Thursday, August 4, 2011

Life Lessons from Frank Lloyd Wright

While I was in Chicago this past week,I had the opportunity to visit and take an architectual tour of Frank lloyd Wright's home in Spring Valley,Wisconsin, which he called Taliesin.The home is on a protected space of 600 acres of low,rolling hills overlooking a beautiful river.The word Taliesin comes from his Welsh family background,and it means brow of the hill,descibing how the home creates a brow on the edge of the hills.This place is also still the home base for the Frank Lloyd Wright Fellowship,where advanced architecture students still compete to come and live here to learn about his style of architecture.

Wright is the best known American architect of the 20th century,and founded the idea of organic architecture,involving the inclusion of nature,light,and natural elements in his homes and buildings in an innovative way that had never been done before. Wright disdained the "boxes" that most architects constructed for people to live and work in.

Wright was a self-made man,incredibly visionary and talented.He didn't finish college,and often lied about his education,training,and his age,making himself two years younger as he got older.His commission of Fallingwater,an exquisite home built interlaced and sort of spilling down a waterfall in Bear Run,Pennsylvania,had engineering issues,but was selected years after Wright's death in 1959 as the most important American building of the twentieth century by a society of American architects.

Wright changed the way people think about living and work space,realizing that people have a deep need to bring in light,art, and nature into their everyday lives.He was years ahead on understanding how disconnection from nature becomes a problem in modern life.Even now,in 2011,mental health experts are considering creating a new mental health diagnosis in urban life for a future version of our diagnostic manual,the DSM-IV,tenatively called Nature Deficit Disorder.

While brilliant in some areas,Wright had some flat sides.His personal life was a mess.In Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Ada Huxtable's biography,"Frank Lloyd Wright:A Life",she explains how compicated it was. Wright fathered 8 children,but said he had NO fathering instinct,and physically and emotionally abandoned at least 7 of them.This was strickingly similar to Wright's father departing after his parent's divorce and having no contact with him after leaving.

Wright was raised by his emotionally unstable mother and her family.He never attended his father's funeral,but is known to have visited his grave a number of times alone over the years.In his own writings,Wright described the architect swallowing his father role. Life lesson:horrible plan,and very damaging to the chidren all their lives to have him physically and emotionally absent.Divorced fathers are still very much needed in their children's lives.No other man ever takes your unique place in your children's lives.Judith Wallerstein,Ph.D.,and her researchers for the center for the Family in Transition in Mill Valley,California have done 50 year longitudinal studies following the children of divorced families,and abandonment by father after divorce is about the WORST possible outcome of divorce.

Wright's relationship with his mother was peculiar as well.She doted an him and enabled his poor choices while ignoring or even being abusive of his sisters and step-siblings.He didn't bother to attend her funeral either,but she gave him the land for Taliesin,where he had grown up.Her large portrait is nearby his desk,over the fireplace in the office he worked from at Taliesin.They seemed to have an odd, love-hate dynamic between them.

Wright married 3 times,and left his first wife in tremendous scandal reported in Chicago newspapers in 1911.He left his first wife and children in financially dire circumstances to have a long-term love affair with trhe also married wife of one of his clients.She left her husband and small children to run away with Wright to Europe.Wright's mother forgave all his blind spots,and helped finance the building of Taliesin for Wright and his lover to live in,outside the public view of living in Chicago.Wright begrudgingly let his mother live with him both in Chicago,and later in Taliesin,since he had huge financial problems,creditors calling,and bankruptcy concerns,and she contributed land and resources.Life lessons:special relationships where you remain financially dependent on a parent are not healthy,and it is important for parents NOT to feed a child's narcissism or sense of entitlement.

Frank Lloyd Wright was an incredibly inspired and talented architect,and changed architecture with his ability to literally look outside the box.In his personal life,Wright's oversized ego and concern for image made him unwise in his personal relationships,and irresponsibe with his finances.He was a terrible father and husband,and used young architects to his own advantage.Frank Lloyd Wright was a fascinating study of a man who was enviable in his talent,vision,and energy to reinvent himself,but with incredible deficits in relationships,and gaps in his practical skills,honesty,and ability to spiritually mature across his lifetime to mentor others.It is intriguing to me that someone who could be so in touch with nature and the essential needs of the human spirit for beauty could have flat sides in the critical areas of parenting,life balance,being financially grounded,and living with integrity and honesty in close relationships.

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