Wright and Wrong Technology

Feb. 9, 2005
Allow me to introduce myself. I am a journalist, not an architect, and for the last 10 years I have specialized in covering technology. When the word “architecture” appeared in pieces I wrote or assigned as Technology News Editor at The New York Times or as Editor-in-Chief of Ziff Davis’s Interactive Week, it described integrated circuits or networks, not buildings. Yet, I have long been fascinated by building design.  Growing up near Taliesin in Southern Wisconsin, I was inundated with Frank Lloyd Wright lore and, happily, surrounded by some of Wright’s greatest triumphs in commercial design — the Johnson Wax Headquarters near Racine, the Spring Green Restaurant on bluffs overlooking the Wisconsin River, and, of course, Wright’s own Taliesin home and studios. But I was also intrigued by Wright’s decidedly mixed legacy with respect to architectural technologies. I have celebrated the weddings and mourned the passing of friends in his Unitarian Meeting House in Madison, a soaring temple frequently littered with plastic buckets positioned to catch rain or melting snow, which the roof has failed to thwart almost since construction was completed in 1951. And in a recent visit to Fallingwater in Western Pennsylvania, I was struck by how one of architecture’s most inspired residential designs had to be saved from the very elements it was created to celebrate because flawed engineering had exceeded the capacity of its cantilevered supports. When it came to technology, sometimes even a master like Wright got it wrong.Today’s revolution in digital electronics and exotic materials poses both abundant opportunities and significant challenges for architects. Yet, as Gisue Hariri points out in our cover story (p. 22), there is no separating an era’s technology from its architecture. Information, communication and entertainment systems will surely shape tomorrow’s designs just as steel, glass and the elevator defined today’s skylines. Moreover, as Hariri’s own Museum of the 21st Century demonstrates, not all cutting edge technologies are electronic. Even concrete, which dates to Classical Rome, continues to evolve.ARCHI-TECH will always take a broad view of architectural technologies, seeking out innovation and celebrating imagination across a wide range of products and materials. But the most profound evolution in architecture – and thus our principal focus – will be the electronic nervous systems of today’s buildings.  For that reason, I am delighted that my first issue was done in partnership with the NSCA, whose members are increasingly recognized as essential collaborators in the design process. Please join me in welcoming their contributions to our first issue of 2005.Rob Fixmer

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