Frank Lloyd Wright and the disappearing city

During my university years as an architectural student, no American architect was more admired more than Frank Lloyd Wright.

We learned all about Wright's classic structures: Fallingwater, Taliesin West, the Johnson Wax Building, the Bartlesville Tower, the Guggenheim Museum. What we didn't learn about was FLW's dismissive opinion of the old urban centers in general, and his admiration for new low-density development-sprawl-. We were being taught to despise sprawl and say so in the written portions of our exams.

Not until many years later I read FLW's 1932 book "The Disappearing City" and the illustrative model of his proposal for a new Broadacre City-decentralized commercial development, no recognizable urban core, all house lots an acre or more in size, superhighways, greenbelts, and so on; FLW built and displayed many of his futuristic ideas during the Depression years. In retrospect, it seems, ideological bias on campus isn't new.

In 1945, FLW revised and republished his 1932 book as "When Democracy Builds"; the content remained the same while the now-offensive anti-urban title ("The Disappearing City") was replaced with something suitably meaningless.

A Wikipedia search finds that FLW's book was published again in 1958 with a more pro-urban title as "The Living City"; it was reprinted again in 1970 and reviewed again in 1997 by Penn professor David deLong (who was careful to follow the new rules of academic political correctness and find the idiosyncratic architect "something of an embarrassment"). He repeated the claims of a 1930s art-historian who deemed Wright's proposals "consistent with physical and spiritual decay"; he also repeated other claims that FLW's designs were "socialistic", and framed his critique to describe Wright as creating "city-scaled images" after earlier describing the minimum-one-acre-house-lot-with-garden design basis for Broadacre City as "radical".

Not much has changed since my own school days: the academy has a problem with Wright; but he is too famous to criticize overtly, too pro-low-density/pro-sprawl to be socially acceptable to the gentry-left.

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