LKE Ozolins Studentship

Gwyn Lloyd-Jones

A tale of six cities

RIBA LKE Ozolins Studentship 2004

 
Frank Lloyd Wright's reputation as a pioneer of modern architecture is widely recognised throughout the world. The dissertation attempts to unravel Wright's cultural impact outside America by undertaking six journeys to different cities that Wright himself visited between 1905 and 1957. Within each city a different aspect of Wright's work will be unravelled and investigated against their developing urban conditions, considering their emerging architecture, history, politics, economics and the digital revolution. Many architects and planners within these cities studied published drawings and renderings, whist others attempted to unravel his all-embracing "organic architecture" mantra. Recreating his travels and searching for evidence of Wright's work will generate a new urban history and a current reappraisal of his urban work. The six cities to be visited in a chronological order that replicates Wright's own travels, are: Berlin, Tokyo, Moscow, London, Venice, and Baghdad.
 
It was in 1910 that Wright experienced the trauma of alienation when he eloped with the wife of former client to Berlin, Germany to publish a folio of his work. He travelled anonymously in Europe and visited France, Austria, Italy and England. A number of myths are exploded including the Berlin lecture and exhibition that never happened and the influence of the Wasmuth folios on the development of modernism. The itinerary will be extended to include the Rotterdam Biennale to study the role of Dutch architects in the dissemination of Wrights work in Europe and to review current urban theories. When Wright returned to America he was unable to secure an income from practising architecture and sought the commission for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. He visited Japan on seven occasions between 1905 and 1922 to purchase wood block prints, and to design and supervise construction of the hotel. The dissertation will explore the role of global architectural consumption and signature architecture with Wright as an early exponent of this tendency.
 
Wright was invited to Moscow as part of the International Congress of Soviet Architects in 1937. He was initially regarded as an innovative modernist pioneer and admired for his early work. His anti-establishment rhetoric found a willing audience in Russia and he played a dual role throughout his career as part of an American cultural tide, although he was never part of the American establishment. There were rumours that Wright may have been asked to undertake a number of schemes in Russia, which will be investigated as well as the role of Wright's contemporaries such as Albert Kahn in assisting Russia's rapid industrialisation. Wright visited London on a number of occasions, culminating in the RIBA lectures in 1939. The lectures were noted for the hostility shown towards Wright, his designs were criticised for supporting an affluent elite and the social relevance of his ideas was questioned. Britain and America shared many urban planning ideals and Wright's Broadacre scheme had many parallels in Britain post-war town developments.
 
When Italy sought to reconstruct after the Second World War, it was Wright that proved to be an inspiration. Wright's rediscovery was aided by the returning exiles such as Bruno Zevi, who depicted Wright as a counter balance to the international style modernist dogma. Wright became the instigator of regional movements that sought to break away from the first global architecture movement. It was in Florence in 1951 that the first great retrospective was premiered as "sixty years of living architecture". Again, Wright was used as a political instrument of Americanism and to promote the virtues of the democratic western alliance against the communists that were in control of the reconstruction effort. Towards the end of Wright's career came an opportunity to design again beyond America: in 1957 he was invited to design an opera house in Baghdad for the ruling monarch. He visited the city and had an audience with the King where he negotiated an enlarged brief to include a cultural quarter located on an island on the Euphrates River. The scheme integrated the needs of an ancient civilisation, an emerging state and forged a new Disney-esque themed identity that included a new opera house, art gallery and "garden of Edena". The programme that Wright developed for the scheme shows that he was able to comprehend the crisis of city identity and image well before the onset of post-modernism. With a new American-led reconstruction effort sanctioned for Iraq, Wright's work will yield a rich source of investigation and intrigue.
 
Whilst the field of research covering Wright's influence on cities beyond America is broad, the study will seek to focus in on specific themes and issues to illustrate and support the wider investigation. By focusing on six key cities a preliminary armature is formed to define the study. Wright visited a number of other cities (Paris, Vienna, Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro) and some did absorb his ideas, but the six cities outlined above cover the essential lessons learnt. Wright castigated cities as "degenerate settlements" yet he found inspiration to design in Tokyo, Venice and Baghdad. Certain buildings that influenced Wright on his first journey will be compared to his own works, and likewise European works will be directly compared to Wright's original works. A dialogue will be established between Wright's American buildings and those outside the States. His Broadacre model of a dispersed urban living still has currency and will be juxtaposed against actual urban planning and the built environment. The wider political, economic and cultural context to Wright's work, journeys, exhibitions and publishing will be covered in the dissertation.
 
The dissertation methodology is based on research, journeys, recordings, mappings, and narratives. By researching the numerous Frank Lloyd Wright published sources and the archive in Scottsdale America, an academic foundation to the dissertation will be established. The published works of his contemporaries will be a particularly important source as Wright was the master of rewriting his own history. Building upon this research, other sources will be explored such as newspapers and magazines and journals that will assist in establishing Wright's reputation beyond architecture. By recreating the journeys undertaken by Wright, a new narrative is overlaid and provides a point of reinterpreting and questioning Wright's present status and influence. His personal diaries, promotion and self-promotion, lectures, exhibitions and architectural journals, published images, and books are all sources for investigation. Wright himself and his methods of promotion and myth-making shall be used as companions thus establishing a constant reference and guide to the journeys. Visiting sites that were of significance to Wright and reconstructing them as a contemporary tourist provide additional narratives.
 
The dissertation seeks to break down the mass of Wright's work and the city into manageable elements that will yield diverse and abstract observations of urban life. By adapting Georges Perec Latin Bi-square analysis for a city a matrix is generated of six cities, with six general themes of investigation and six different methods of recording and measuring. The study will address the different scale of urban habitation considering planning, architecture and personalised space. A number of measures and media will be undertaken and include: photography, video, sketching and interviews with current urban practitioners. Selecting and blending these sources may generate an up-to-date record of the urban fabric and Wright's influence.
 
The study will explore different means of experiencing the city and new methods of writing and representing architecture. The thoeries of Benjamin, Lebreve, Tafuri, Zevi and the Situationist will be considered as well as the writings of Perec and Calvino. A narrative approach will be developed to record the study based on my "12 Part Narrative" which won the inaugural dissertation RIBA President's Medal in 2001. Overlapping themes shall be investigated, and compared against contemporary architectural theories and practices, thus providing a comprehensive reappraisal of Wright's work outside America.
 
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