Wright in Hollywood, Visions of a New Architecture is the first book to examine a pivotal aspect of Frank Lloyd Wright's career: the so-called textile block system, which he pursued with a sense of mission between 1922 and 1932. Wright began the experiment in southern California, where four houses were built, but he soon demonstrated that the system was capable of a more universal application. Robert L. Sweeney explores the system's ramifications in each of approximately thirty projects envisioned by Wright, describing the formal and technological evolution that occurred(Alofsin, 25-85).
Though certainly form was the architect's primary concern, he began with structure, working with a sure hand toward a system of construction in which concrete block functioned in every situation. The process of simplification extended to the forms of the buildings as well. The early, exotic projects, described by Wright himself as "California-Romanza", gave way to designs that seem to acknowledge Wright's awareness of European modernism, which had developed simultaneously (Brooks, 125-150). The textile block system analyzed here continues Wright's exploration of what David De Long describes as "his sweeping view of a landscape as unified by architecture". They show Wright "reexamining his work at every possible level, as if he were questioning his own formulation of the world's first, truly modern architecture" (Fishman, 65-150).
Discussion and Analysis
The textile-block system was a fascinating experiment that Frank Lloyd Wright conducted from about 1922 to 1932 as part of his quest to find a new system of construction using a standardized building material based on the idea of twentieth-century machine technology. Robert Sweeney has meticulously researched the textile block system, providing a case-by-case account of each project, commenting on Wright's clients, collaborators, and contractors, and positioning Wright's experiment firmly within the larger historical context of concrete block technology (Gill, 11-25). Sweeney traces the forms of several of the early concrete block projects to Wright's own earlier work, clarifies an array of important technical challenges the architect faced, and notes the numerous block shapes required for execution.
The concrete block experiment was firmly rooted in the concept of architectural simplification that Wright established at the outset of his career. It was begun in Hollywood, where he was living at the time, but was part of a larger vision with global application. Wright pursued the concept with a sense of mission, designing approximately thirty projects through the decade. Sweeney shows, however that this technical evolution can be explained in just three designs: the canonical Millard house of February 1923; and in two unexecuted projects, the Community Playhouse, "Little Dipper," for Aline Barnsdall, and in designs for a resort hotel for the Arizona desert(Rosenbaum, 85-120).
Although Wright began with structure, Sweeney points out that he was primarily interested in form: technology of assembly was only a path to architectural creation. As the structural system matured - a process coinciding with the evolution of theminimalist International Style in Europe - the buildings became increasingly architectonic; forms were simplified, and the initial fascination with ornament ...