My own second post in this competition of architectural favourites has already been trumped by Den's post last night of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, but never fear: Wright has nearly 600 projects to choose from, every one a gem.
Here tonight is his only completed tall building: the Price Tower, or as so he often called it, "the tree that escaped the crowded forest."
First designed for the New York of the twenties, and then as part of an apartment cluster in Washington DC in the forties, it was finally built in Oklahoma in the fifties (yes, that's right: Oklahoma again; and architect Bruce Goff lived and kept an office there.)
The Price Tower wasn't the only tall building Wright had worked on. He began his career in the office of Louis Sullivan, who in the Chicago of the 1890s when tall buildings were still a new thing under the sun, largely invented the means of expression of the tall building. As the "pencil in the hand of the master" as Wright was happy to call himself, he helped Sullivan build the first skyscraper masterpieces the world had seen, before leaving Sullivan's office to begin his own practice.
The Larkin Building of 1905 was his first tall-ish building on his own account (and some fity years before the so-called seminal 'modern' high-rises were erected in Chicago and Manhattan), and a revolutionary one it was too, but for all sorts of reasons numerous design, studies and projects just flatly refused to get off the ground or to find a backer -- the Mile High Tower was one project used in part to attract attention for all the many ingenious schemes Wright had devised that were just going to waste -- so the Bartlesville opportunity when it came was grabbed with both hands.
The Price tower itself picks up on the form of a tree: like a tree, it has a 'tap root,' a central structural core that extends down into the ground to hold the building erect. From this vertical core, the floors are cantilevered out, like branches from the trunk. And at the exterior, like the foliage at the perimeter of a tree, light and shade and decoration are made to appear. It followed the principle of the tree, said Wright, but to that he added his own inescapable ingenuity to the mix.
The floors, combining rental offices and apartments on each floor, are laid out using an ingenous grid system, with 'nodal points' such as interior mezzanine balconies pushed out to the exterior to gve a delightful geometric variety. At the edge of the cantilevered floors, each wall is treated differently depending on function and sun direction. Vertical copper sun shades are used to mollify the afternoon sun; pressed copper panels bear the imprint of Wright's imagination, rather like the beautiful foliage of a tree that decorates its perimeter; concrete 'fin walls' rise vertically through the building from its 'tap root,' bursting out at the top to anchor a playful geometric composition that crowns the bulding, and silhouettes it beautifully against the sky.
The overall effect is of a building almost shaped from crystal, like a jewel. It's masterful play of geometric form is, I'll use the word again, a delight. Unlike all too many tall buildings (like Auckland's pathologically disinteresting Sky Tower for example) it is different on all sides: like an ingenious puzzle it is a form that the eye never tires of taking it in and working out, all the time trying to establish the underlying principle that built it. To use Wright's words, "it is a grace, and not a disgrace" to the world in which it is built.
It is a building that is proud to be tall, and proud to be erect. It is by any standard a delightful building, and definitely one of my own top five.
LINKS: Louis Sullivan: What's the big idea? - Peter Cresswell, SOLO
'The Tall Building Artistically Considered' - Louis Sullivan - Not PC
Frank Lloyd Wright's St Mark's Apartment Tower Project - Not PC
Mile High Tower, Frank Lloyd Wright - Not PC
Crystal Heights complex, Frank Lloyd Wright - Not PC
Larkin Building, Frank Lloyd Wright - Not PC