Frank Lloyd Ain’t Right

Honestly, I don’t think Frank Lloyd Wright was right in the head.

Copyright Matt Keller Lehman

I recently took a trip to Lakeland, Florida to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural mindgasms at Florida Southern College. It was an easy little jaunt up the highway from Sarasota. With my camera charged up and shutter eager to release I made my way to the campus visitor’s center.

I took an hour tour of the campus that was conducted by an older gentleman who displayed the same amount of patience a parent must possess when trying to engage their unresponsive 4-year-old who’s lost in an iPad trance. Trying to break an attention span dominated by technology is difficult these days. I’m in my mid-thirties, and I felt like that 4-year-old. The tour guide was quite verbose and packed with information. I tried my best to at least half-listen, but unfortunately I couldn’t stop concentrating on what images to snap. It reminded me of pop-up books when I was a kid; I don’t think I ever actually ‘read’ them. I just couldn’t wait to turn the page and pull the tab. The fun visuals distracted me from the actual story.

As the tour continued, the salient information the tour guide spewed forth, disappeared in the afternoon breeze. I just lagged 30-feet behind him, stopping frequently to scroll through my camera settings and compose the next shot. Hopefully it didn’t come across as rude and dismissive to the group. I tried to listen and gather everything that pertained to Frank’s muse, the history, and his process — but it was a challenge. Why? It was immediately apparent to me that Frank Lloyd Wright was a creative maniac; a certified nut. You can’t help but stare at the details of the geometric labyrinth he created within Lakeland’s academic playground and begin wondering what was going through his mind throughout the design process.

I’m not an architect. I’m cognizant of what my past education yields and that my opinions regarding architectural prowess are far from anything conclusive and intelligible. With that being said, my novice opinion is that Wright was, creatively, on a different planet. I don’t know how much he struggled throughout the process of bringing his visions to life but the tour guide did allude to a man with deep layers of confidence, and creation came with ease.

Copyright Matt Keller Lehman
Copyright Matt Keller Lehman

Remember college? There was always that one person you knew who could party till 3am, wake up at 7am, study for an hour, then show up to class (messy hair, smokey flannel shirt, sunglasses on, smelling like Jim Beam) and ace the midterm exam. I’m not saying Frank Lloyd Wright was a functioning alcoholic. For comparison purposes though, I’m just convinced he was a man so grounded in his confidence to succeed that obstacles were almost laughed at and creation had no barriers. The amusing part about the barriers he might’ve encountered is that they were probably so out of the ordinary and not truly tangible. What barriers? Barriers like conventional thought and demand; also society’s mass adoption of risk-free, generic living. As a creator set to challenge the norm, it’s tough to overcome those. Let’s face it, the general population prefers life to be simple, safe, and widely accepted. They like to be catered to with that in mind — think Toyota Corollas and Taylor Swift. Contrary to that philosophy, Wright’s structures were audacious and profound, pushing the way we view architecture and how we interact with it.

So many designers — in any industry — play the safe and obedient card and don’t want to pay homage to their own progressive thinking and the tenacity needed to bring those thoughts into fruition. In most markets, money usually doesn’t get tossed over to the innovators. True art requires conviction and passion to bring subtext to life within the work. If we create without purpose, we lose the strength to influence and progress — in any discipline. Think about our nation. As the country grows, so does land development. I get nauseous when I drive through neighborhoods and see 50 homes that all resemble each other. Identity is lost. When you crave sushi, do you dine at a restaurant that only offers spicy tuna and California rolls? Oddly, I think a place like that might actually do well in some markets, simply due to their ability to not cause too many questions.

Copyright Matt Keller Lehman
Copyright Matt Keller Lehman
Copyright Matt Keller Lehman
Copyright Matt Keller Lehman

Creativity isn’t a commodity, and I applaud those with a palette for something moderately daring and incomprehensible to the standards of public demand. Frank Lloyd Wright was more than that. Daring is an understatement. Evil Knievel was daring. Wright’s creations were so strategic and detailed I’m convinced he was more like the zodiac killer. Abhorrent comparison, but if unconventional architecture was a crime, Wright would unanimously be found guilty, by means of insanity.

Copyright Matt Keller Lehman
Copyright Matt Keller Lehman