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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