New Canaan Library to celebrate 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth
NEW CANAAN — For many, the name Frank Lloyd Wright conjures up images of the iconic Fallingwater, the Pennsylvania residence whose balconies jut out over the small waterfall on which it was built upon, or the winding ramp of the cylindrical Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
For New Canaan residents, the architect’s name might evoke an image of the nearly 7,000 square-foot horseshoe-shaped residence built into the landscape at 432 Frogtown Road.
But, over the course of Wright’s more than seven decades as an architect, more than 500 of his buildings were built in a vast array of styles, one of the lesser known of which — Wright’s religious structures — will be the subject of one of two upcoming New Canaan Library lectures celebrating the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birth.
“His father was a Unitarian minister, so his early life was within the Unitarian Universalist tradition,” said Joseph Siry, Professor of Modern Architectural History at Wesleyan University. “It was a tradition that was particularly interested in comparative and world religious. So he had this broad perspective on the whole question of religious expression and architecture from that partitional denomination.”
Siry, the author of “Beth Sholom Synagogue: Frank Lloyd Wright and Modern Religious Architecture,” will deliver a lecture on Wright’s religious structures June 18 at 2 p.m.
The religious buildings — totaling close to 10, by Siry’s estimations — were built between the 1930s and Wright’s death in 1957, with the exception of the Unity Temple in Oak Park, Ill., which was built beginning in 1905 and is currently being restored to mark Wright’s 150th.
“He came back to churches from the mid-1930s on, which is kind of the beginning of the late major phase of his career,” Siry said. “It’s the same period in which he was doing buildings like Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum.”
While his religious structures may be lesser known than some of Wright’s other creations, Siry said the diverging styles share characteristics.
According to Siry, Wright believed that his buildings — residential, commercial or religious — should express the individuality of the client and break from traditional architectural styles.
“There’s a structural inventiveness in his religious buildings that’s analogous to his structural inventiveness of other buildings,” Siry said. “He was one of the first architects in the Western world to depart decisively from a dependence on historically derived styles and to develop forms that were distinctly modern and unprecedented in their construction and in their spatial planning.”
According to Christle Chumney, New Canaan Library’s adult services manager, the program on Wright is in keeping with past programs hosted at the library and New Canaan’s proud architectural past.
“We do quite a lot of architectural programs and lectures at the library. It’s of great interest because of the mid-century modern movement in New Canaan,” Chumney said.
The second of the two programs, on June 20 at 6:30 p.m., will again see the library partnering with the MOMA, this time on “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive,” a discussion with Molleen Theodore, an educator at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and associate curator of programs at the Yale University Art Gallery, about the museum’s recently opened exhibition featuring 450 letters, drawings, models, films, furniture, and other works made by Wright across mediums.
In addition to the MOMA exhibition in New York City, a ribbon cutting of the restored Unity Temple, will be held on June 17, and the David and Gladys Wright House, in Phoenix, Ariz., will be donated to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture — three of the ways nationwide in which, according to Siry, “the first major modernist architect in this country” will be remembered 150 years after his birth.
“Wright was also very conscious of American identity in architecture. In his mind that was associated with modern architecture because he thought of the United States as democratic and departing from historical conventions,” Siry said. “There’s a relation in his mind between modern architecture and American character.”