Wednesday, May 5

Fatherland of an architectural revolution 

Hassle-free jaunts are virtually few and far between when you dwell in a windy city such as mine. But some perseverance and a dogged mind can actually take you places, pun very intended. This I say, after we braved the blustery weather thrown at us along with intermittent showers, last weekend, to go on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home & Studio, in Oak Park. And once there, we forgot all about the bleakness of the conditions, and focused instead, on marveling at that piece of organic architecture, or 'frozen music,' as Wright used to allude to it.

The 'horizontal' prairie style does have a strange propensity to make you feel one with nature…the red earth adobes, the verdant walls, low windows, and low roofing…appear cleverer and more practicable than the taller, dramatically ornate, Victorian style buildings. Not that I’m a trained architecture appreciator or critic, but it just seemed too palpable too ignore, or resist. Sent to an uncle's farm in Wisconsin to work and learn in his teens, Wright, we were told, became fascinated with nature and developed profound reverence for it. It was there that he began to ponder the theory of integrating architecture with nature. He is supposed to have told his apprentices, "Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. Whether people are fully conscious of this or not, they actually derive countenance and sustenance from the 'atmosphere' of the things they live in or with. They are rooted in them just as a plant is in the soil in which it is planted."

Now to some notable facets of the interiors --- the living room with a distinctly shallow fireplace, which centers the building down, the master bedroom with windows designed like the Japanese kimono, a noticeably huge attic in the kids’ play room, transformed into a balcony, and the natural light inlets, among other things, were effusive tell tale signs of Wright’s exceptional inventiveness. Wright believed that a building was not merely a place to be but a "way to be"; it had to reflect its surrounding and the people who would be using it. And he explained a beautiful building as, "more than scientific - they are true organisms, spiritually conceived; works of art using the best technology." The studio entrance was adroitly hidden by a mass of metal-sculpted storks guarding the ‘bible’ of architecture, as Wright apparently liked to bamboozle his visitors. But once you’ve made your way in, everything’s clear and within a direct field of vision. And it was in there that we learned, Wright not only designed buildings, but developed complete, cohesive environments: from the structure and the landscape to furniture, fixtures, fabrics, as well as ornamental accessories. As our guide pointed to the infamous hand stroked copper urn and a tall, lean, iron vase as proof of just that, he was considerate enough to mention we could buy replicas at the gift shop. There were scores of layouts, drafts and sketches secured in safes, vaults and shelves, some even pinned on the walls of his personal library. As I couldn’t decipher those lines and curves, I will safely say they were works of a genius, all right. Once out of the place, I could tell a wave of concord had descended upon the group, even as we were ushered into the gift shop. Conscientiously scanning the exhibits, I found all the crystal, metal and wooden knick-knacks too pricey for my curio collection. I had to make do with a couple of postcards, instead. Of such infinitesimal pleasures is a prudent living made. But if knowledge and travel-fanaticism are any yardsticks to go by, I'm now richer by more than a million. Besides, my dream house just got envisioned as well, prairie style, of course!

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