Frank Lloyd Wright was a visionary of rural American architecture. The Prairie Style he pioneered emphasized horizontal lines and a seamless blending-in with the flat landscape of the Midwest. More complicated was Wright’s relationship with the urban landscape, a topic explored in a new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
Wright began his career working for Louis Sullivan, a Chicago architect considered to be the father of the modern skyscraper, though Wright’s artistic vision developed to diverge dramatically from the skyscrapers of the Chicago School. In the early 20th century, he returned to those roots and attempted to rethink the skyscraper. He also produced plans for his ideal model for a city, a spread of one-acre, single-family homes with an emphasis on nature and agriculture.
Included in the archive on display are Wright’s skyscraper dreams, many of which were never realized. For instance, there’s the mile-high tower he envisioned for Chicago, a design that today wouldn’t look out of place in Dubai. For St. Mark’s Church-In-The-Bowery in New York City, he imagined dwarfing the building with towering apartments that would be constructed like a tree, with a “taproot” design anchored by a steel core to support the rest of the building.
These very vertical projects would condense cities to make room for the type of horizontal development he believed was the ideal: what he called the Broadacre City. In it, the city grid would be composed not of blocks, but of farmed acres. Rather than living in industrial urban centers, people would live in nature, with small-scale manufacturing and farming nearby. It’s a project Wright championed throughout his life. Like modern suburbia, it would be a community supported by the personal automobile, not public transportation (though it trades farmland for the big-box shopping centers that define suburbia today).
Through these designs, which range from extremely horizontal to extremely vertical, MoMA gives us a look into the disparate plans of a master builder who wanted to remake America according to his architectural vision.