Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture - down2earth interior design - Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings

Harmonizing with Nature: Comparing Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architecture in PA and AZ

Visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright is known for his organic approach to design. From the sun-drenched deserts of Arizona to the lush landscapes of Pennsylvania, Wright’s masterpieces like Taliesin West, Falling Water, and Beth Sholom stand as testaments to his belief in harmonizing architecture with nature. Read on as we explore some of Wright’s tenants of organic architecture and compare his work in these contrasting environments, both of which happen to be office locations for down2earth interior design.

Unifying Shapes in Nature for Design

Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture - down2earth Interior Design - Exteriors of Taliesin West

Wright first came to Arizona in 1928 to work on the Arizona Biltmore Hotel and was immediately captivated by the desert landscape. In 1937 Frank Lloyd Wright began building his winter home and architectural school, Taliesin West, aptly named after being west of his home, studio, and school, Taliesin, in Wisconsin. Sprawled out at the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, Arizona, the architecture was inspired by the landscape with its low, sweeping lines that mimic the natural contours of the desert land. The pool, steps, pattern of the roof, and angled walls embrace triangle patterns that echo the shapes of mountains that surround the property.

Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture - down2earth interior design - Fallingwater's balconies

That same year, Wright was working on one of his most iconic buildings, Fallingwater, in western PA. Commissioned by Edgar J. Kaufmann, a wealthy businessman from Pittsburgh, the house is situated over a waterfall in the Bear Run Nature Reserve. Nestled in the forest, Fallingwater is characterized by its cantilevered balconies that mimic the layered tree canopies in the forest that surrounds the home. These balconies and terraces are designed to cast shadows and filter sunlight much like the tree canopies do.

Towards the end of his life, Wright was commissioned to design Beth Sholom in Elkins Park, PA; the only synagogue that Wright designed. While Taliesin West and Fallingwater aim to become immersed in their environments, Beth Sholom rises tall above its surroundings and ramps lead you into the main sanctuary. This pyramid shape symbolizes Mount Sinai and the ramps themselves are covered in sand colored carpet to evoke the desert sands.

Frank Lloyd Wright architecture - down2earth interior design - Beth Sholom front exterior and close up of roof

Harnessing Natural Light for Interior Design

One element of design that can be seen throughout many of Wright’s work is the use of natural light. All three buildings use natural light in different ways that reflect their purpose and surroundings.

Fallingwater features expansive windows that are strategically placed to maximize daylight and offer panoramic views of the surrounding forest landscape. The use of glass walls and open floor plans further enhances the flow of natural light, creating a sense of openness and connection with the outdoors.

Frank Lloyd Wright architecture - down2earth interior design - interior views of Fallingwater

While Taliesin West also features expansive windows, Wright made use of direct sunlight for overhead lighting given the lack of tree cover in the desert. Originally, the roof of the drafting studio and office spaces featured operable canvas panels. Although they have been since replaced with acrylic, you can see how this created a lightbox effect in which natural light was diffused throughout the spaces.

Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture - down2earth interior design - ceiling panels in the drafting room and office space at Taliesin West

Beth Sholom’s soaring roof is created with glass panels that allow natural light to filter into the interior, creating a sense of openness and connection to the sky above. Although we typically think of ‘organic’ referring to having characteristics of nature, for Wright this also meant how the surrounding environment affects the function of the interior. Whereas, Taliesin West and Fallingwater had more literal elements of organic design, Beth Sholom’s use of light further enhances the spiritual atmosphere of the space, allowing worshipers to feel a sense of transcendence and of the passing of time as the sun moves across the sky.

Frank Lloyd Wright architecture - down2earth interior design - Two views of Beth Sholom's ceiling with glass panels

The Rhythms of Interior Design

Another common element of Wright’s work is a technique called ‘compression and release’. Wright creates a dynamic connection between spaces that reflects the ebb and flow of nature. Low ceilings, narrow passageways, or enclosed areas were used to create a sense of intimacy and coziness, like the feeling of being nestled within the branches of a tree or deep within the wall of a canyon. Large windows, open floor plans, or soaring ceilings create a feeling of expansion and freedom, like the vastness of a meadow or the boundless sky. Similarly, the natural world offers moments of shelter and enclosure followed by moments of openness and exposure. This video shows the narrow hallway that leads into the open living room with tall ceilings and panoramic windows at Taliesin West.

Compare the dark, enclosed entry door of Fallingwater to the open and bright living room just on the other side of the door.

Frank Lloyd Wright architecture - down2earth interior design - a dark entrance and a light filled interior room at Fallingwater

At Beth Sholom, one enters a room with low ceilings, but once the visitor proceeds up the stairs, they are welcomed into a vast, soaring space.

Frank Lloyd Wright architecture - down2erath interior design - Beth Sholom's glass ceiling with stained glass feature

Through purposeful use of natural light, integration of natural elements, and dynamic interplay of spaces, Wright crafted environments that inspire awe and a deep connection to nature. His designs are not just buildings, but timeless reflections of the beauty and complexity of the world around us. While Wright’s buildings may pose challenges for sustainability, such as difficulty with temperature regulation and potential window leaks, they can serve as inspiration for designing spaces that harmonize with nature.

What’s your favorite Lloyd Wright building? Please leave a comment and let us know. As always, if your reading has inspired you to make changes to your own home, we’d love to hear about your design aspirations. Whether you are in Philadelphia or Phoenix, Arizona, we are just a click away. Philly folks, simply complete our Client Contact Form and we will be in touch! If you are in the Phoenix area, please visit this form and Stephanie will get back to you.

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