The Aesthetic and Critical Theories of John Ruskin

Ruskin and Frank Lloyd Wright: A Note to Chapter Three

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

John Rosenberg's The Darkening Glass, 71-76, most valuably explains not only Wright's early knowledge of Ruskin but also the earlier writer's influence upon the architect. Although Peter Blake, Frank Lloyd Wright: Architecture and Space (Baltimore, Md., 1960) makes no mention of Ruskin, his analysis of Wright's approach to designing a skyscraper reveals the similarity of the architect's ideas to those of Ruskin:

"As a believer in an architecture close to nature, he had a hard time justifying a tall, upright, seemingly anti-nature building.... He solved this dilemma in a characteristic fashion, by going to the one source in nature which did suggest a way of building a tall structure: the form of a tree.

"In structural terms a tree is a vertical beam cantilevered out of the ground. Most of its mass is above ground, and most of the stresses applied to a tree such as wind pressures and snow loads -- are applied to it high up, close to its crown. The structural force that keeps a tree from toppling over is, of course, the restraint applied to its roots by the earth....

"This sort of cantilever is, as a matter of fact, one of the simplest and most dramatic expressions of continuity for it represents a delicate balance of forces, each restraining the other through an infinite number of strands and fibers which make the tree a continuous organism, To Wright, the cantilever was also the 'most romantic, most free, of all principles of construction'" (86-87).

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