Sunday, February 06, 2005

A lesson on symmetry from Frank Lloyd Wright

Early in the spring of 1958 I received a telephone call from Frank Lloyd Wright. He announced that he was in New Canaan, Conn., where I was then living, visiting the house he had designed for Joyce and John Rayward, and he invited me there for lunch.

We were strolling around the grounds when Wright suddenly announced that he would like to visit his old friend, Philip Johnson. A call was made. Johnson was in and would be delighted to have us come over right away.

At the Glass House, the afternoon settled down to ample Scotch, good-natured jibes and a discussion of the history of architecture. Using a large drawing pad, Wright gave an illustrated lecture, guiding us from bamboo to marble to steel. He talked on and on, pausing only to replenish his Scotch.

In the center of the living room was a statue on a pedestal. Still talking, Wright strolled over and pushed the statue to one side.

Johnson calmly pushed the statue back into position as soon as he could. In turn Wright pushed it back. This went on for about an hour.

By then Wright was discussing the failure of modern architects to use steel in a new and daring fashion. As he talked, he was sketching the perfect example: a detailed drawing of what looked suspiciously like Johnson's Seagram building.

Just then, in the middle of his illustrated tirade, he caught sight of Johnson returning the statue once again to dead center. Wright couldn't take it anymore:

"Philip!" he roared, "such symmetry is reserved only for God!"

Pedro E. Guerrero, Florence

The writer was Frank Lloyd Wright's photographer for nearly two decades (1940-1959). He worked from his home in New Canaan, Conn., where Johnson built his Glass House. Johnson died Jan. 25. He was 98.

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