lundi 23 septembre 2013

Frank Lloyd Wright: A Life (2004) by Ada Louise Huxtable

Ada Louise Huxtable was an architecture and media critic, Pulitzer Prize winner and preservationist who sometimes wrote books with odd, endearing titles like "Goodbye History, Hello Hamburger: An Anthology of Architectural Delights and Disasters" (1986). Her book, "Frank Lloyd Wright: A Life" was first published in 2004 when she was 83 and it is pitch perfect, a joy to read.

Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1935

In this book, Ada Louise Huxtable combines the skill and knowledge that architectural historians and biographers require to do their job properly, with the sensitivity and humour of a good storyteller.

It's a mix that in my case allowed me to understand on the one hand Frank Lloyd Wright the school of thought, the architectural phenomenon and the professional iconoclast, and on the other hand Frank Lloyd Wright the deeply flawed, reckless, sometimes kind, sometimes cruel human being.

Try looking at a photo of Falling Water or the Johnson's Building and describing it to someone who has never seen either before. Good luck! In this book, Ada Louise Huxtable does it often and beautifully each time. She can also help the reader understand and evaluate the work being examined, both as a building (whether it be a church, a house, a museum or an office tower, all of which Wright sought to re-imagine) and as an historical artifact, a sign of the times.

The first paragraph in the book sets the tone for this lovely homage to the great Wright:
 "The life starts with a lie: a changed birth date, from 1867 to 1869, the sort of small, white vanity lie usually embraced by women but common also among men... In Frank Lloyd Wright's case, it had the desired effect - it made a case for a precocious talent with an impressively youthful, early success in Chicago in the 1890s... The change did no harm to anyone, although it annoyed his sister Jane all during her lifetime, since it was her birth year that Wright usurped."
Frank Lloyd Wright may have stolen his sister's birth year but he gave Taliesin and the Guggenheim Museum to the world...a fair trade.

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