“Taşı Taş Gibi, Ahşabı Ahşap Gibi Göstermek”: Frank Lloyd Wright’ın Malzeme Teorisi

Şahin Burat, Esra
Frank Lloyd Wright's stance on the subject addressed in this essay seems unequivocal: "Architecture is in the nature of materials." Throughout his prolific career, he argued that every material has its own nature, which should be known, conformed to, and frankly expressed by the designer. The designer's task, he argued, was to develop the material into the form, proportion, and ornamentation that is inherent in the material itself, instead of imposing forms upon it. A correct use of the material that abided by its intrinsic nature would determine the image of the building, as each material suggested its own plan type, construction technique, and appearance. Why should modern architects proceed in this way? Wright felt this method would allow them to overcome the historicist and eclectic attitude that prevailed in the previous century. And he was not alone in thinking this; his premises were accepted and restated by many other pioneers of twentieth century architecture. Advanced as a central tenet of modernism, it eventually became the conventional understanding of the material qualities, and remains so today well-established and often-repeated. Given this broad acceptance, it is perhaps not surprising that the content, origins, implications, and understanding of "nature" and "design" assumed in this truism have rarely been questioned. Yet, the idea that every material has its own independent, transparent and constant nature that should be expressed through design and construction was unknown in the history of architecture before the seventeenth century. Neither Vitruvius nor Alberti, whose treatments of materials were very thorough, ever mentioned the "nature of the materials" and their "true expression." But that does not mean this notion was original or specific to twentieth century architectural thought. While presented as a ground-breaking discovery by Frank Lloyd Wright, it was, in fact, put forth and developed by several European architects from the seventeenth century onwards. This paper explores Frank Lloyd Wright's idea that design should be true to the nature of materials. The study is both historical and theoretical; it considers Wright's architectural practice, and offers an analysis of its precedents. The first part of the essay examines Wright's writings, inquiring into the changing content and meaning of his understanding of "the nature of the material." The second part searches for the sources of his theory in architectural literature, some of which he knew yet neglected to mention. The 18th century emergence and 19th century development of the idea of "truth to nature of the materials" is presented here, by examining the works of Carlo Lodoli, Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand, and Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc. It is also shown that while Wright and his predecessors seem to argue for a similar approach towards materials, because they use similar terminology and phrasing, their understanding of the "nature of the material" and ways of expressing it greatly varied. By demonstrating the similarities and the divergences in their treatments, the essay also offers an insight into the content and the meaning that Wright and the others attributed to the concept of "nature." The third part of the essay re-describes two prominent projects from Wright's oeuvre from the perspective of this inquiry. The treatment of materials in the Taliesin House and Studio and the Fallingwater House -buildings that Wright thought expressed the nature of the materials in an exemplary manner- is analyzed in the light of his material philosophy. I will show that while Wright argued for deferring to the "intrinsic" qualities of materials, he imposed his own forms and images on them. The fourth and the last part of this study draws attention to the reduction of the understanding of material qualities in these theories and buildings, understanding reduced to a fixed and straightforward kind of knowledge that greatly diminished the multifaceted and infinitely creative architectural quest for selecting and handling materials.

Citation Formats
E. Şahin Burat, ““Taşı Taş Gibi, Ahşabı Ahşap Gibi Göstermek”: Frank Lloyd Wright’ın Malzeme Teorisi,” METU JOURNAL OF THE FACULTY OF ARCHITECTURE, 2012, Accessed: 00, 2020. [Online]. Available: http://jfa.arch.metu.edu.tr/archive/0258-5316/2012/cilt29/sayi_1/321-338.pdf.