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talisein west: response

talisein west
Fortune, August 1946
Wright’s Two Residences

have always been willing to go without necessities, Frank Lloyd Wright once remarked, “as long as I might enjoy the luxuries.” One difference between Wright and other people who may have expressed the same idea is that he has lived it. There was a winter toward the end of the depression, for instance, when funds were so low that his house was close to the freezing point. Providentially, a client turned up with an important commission, and a check covering a sizable retainer. Wright used the money to buy a harpsichord instead of coal. He has always considered living—in the fullest possible sense of that misused word—more important than the deferments and substitutes so urgently recommended by contemporary society. That is why Wright lives in two of the most luxurious houses in America. He built them when he had money, and he kept on building them when he was up to his ears in debt. He is still working on them...

The conventional picture of luxury in houses has been made familiar by the habitations of the milk-of-magnesia magnates and their brethren. Marble baths, gold-plated faucets, telephones in every tree stump, interiors stuffed with brocades, carloads of automatic gadgetry—and probably, if one is completely honest, a shabby little den on the second floor where the surfeited owner can sit with his shoes off. Wright’s houses present a different picture, for their luxury is internal. Their quality comes from the manner in which space is enclosed. Lao Tze, some six hundred years before Christ, remarked “Doors and windows are cut out in order to make a house; the utility of the house depends on the empty spaces.” Wright is one of the few architects in history who have comprehended fully the implications in that statement.

In these houses there is little emphasis on the so-called “necessities.” The plumbing is adequate, but only adequate. Equipment is kept to a bare minimum. Furniture is more likely to be hard than soft. Materials are rough and inexpensive, put together almost entirely by amateurs. Seen in this context, the luxuries are unexpected: a window high in a stone wall that lets through a shaft of sunlight for a few hours; a Chinese screen set up on a wall of rough stone; and above all, space...

Wright’s work (these two houses stand with the best of it) is a perfect example of what happens when a great and creative personality rejects the values of his time and sets his own standards. The results look strange at first because they do not stem from the old rules.

The important thing is very simple: they enclose space as if it were precious, not for the sake of the space itself, but for the life that goes on within it. Architecture—as opposed to building for mere shelter—has no greater justification.

© 1946 Time Inc. All rights reserved.

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