Was Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture inspired by Cubism?

When I see Fallingwater and other icons of F.L. Wright’s architecture, the geometric forms seem inspired by the cubism of Picasso and Georges Braque.

Any truth to that, or am I way off base?

My first reaction was to say “If Wright was influenced by it, you’d never have heard him say it.” Wright’s buildings, according to Wright, were all inspired by his deep personal inner genius, and the perfect way his mother raised him. He might have been influenced by other architects and artists, but I doubt he’d 'fess up to that.

I thought, generally speaking, that most people don’t think Cubism was translated into architecture much, except maybe by Le Corbusier (another ego worth its own thread) but I’m not well-versed on the subject.

slight hijack: In How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built, by Stewart Brand (Penguin Books, 1994), Stewart Brand says that some of Wright’s buildings, however cool they look, have a lot of practical problems if you try to actually live in them or use them. The owner of Fallingwater, for instance, IIRC, has to spend a lot of time stopping leaks and fighting mold. Bucky Fuller’s geodesic domes, when used as roofs, also have leakage problems – not surprising, when you consider how many edges and points a geodome has.

I read once that Wright’s flat, rambling “prairie houses” and his “open plan” design for interiors were inspired by the traditional housing of Japan.

Yep, I’m fairly well versed in Wright’s egocentricity, idiosyncracies, and Oedepussities–:rolleyes:–as well as the cited environmental/structural design issues and Japanese influences. Fascinating stuff.

Anyone else willing to take a stab at the question? Obviously, this is well outside my area of expertise, whatever that may be.

From the Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cubism:

I just don’t see that in Wright’s architecture. It often involves cubic forms and unornamented straight lines, but so does a lot of modern architecture.

IMO, FLW’s stained glass is influenced by cubism.

I am a fan of Wright. Some of his buildings did have problems with leaks and such. My understanding is that a lot of those problems were caused because his designs were pushing the building technology of the time.

I also seem to recall that Wright was really inspired by Japenese art and thought he was pretty open about the fact.


It seems to me that Cubism in 2D art is closer to deconstructionism in architecture.

In addition to Japanese art and design, another enormous influence on Wright was his mentor and “lieber-meister” (Wright’s phrase), the brilliant, difficult, alcoholic, vastly self-destructive Louis Sullivan. Sullivan’s work is particularly noted for its decorative elements, which subjected natural imagery to a highly complex geometry. Under Wright, that geometry became increasingly abstract. Personally, I’ve thought an analogy might be to the de Stijl movement, and Mondrian in particular, who over the course of his career gradually stripped down natural forms until he arrived at the iconic paintings of his “neoplastic” style. De Stijl was influenced by cubism, but pretty quickly moved in a very different direction.

Falling Water has many rectangles and right angles, and because that’s Wright’s most famous work, many folks think that rectangles and right angles represent his style. But what Wright always attempted to do (this is not the place to discuss whether he was successful) was to design building which fit in with their surroundings. Hence, Falling Water is meant to fit in with the jutting layered shale so abundant in the stream and waterfall it straddles, but his prarie houses are all smooth, gentle curves, similar to a small hill or dune.

I agree. Cubism != straight lines and right angles. I don’t know if there’s an architect today who really exemplifies the way of seeing that the cubists were pursuing, but it would be a lot closer to Gehry than Wright.

There’s a bit of a problem with dates. When Picasso and Braque invented Cubism, Wright was already a major architect with a style that’s was already very much his own. Though Fallingwater was still some time in the future, he’d already built several of his most famous buildings before this new-fangled stuff from Paris filtered through to America. For instance, the Robie House was started in 1908. His style was undoubtedly to change in the decades that followed, with Cubism as a possible influence, but to my eye the “essence” is already there. Saying that his style, in any period of his life, was inspired by it is unjustified.
That said, at least some critics have suggested a link: Brendon Gill (Many Masks, Putnam, 1987, p228) mentions that some have seen a parallel in the detailing on the Midway Gardens of 1913.

Tangentially, there were plenty of architects of the 1910s and 20s who claimed that what they were doing was inspired by Cubism.

Well, GQ had a go at it.

Let’s move it to Cafe, since it involves art.

Perhaps someone here will have a different perspective. :slight_smile:

samclem GQ moderator

Two excellent, witty books about modern architecture and modern art (by someone who hates most modern architecture and modern art as much as I do) are Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House.

I remember having this conversation with another Doper friend, where I mentioned that Wright tried to fit his buildings into the environment.

His comment: “What environment would that be? The sore thumb environment?”


Florida Southern College, a private Baptist school in Lakeland, presents a side-by-side contrast: Half the campus is traditional campus architecture – rectilinear red-brick buildings with white trim and peaked roofs. The other half was designed by Wright. See http://www.flsouthern.edu/, http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Pfeiffer_Chapel.html, and http://snoopy.tblc.lib.fl.us/fsc/FLLW1.html.

Here’s a couple of sites with photo galleries of Wright’s buildings:



I remember from multiple trips to FLW’s home and studio in Oak Park that the historians there tend to agree FLW was loathe to admit that he was influenced by anything. He believed he invented the “Prairie Style” without outside input, except for shapes in nature and the surroundings of his buildings. He may have waffled on the issue of being influenced by Japanese style later in his life, but I’m sure I was told that the initial suggestion of such a thing brought about a temper tantrum.

Also, Falling Water is (or at least WAS a short time ago) falling down. Last I read about it in Scientific American it had been shored up with steel beams to keep it from sinking further or collapsing. The same article indicated that other builders and the home’s owner at the time KNEW it would be a problem…Wright insisted on doing things his way, even though construction people and others tried to talk him out of it. The original owner kept yearly measurements of the building’s “sinking” at various points under heavy cantelevers, etc. I believe it was “settling” at more than one inch a year before they had to put the steel beams in to keep it from being “falling house” instead of “falling water.”

Not that this has anything to do with his influence. Except that it seems to me he was more likely to be influenced by ART (though not likely cubism, which came too late to influence his style) than he was by other architects. He considered his homes to be works of art rather than dwellings and often chose form over function. I believe he insisted on creating the furniture for most of his homes so that entire rooms were his work of ART. That didn’t always mean that you could stand up in them if you were over 5’6". Or that the grand piano was really USEFUL after it was hung over a staircase.