Monday, September 3, 2012


The era of architect bashing has not yet past. This is a piece written in 2005 on an article that appeared in a weekend news magazine on Frank Lloyd Wright. The response was published partly modified. Architects do not get much press coverage in Australia, and neither do their buildings. This piece highlights the latent disregard that is held for architects and their work. The silence does not mean acceptance. Sadly it conceals a lack of any real tolerance and understanding  that is allowed to quietly ferment. The media seems only happy to cover things architectural when 'the world's tallest' is involved, when 'the most outrageous' is being proposed, or when buidlings and budgets fail. Not much has changed in seven years! The astonishing issue is that the Google search for FLW images reveals 19 million results:
About 19,000,000 results (0.25 seconds
 Newsworthy? No, simply amazing.

Hugh Pearman’s Architect of Broken Dreams (The Weekend Australian Magazine 2-3 July 2005) is a hybrid of demeaning innuendo. While praising Wright’s genius and identifying the high cost of refurbishing even very ordinary old buildings, it contends, as if by way of an overruling proof, that Wright’s life and lifestyle was as irresponsible as his decrepit buildings.
Wright did argue for honesty and clarity in his work, noting that, in his life likewise he chose honest arrogance rather than dishonest humility. The article could learn from this. Underlying this piece is the great Australian ‘bash-the-architect’ (read arrogant fool) attitude – ‘Utzon-style’ – where architects are seen as expensive, egocentric, wasteful dreamers. Such poor conglomerate overviews as this brazenly confirm within a patchwork of apparent facts, the ignorance of prejudice.

There are many stories about Wright that are used to belittle his greatness. Wright’s response to a client complaining that the roof was leaking over the antique dining room table – to ‘shift the table’ – is often given as testimony to his rude conceit. Really it is a simple, common-sense piece of practical advice to protect the table from possible damage. It is just too easy for a ‘point of view’ to create its own ‘proof’ – just as that in this article has, very snidely indeed.
Note how Wright’s 1956 skyscraper looks like today’s (not vice versa as this would highlight his genius); and the 1924 Ennis-Brown house is scoffed at because, after over eighty years, it has withstood earthquake and mudslides and is falling apart. I note that the great earthquake-engineering success of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo does not get a mention.

The article closes by offering some slight praise with a sting: Wright has pre-empted most of the ‘smart’ ideas architects of today might dream up – suggesting equivalent ‘catastrophic’ results? This is just another way of saying that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ – like expensive refurbishments for aging buildings and populist articles that promote the narrow-minded intolerance that Wright fought against most of his life.

Spence Jamieson

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