Organic architecture

I’m spending part of this Fourth of July holiday building a Lego model of one of the great works of American architecture, Fallingwater. Building this is a fascinating process; it’s from a plan worked out by a professional, and he did an excellent job of conveying a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright’s key ideas in the building process. For example, one begins by building up the landscape; the point at which you begin building up the house proper is only clear in retrospect, the house grows out of the environment so seamlessly. Then you assemble a construction which is unambiguously “house;” but when you attach it to the already-laid foundation, the boundary again becomes confusing. The wall of the house could just as easily be a rock escarpment; the window, a waterfall.

It’s giving me a real appreciation for FLW’s work on this house. I need to walk around and look at some other houses and see how they handle the relationship of the structure to its environment; I suspect that a big part of the reason that so many suburban houses look, well, so suburban is that they have no clear relationship to it at all, and look rather like they got dropped on an otherwise empty lawn by aliens.

Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 15:02  Comments (6)  


  1. I would argue that FLW’s Fallingwater is actually a really terrible design based on the amount of money that has to be spent keeping the river from eroding the ground out from under it. The elevation of form over function is a bad thing.

  2. Yes, his engineering work definitely left a little to be desired. I’m all with you on the form-versus-function issue.
    I do think that his ideas about form were excellent, and are worth thinking about and integrating into future designs; but I also want the damned building to stay up.

  3. You’re right about surburbia not having much relationship to the land. This becomes obvious on visiting a suburb where the trees have had time to grow up and the gardens to grow in — it still looks suburban, but also like someplace that humans might want to live for reasons other than it being cheap.
    Other factors are that suburban buildings are so rarely in scale with the landscape, or made of materials that belong to the place. Much but not all modernist architecture has that second disease, which is why it too rarely looks like it was meant to be there.
    At least, in my experience.

  4. And no doubt the Lego version will be significantly more structurally sound.

  5. Have you read any of Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language? Much of it is about integrating design across scales – the niche fits in the room fits in the house fits in the yard fits in the neighborhood fits in the community fits in…
    I’d also recommend some of the more readable permaculture books for a slightly different take on the same issues – Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway is a really good one to start with.
    Both those focus more on functional integration than aesthetic, but (IMHO) the two concepts are closely related.

  6. No, I haven’t — thanks for the reference! It sounds fascinating.

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