What Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unusual Windows Tell Us About His Architectural Genius

There could be few more Amer­i­can styles of dwelling than the tract house, and few more Amer­i­can archi­tects than Frank Lloyd Wright. But Wright, of course, nev­er designed a tract house. Each of his dwellings, to say noth­ing of his pub­lic build­ings, was in every sense a one-off, not just in its lay­out and its details but in its rela­tion­ship to its con­text. Wright believed, as he declared in his book The Nat­ur­al House, that a build­ing should be “as dig­ni­fied as a tree in the midst of nature.” This he held true even for rel­a­tive­ly mod­est res­i­dences, as evi­denced by the series of “Uson­ian hous­es” he began in the late nine­teen-thir­ties.

The Vox video above fea­tures the “cypress-and-brick mas­ter­piece” that is Pope-Leighey House in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia, which Wright com­plet­ed in 1941. “Bound­ed by the hum­ble bud­get of the Pope fam­i­ly” — Loren Pope, its head was work­ing as a news­pa­per copy edi­tor at the time — “this struc­ture nonethe­less exhibits the dis­tinct fea­tures char­ac­ter­is­tic of his for­mi­da­ble vision and style.”

So says the house­’s page at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foun­da­tion, which adds that “the archi­tec­tur­al ele­ment of com­pres­sion and release, the can­tilevered roofs, and the win­dows that open to the out­side cre­ate an imme­di­ate inter­ac­tion with the sur­round­ing land­scape.”

Video pro­duc­er Phil Edwards pays spe­cial atten­tion to those win­dows. He cites Wright’s con­vic­tion that “the best way to light a house is God’s way — the nat­ur­al way, as near­ly as pos­si­ble in the day­time and at night as near­ly like the day as may be, or bet­ter.” In the case of the Pope-Leighey house, achiev­ing this ide­al involved the use of not just near­ly floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows, but also cleresto­ry win­dows per­fo­rat­ed in a dis­tinc­tive geo­met­ric pat­tern and posi­tioned so as to cast “light hung like pic­tures on the wall.” The effect is so strong that the house­’s two relo­ca­tions appear not to have dimin­ished it — and so sin­gu­lar that, despite the enthu­si­asm of post-war tract-house devel­op­ers for Wright’s inno­va­tions in hous­ing, it nev­er did make it into Levit­town.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A Vir­tu­al Tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lost Japan­ese Mas­ter­piece, the Impe­r­i­al Hotel in Tokyo

Take a 360° Vir­tu­al Tour of Tal­iesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Per­son­al Home & Stu­dio

12 Famous Frank Lloyd Wright Hous­es Offer Vir­tu­al Tours: Hol­ly­hock House, Tal­iesin West, Falling­wa­ter & More

That Far Cor­ner: Frank Lloyd Wright in Los Ange­les – A Free Online Doc­u­men­tary

How Insu­lat­ed Glass Changed Archi­tec­ture: An Intro­duc­tion to the Tech­no­log­i­cal Break­through That Changed How We Live and How Our Build­ings Work

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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  • Kim Hurtado says:

    For a detailed look at the fen­es­tra­tion of Tal­iesin in Spring Green, WI see the for­mer Appren­tice and Tal­iesin Fel­low, Frances Nemtin’s exquis­ite study, Win­dows of Tal­iesin. Once a muse­um cura­tor, she lived for decades at Tal­iesin in a small cot­tage at Mid­way Barn and shared her love and inti­mate knowl­edge of the fas­ci­nat­ing win­dows of the eight struc­tures Wright con­struct­ed over his life­time there.

  • Cindy Ballard says:

    Hello…I’m sor­ry that you have been mis­in­formed! Frank Lloyd Wright DID build a sub­di­vi­sion!
    The homes were mod­est but they did exist until the ear­ly 2000’s. The sub­di­vi­sion was locat­ed in the city of Madi­son Heights, Michigan…on 13 mile road near John R roads. The homes were torn down to make way for a Meijer’s store. Thank you

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