October 2nd, 2017 12:00 PM
Nunnery at Uxmal, photo: David Hammond
Food is my focus, and I've long believed that eating the food of another culture is one of the best ways to understand other cultures. I've traveled to Mexico several times this year, mostly to eat the foods of that country, but as I ate tacos and tlayudas, chochinta pibil and gorditas, I started to see how some aspects of ancient Mexican culture are reflected in the works of Frank Lloyd Wright.
For millennia, Mayan civilization flourished in what is now Mexico and surrounding areas. By the time the European invasion of the Americas kicked off big time, most major Mayan cities were abandoned and largely forgotten. For over thirty years in the late 19th century, John L. Stephens worked in conjunction with the Field Museum of Chicago to uncover and document the architectural treasures left behind by the Maya. Some of these ancient ruins, including the so-called Nunnery at Uxmal, a major Mayan archaeological zone in Yucatan, were cast in plaster by Stephens and presented at 1893's World's Columbian Exposition.
Frank Lloyd Wright arrived in Chicago shortly before the Exposition, to which he and his employer, architect Louis Sullivan, contributed a monumental "golden doorway" for the Transportation Building. During his many visits to the Exposition, Wright would have seen Stephen's casts and photographs of Mayan buildings. These ancient structures appealed to him much more poignantly than the European Neoclassical style that dominated other buildings at the Exposition, and which he and Sullivan heartily disdained.
Seeing Mayan buildings at the Exposition powerfully influenced Wright's future work. The following key elements of Wright's best-known buildings had their genesis in Mayan architecture.
In "The Future of Architecture," Wright wrote that in Mayan architecture, "we see a grand simplicity and concept of form. Probably it is greater elemental architecture than anything remaining on record."
Wright's admiration for the architecture of an indigenous American people is evident in the evolution of his Prairie School of architecture.
Postscript: A complete (meaning much longer and detailed) account of my conclusions concerning the Mayan influence on Wright can be found here: https://design.newcity.com/2017/10/01/impact-of-the-indigenous-on-wrights-prairie-school-how-ancient-mayan-architecture-shaped-frank-lloyd-wright/
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