Works Of Architecture As Outstanding Feats
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While travelling to a different country, people will spend significant amounts of time learning about, and having the opportunity to see, stunning feats of architecture in person. The Eiffel tower in Paris. The Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Colosseum in Rome. Taj Mahal in India. These buildings have become iconic pieces of art that embody the culture of the countries they reside in. The most important pieces of architecture, however, are not the world famous ones, but instead the places where billions of people spend the majority of their time – in their home. As society evolved and became more advanced, so did the planning, construction and expectations for what a home should look like. Two houses in particular that have stood out to the public, and become common visiting spaces for people worldwide, are Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Glass House by Philip Johnson. Although both pieces of work were built in the same time period, they represent two very different styles and serve separate purposes.
Fallingwater, with its emphasis on becoming one with nature in a private setting, has greater contemporary value within current modern architectural styles, which the Glass House is lacking as a result of its forced and artificial relationship with nature and its disregard of the value put on privacy. It important to note that “contemporary value”, in this context, is referring to the prevalence of modern homes that supports a similar lifestyle for its residents as Fallingwater. Before one can fully understand a piece of architecture, it is important to first gain knowledge of the architects who designed them. You will begin to see glimpses of their upbringing and their personality within the art, which can be an important tool to gaining a deeper understanding of the materials used and choices made within the composition. Frank Lloyd Wright was born and raised in Wisconsin.
His most famous and successful structures, including Fallingwater, came after his tumultuous personal life had come to a close. In 1909, he moved to Germany and left his wife of 20 years and children behind to start a new life with a new woman named Mamah Borthwick Cheney. They were only together for four years, however, before she was killed in a house fire. He then married Mirian Noel, which soon ended in divorce (Frank”). Throughout these brutal years, he was working on a multitude of architectural projects, none with great success. He took a long break from architecture during the Great Depression in the 1930’s, and became a teacher and a writer. Soon after, at 70 years of age, he retired altogether. The construction of his most famous buildings, include Fallingwater, occurred during the time period when he was supposed to be retired.
Philip Johnson had a tough life as well, mostly due to the fact that he was gay in a time where homosexuality was not accepted (Moore). He started his career not as an architect, but instead as a curator. He was the director of multiple exhibits in museums that showcased the newest architectural styles. His personal beliefs raised eyebrows, as he was known as a fascist and supporter of the Nazi regime (Moore). Wright and Philip were very different and therefore never close friends, but they were in the peaks of their careers around the same time and knew of each other. Johnson thought of Wright as being too elderly to build, and Wright called Philip a “propagandist” (Moore). It was well known that Wright built Fallingwater as an attempt to create something that would surpass the significance of the Glass House, which reveals the competitive spirit between the two (Moore).
The first impression, and most important, is what can be seen from the outside looking in with a piece of art. Fallingwater, built by Wright in 1964, is nestled in the middle of a Pennsylvania forest (Fallingwater). The house is surrounded by evergreen trees in a 360 degree motion that creates a private area for the house to reside in. The trees create the illusion that the house is in the middle of nowhere, secluded from society completely. The house is made up of mostly natural materials to reflect its location in the forest, and is built out of wood, brick, and rocks. Wright had a goal of integrating the house seamlessly into the surrounding landscape and to make it one with nature. Instead of disturbing the natural habitat, the house become a part of it, which was a phenomenon Wright pioneered called “organic architecture” (Fallingwater). He used the natural rocks to build the base of the house, so that it was unclear where nature ended and the house began. The house is perched precariously on top of a waterfall, which could be assumed from the name. Fallingwater has three separate stories. Glass windows line the top two stories of the house, allowing a glimpse inside at the warm yellow light.
Each story has a porch that protrudes out of the house in a stacked, geometric technique. As a result of these geometric shaped porches, there isn’t much symmetry to be found. Although it can’t be seen from the picture, it is easy to imagine the constant white noise that is created from the waterfall as it hits the ground below. No matter what room in the house you are in, or the time of day, the waterfall will be a constant companion and comfort. When you look at the Glass House, the first impression is that you are invading someone’s privacy. The house, built in 1949 in Connecticut, is a perfect, symmetrical, geometrical rectangular prism. There are four walls, and each one is made out of pure glass, allowing easy access to peer inside. The house is surrounded by a pristine manicured lawn and large towering trees. There is a small path carved out of the grass that leads you to the front door of the house. Each wall of the house has its own door that leads you out to the surrounding nature. There are no separate rooms within. Instead, the kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedrooms all flow together as a singular space.
Multiple beams made out of steel line the walls to provide the support missing from the lack of interior walls and rooms. These beams have a neutral black gray color that seamlessly blends the glass pieces together and creates a simple geometric pattern of lines on each wall. There is a brick cylinder offcentered in the house that protrudes through the ceiling and houses the bathroom. The major architectural difference between the two houses is the amount of privacy. Privacy, in the context of these two houses, can be defined as the ability to separate yourself from other people completely, whether they are inside or outside your house. Not only is Fallingwater located in a secluded area surrounded by trees, but the house itself has separate rooms inside that each serve their own purpose. Privacy is offered both through the experience of living in the house and also while spending time outside on the porch. The Glass House, on the other hand, represents the exact opposite of privacy. The nature of the glass walls allows and even encourages prying eyes to peer in whenever they may please, and the lack of walls within the house leaves no room for any alone time.
The unique idea of having no walls represents an open style floor plan. Although it may seem as if the open floor plan layout was popular only during colonial times, it began to regain popularity during the 1950’s, which is when this house was built. The open floor plan began to be seen as a modern way of living, and a way for families to become closer and coexist as a singular unit (Wagner). There are pros and cons to each style of house. With seperate rooms in a house, it allows for certain members of the family to shut themselves in their room or office all day, which fosters a division between family members. Having no rooms, however, could also lead to issues if no one in the family is offered time to be by themselves. That being said, the layout of the Fallingwater house is the most common style, and is desired by the majority of modern home buyers. Even though less and less of our lives are private with the increasing popularity of sharing everything on the internet, the demand for this style of home today demonstrates the ever increasing value of privacy.
The way in which the architect decided to incorporate nature varies greatly between the two designs. As mentioned, Frank Lloyd Wright began the movement known as “organic architecture” (Fallingwater). This movement promoted the development of an intimate, harmonious relationship between the house and the surrounding nature. All life forms were equal, one not superior to the other. The design of Fallingwater creates the illusion that the house grew out of the ground naturally and belonged in the forest. The Glass House, on the other hand, disrupts the natural landscape and the glass looks out of place where it stands. Johnson’s goal was to provide the residents with the opportunity to appreciate the surrounding nature every moment of the day through the glass windows. This relationship with nature was created in an artificial manner and insinuates that nature’s main purpose is to provide entertainment and pleasure to man. It places the forms of life on a hierarchy, which is exactly what Wright was aiming to avoid through the construction of Fallingwater. The Glass House creates a barrier between people and nature whereas Fallingwater unifies them.
If 100 people were given the choice of living in Fallingwater or The Glass House, it can be predicted that the majority of them would choose the former based off the trends that have been studied over the years. It has been established throughout history that families enjoy a private space to be able to return home to after a long day of work. There is value in having separate rooms where you can cook, sleep, play, and work. At first, the idea of having separate rooms was the result of gender roles, with women working in the kitchen and men spending time in the garage. Over time, the restrictive gender roles have dissipated but the preference for seperate rooms has remained. Fallingwater provides these separate, private rooms and the sense that the surrounding nature is keeping you safe from the dangers of the outside world. Johnson’s design of the Glass House is lacking these qualities. He chose glass as the main building material in an attempt to create the connection with nature, but sacrificed the opportunity for privacy in the process. It is important to note that not everyone would consider Fallingwater to be a more valuable house, as different people have varying needs. It ends up coming down to the question of what you value the most.