Art: Native Genius

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In the still predawn hours, the old man sleeping in a room in St. Joseph's Hospital, Phoenix, Ariz, was heard to sigh deeply, and then he was dead. So last week departed Frank Lloyd Wright, 89, three days after a successful operation to remove an intestinal block. With his passing, the U.S. lost its greatest architect—a lone, yeasty genius who devoted his life to working out his own unique vision of what architecture could be in a democratic society. "If this were an age like the Renaissance." said Architect Eero Saarinen. "Frank Lloyd Wright would have been honored as the Michelangelo of the 20th century."

Architect Wright's great accomplishment was to demolish the concept that a building should be a box. But his genius was prodigal. Any Wright house contained dozens of ideas that lesser men seized upon and made a style. There is hardly a modern house in the U.S. that does not owe at least some of its features to him. Among Wright innovations: the split-level living room, the open plan for house interiors, the corner picture window, modern radiant floor heating, the carport (he coined the name, too).

Wright's concept of architecture was so all-encompassing that it permeated nearly every aspect of his life, from his clothes, cut to his order and design, to the chairs, napkins, bed. and even the desk blotters that he used. Hand in hand with his passion for design went a Nietzschean sense of destiny. Said he: "Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.''

Truth Against the World. Wright's jaunty assurance, charm, and dogged determination to achieve greatness were all in evidence by the time he was 19, looking for his first job as a draftsman in Chicago. His mother had destined him from the cradle to be an architect, hung his room with woodcuts of English cathedrals, hand-raised him according to the advanced Froebel kindergarten with its great emphasis on creative play with geometric blocks. Summertimes his mother's family, the Lloyd-Joneses—bearded, hymn-singing Welshmen who still boasted of their Druid motto. "Truth Against the World''—gave him a lesson in farm work that Wright later recalled as "working from tired to tired." His father, an unstable drifter who fluctuated between being a Unitarian minister and a music master, taught him the importance of music and oratory.

The man who recognized his genius was Louis Sullivan, the master skyscraper builder. Though Wright had only three years of engineering training at the University of Wisconsin, Sullivan hired him. But to fellow draftsmen the young Wisconsin countryman, with his flowing tie and long hair, was a natural butt for jokes. Wright fought them to a draw, in eluding one brawl from which he emerged with eleven knife wounds in his back.

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