1:30 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1:30 to 2:45 p.m. Expanding Housing Choices in the Age of the Machine
Wright’s attempts to develop quality housing for those of modest means: the 1901 House on the Prairie, namesake of the Prairie Style; the $5,000 Fireproof House of 1905; Mayan-inspired textile-block houses of the 1920s; prefabs and early Usonian houses; houses of the post-World War II era, such as Kentuck Knob; his rejection and later acceptance of machine-made products in his projects.
3 to 4:15 p.m. Preserving the Legacy
Threats to Wright’s legacy from climate and natural disasters; efforts on a range of scales to protect, conserve, and restore Wright’s buildings; Tom Wright on what it means to live in, care for, and anticipate the needs of an aging work of architectural art.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1 credit
In 2013, a Usonian-style house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright opened its doors as a visitor’s center and gallery at Florida Southern College—built 74 years after it was designed. The new structure joined 12 others on the campus created by the architect.