Frank Lloyd Wright’s Vision of Orthodoxy

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Vision of Orthodoxy

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Let me begin by drawing my witness to instances of God’s provision in the last hour, for example, the recent OCN article about Bruce Chatwin. Only the Lord truly knows what will happen to our souls at death, but from our earthly vantage point we can often see Him draw near to people before their time comes. Whether or not we are able to accept Him into our hearts is a personal revelation not too often understood. Yet looking upon history and the lives of people, who may have not seemingly been in the same walk of life, we can still see Him there.   

In the 1950s, very near the end of his life, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned for the architectural design of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church of Milwaukee Wisconsin. When Mr. Wright passed away on April 9, 1959, at the age of 91, a couple years before the ground breaking and the dedication of the church in 1961, among the things that consumed his attention were Orthodoxy and Orthodox architecture (Dr. Vrame lecture). Mr. Wright did not become Orthodox and may not have ever even thought about it, but in the Alpha and Omega of his life there is a beautiful metaphor for our relationship with the Creator.

Frank Lloyd Wright was born in June 8, 1867, in Richland Center, Wisconsin to William Carey and Anna Lloyd Wright. The family moved many times before finally settling back in Wisconsin when little Frank Lloyd was 12 years old. Frank Lloyd Wright had a deep love for the place of his youth as is exemplified in the fact that he built his home there. “The modeling of the hills, the weaving and fabric that clings to them, the look of it all in tender green or covered with snow or in full glow of summer that bursts into the glorious blaze of autumn,” he later reminisced. “I still feel myself as much a part of it as the trees and birds and bees are, and the red barns (Biography.com).”

In 1885, Frank Lloyd Wright graduated from high school, in the wake of his parents’ divorce, and enrolled in the University of Wisconsin at Madison. After a brief stint working under Joseph Silsbee as an engineering intern he knew he wanted to be an architect. In 1887 he dropped out of school to go work for Silsbee in Chicago, and a year later, he began an apprenticeship with the Chicago architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan, working directly under Louis Sullivan, the great American architect (Biography.com). From there, his career is pretty much history. Frank Lloyd Wright went on to start his own firm and become one of the world’s most famous architects. Some of his many brilliant achievements are the famous Falling Water House in Pennsylvania and the Guggenheim Museum of modern and contemporary art in New York City.  The Guggenheim’s design was highly controversial at the time but is now revered as one of New York City’s finest buildings.  Mr. Wright died six months before the Guggenheim opened its doors. The historian Robert Twombly wrote of Mr. Wright, “His surge of creativity after two decades of frustration was one of the most dramatic resuscitations in American art history, made more impressive by the fact that Wright was seventy years old in 1937 (Biography.com).” The basic design of the Annunciation Church in Wisconsin is based on the Greek cross inscribed with a circle. Mr. Wright’s circular design represented a radical departure from traditional Byzantine church architecture, yet it retained the concept of a domed space and incorporated Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision of Orthodoxy with the Greek Orthodox faith. “I would like to have a free architecture,” Wright wrote. “Architecture that belonged where you see it standing—and is a grace to the landscape instead of a disgrace(Biography.com).” The Annunciation Church was just a hundred miles or so from the place where Frank Lloyd Wright was born.

 

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Dean Franck

Dean Franck is a first year student in the Master's of Divinity Program at Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. He is also a participant of our Digital Disciples Program.