Thursday, September 15, 2016

“The joy of growing up in a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright”



Frank Lloyd Wright’s modest Haynes House, in which Thomas French grew up
{Pic by Tony Valainis, ‘
Indianapolis Monthly]

We build our houses, observed Winston Churchill, and then our houses mould us. Writer Thomas French reflects on the joy of a childhood moulded by a genius, by the sheer joy of growing up in a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Growing up in a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Indiana meant living inside the famed architect’s imagination—an influence that stays with me still….

Architect Claude Megson writes that a house isn’t just a garage to park yourself but “a whole universe for ourselves to inhabit,”a place reflecting our whole universe of needs and emotions. The universe of our own soul – and, for the family’s youngest, playing a large part in its creation. French’s description of the sensory excitement and natural joy transmitted by the house reflects Megson’s vision:

Wright’s design already was shaping me in ways I did not yet recognise. Small as it was, the house had enough room for my many moods, all the versions of myself that were emerging. Sometimes I could not bear the sight of my parents—not because they’d done anything wrong, but because I was 13. Other times I would happily join my mother in the kitchen, helping her bake oatmeal cookies, both of us bathed in sunshine from the skylight above. Before we moved to that house, I had never heard of anyone putting a window in a roof. Now I couldn’t imagine living without one.
    On stormy summer nights, [my sister] Brooke and I would turn off the lights in the living room and watch the dark clouds explode with lightning strikes that illuminated the yard and the woods and our faces. Together, we counted out the seconds until the ensuing thunder shook the room’s giant windows.
HaynesHouse    The house was tactile and primal, a wonderland of the senses and a trove of Jungian archetypes. In our bedrooms we hibernated like bears, dreaming on and on. When we woke, we shuffled through the long, low tunnel of the hallway until we were freed into the open space of the living room, endlessly repeating the sequence of compression and release. All of it seeped inside me slowly, almost without my noticing. Walking from room to room, I absentmindedly ran my fingertips along the red-brick walls, tracing the stubble of gray mortar. The air carried a faint scent of cypress that was strongest in the library. The clerestory windows across the top of the walls in the hallway were carved into vaguely geometric shapes. I got it into my head that these shapes formed a code and that the master was speaking from beyond the grave, waiting for someone to decipher his message. I never cracked the puzzle, but the windows gave the entire house a sense of mystery that I found satisfying.
    The house and its creator were teaching me to hold still long enough to see patterns all around me—in the movement of sunlight across the kitchen, in the shadows of the trees at the edge of the woods, in the way our family broke into a symphony of cries and complaints in the mornings before we left for school and work, which crescendoed again in the evenings as we got ready for bed. Wright had sketched it out for us, this fabric of connection and meaning, and now I was paying attention…

Frank Lloyd Wright helped me navigate the rapids. When he designed our house, he had been an old man who knew a great deal about life and death, creativity and loss. He was an artist, fully formed and fully aware, on the edge of his final journey, and he had bestowed upon us his maturity, his wisdom, his abiding calm and limitless passion. The balance of light and dark he created inside that house was durable enough to contain the storms inside me, our family’s ups and the downs, all the multitudes within us. When I struggled, the walls cloaked me in quiet. When I felt strong, I sat in the living room and gazed out those big windows toward the horizon, imagining the blank pages of my life waiting to be written.

What a beautiful tribute to the house that shaped him, “a testament to one artist’s beguiling vision of a country where all of us, not just the rich, can lead lives of beauty and grace and possibility.”


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Architectural Mini-Tutorial: Using tricks to deliver meaning


The human eye can be 'tricked' * -- something of which every decent artist and architect is aware.

Take this tricked-up meme currently doing the rounds,

an image of intersecting grey lines against a white background, with 12 black dots on the nodes where the grey lines meet.
    All 12 dots are really on the image, but most people are unable to see them all at the same time, making the dots seem like they appear and disappear with every blink. This occurs because the eye’s stimulated light receptors can sometimes influence the ones next to them, creating illusions.
    In this particular image, tweeted by game developer Will Kerslake on Sunday, the brain can see some black dots but guesses when it fills in the peripheral vision. Because mostly grey lines appear in the periphery, the black dots don’t appear…
    How many dots can you see at once?


So because we perceive in a certain way, artists and architects use this in their work.

Based on understanding how we perceive colour and colour contrasts, artists use it to create real spatial depth in paintings.

Based on understanding how we perceive light (strong contrast between light and shadow needed to see real contrast), artists use it to create life and excitement on a canvas, and architects to create it in spaces.

Based on understanding howwe perceive colour in light and shade, architects use it to select darker colours on a window wall to relieve glom inside and better connect us with nature outside.

Based on understanding how we perceive continuity and spatial enclosure, architects use it to 'break the box' and expand the sense of space.

Based on understanding how we perceive the visual field, architects use it to order space and to ‘capture a view alive.’

Yes, these are all visual tricks. But they work because they respond to the ways we perceive, and because they work they can and are used to create real meaning.

* This does not mean the eye is unreliable - it simply means that (in the case of refraction, for example) it often shows us more context than we know, so while our perception is automatic what what we perceive sometimes needs interpretation.

[Hat tip Kaila Geary Halling.]