Donald Leslie Johnson
On Frank Lloyd Wright’s Concrete Adobe: Irving Gill, Rudolph Schindler and the American Southwest
(Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2013). 230 pages, drawings and black and white photographs.
The possibilities of concrete as an inexpensive and versatile building material have fascinated architects for more than a century. While reinforced concrete technology did not begin to develop properly till the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the history of the concrete block begins much earlier and continues all throughout the 20th century. The opportunities for an inexpensive but solid and decorative building material inspired many architects. Whereas Jeffrey M. Chusid in his recent book Saving Wright: The Freeman House and the Preservation of Meaning, Materials, and Modernity (Norton 2011)describes the use and construction of the textile block in one of the houses, Johnson attempts to place this one example in a larger context in terms of the historical narrative and Wright’s claims. The first two sentences of the introduction illustrate the premise the book seeks to explore: “In the 1920s Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) claimed to have invented a new system of concrete block construction and aruged (sic) its superiority. Since then people attempted to uphold the claim adding it presaged a new architecture and would satisfy the demand for cheap housing”.
As the use of the work ‘Concrete Adobe’ in the title of the book suggests, Johnson, who teaches in Australia, does not only look at the four houses Wright designed in California using his textile block system but at the larger sources of inspiration be it American Indian or the work of other earlier architects like Irving Gill or Rudolf Schindler (both mentioned in the subtitle). In addition, not surprisingly given where the writer lives, considerable attention is paid to the work and importance to Wright of Marion and Walter Griffin, both of whom worked for Wright before moving to Australia. During their work on Canberra they remained in contact with the States, which is detailed in the book.
Johnson has written extensively about Wright and the work of the Griffens. Trained as an architect, he tests the historical narrative surrounding Wright against what actually takes place in the entire design and construction process and how it ultimately shapes the building. The result is interesting.
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