September 23, 2005

Windows of the World

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As he coined the term “organic architecture” and designed an array of buildings ranging from Manhattan’s Guggenheim Museum to small-scale residential homes, Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence on American architecture is unprecedented today. His work was uniquely centered on the combination of his own technique known as the Prairie style and a more European avant-garde design. Wright’s architecture “proceeds, persists and creates according to the nature of man and his circumstances,” as he, himself described. His buildings, many of which were built from the late 1800s to the 1950s, scatter the country today.

Wright’s talent, however, did not end with the sketching and structural planning of the buildings. He branched into the field of interior design, including the making of stained glass windows. By incorporating works of stained glass into the architecture, he reinforced the overarching unifying objectives portrayed both aesthetically and structurally in his work. Wright placed these windows in the houses that typified his own Prairie style, characterized by low-pitched roofs and extended horizontal lines that came together with the intention of blending the houses into their surrounding environments. The Prairie house design was also organized around the idea of a crucifix “L” or “T” form.

The Johnson Museum is currently displaying two of Wright’s esteemed glass windows commonly referred to as “light screens.” The windows are from the Darwin D. Martin House Complex in Buffalo, NY. The complex, which consists of a number of different residential structures that were linked to form a whole, was designed and built between 1903 and 1905. The house is significant because it displays Wright’s undeniable talent to create harmony between his buildings and the surrounding environment. The windows are arranged in a peaceful, geometric layout using tinted panes that are green, brown, yellow and off-white. The panes are cut into various sizes and shapes, but all mesh with undeniable perfection resulting in a special arrangement that pleases and challenges the eye.

The “Tree of Life” window, located on the side of the Johnson Museum facing Oliver Tjaden Hall, features three distinct Cyprus trees all originating from a base pot with a central axis. The diagonal brass mold distinctively forms the image of branches originating from the trunk while the smaller squares surrounding the diagonals signify leaves. Wright uses the elements of thick and thin lines to separate the different parts of the window while creating unification among the entire work. There are a number of different “Tree of Life” windows that were placed around the Martin House. Each consists of hundreds of pieces of glass.

The Johnson Museum is also featuring panels of the pier cluster casements of the Martin House. These casements, found on the side of the museum facing West Campus, are decorative features that were spread around the Martin House. They would be placed between two rooms, allowing light to flow from one to the next while serving decorative purposes. The casements were in keeping with the organic architecture that Wright developed – they created a source of indirect lighting that would permit light to flow uniformly, bringing together all spaces of the house.

The exhibit will be on display at the Johnson Museum through November 13. The Museum is open 10am-5pm Tuesday-Sunday.

Archived article by Sarah Singer
Sun Contributor