Startup: Vocabulary of Shapes and Forms. To understand the ideas of the architect of the Guggenheim Museum, it helps to have some vocabulary relating to these forms. So here is a brief review of the names of some basic shapes. Study the illustrations; then complete sentences 1 to 6 appropriately.
1.A square extended into three dimensions is a _______. 2. A ________ extended into three dimensions is a pyramid. 3. Any two-dimensional figure with four sides and four right angles is a______. cube triangle square
4. A closed, two-dimensional figure that usually has more than four sides is a ______. 5. The combination of a cylinder and a pyramid is a______ (Ice cream is often served in these.) 6. Some seashells (and bed springs and screws) are in the form of a ______, which may also be called a______. cone spiral helix polygon
Reading A common characteristic of many creative works is innovation, the creation of something new. This quality is apparent in the famous Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, as you can see by looking at the photos illustrating the following article. Although it opened in 1959, the museum still strikes the eye as new and unusual. What kind of person do you think would design a building like this and why? The following article tells us about this famous and controversial man.
Guggenheim Museum U.S.A. In 1932, New York's Museum of Modern Art assembled what was clearly meant to be a definitive exhibition of modern architecture. It presented the work of Frank Lloyd Wright along with that of Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius, two leaders of Germany's revolutionary design school, the Bauhaus. On that occasion, Wright commented, "I warn you that having made an excellent start, I fully intend not only to be the greatest architect that has ever been but also the greatest of all future architects."
Wright's pride in his own work was understandable. When his three co-exhibitors were still in grade school, he was already designing remarkably innovative houses, any one of which could have established him as first among contemporary architects. With the help of devoted assistants, Wright had created dozens of these houses, year after year. By 1932, Wright's work had become highly individualistic—often with hints of expressionism* that would surface in his design for the Guggenheim Museum.
Frank Lloyd Wright's childhood had been shaped by a New England heritage of liberal Protestantism and an acceptance of the "natural philosophy" that was expressed in the writings of Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau. These two American writers believed that much of modern human anguish was due to urban environments and loss of contact with nature. The human foot had been made to touch earth, not concrete, and human dwellings were meant to be in harmony with their natural surroundings. In the spirited and energetic atmosphere of the times, it is perhaps not surprising that Wright also developed that insistence
upon absolute freedom of mind that marks the true pioneer as well as the renowned artist. This is why he so often seemed more concerned with finding the proper form for an idea than with pleasing his clients. To Wright, the artistic integrity of his work was far more important than its practical function. Once, when the owner of one of his houses called to say that rain was dripping on him from a crack in the ceiling, Wright is said to have suggested that the man move his chair.
Both Wright's genius and obstinacy came to play their roles in his design for the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. In the early 1940s, Solomon R. Guggenheim, who was committed to the development of modern painting, found himself in need of more space to house a growing collection of pictures. He decided that a museum of modern art ought to be the work of a leading modern architect.
Ironically, he turned to Wright, a man known to have little liking for twentieth-century painting, and commissioned him to design the new museum. Wright's creation is one of the most original buildings in the world, a museum with its own place in the history of art. Yet as a picture gallery, it is a failure. Ultimately, the only thing it displays well is itself.
Perhaps at the time that the plans for the Guggenheim were being drawn up, the administrators of the museum were unaware of Wright's growing rejection of conventional square and rectangular forms of city buildings and blocks. Wright was continually searching for natural forms appropriate to human needs, forms that he described as "organic architecture, opening onto the world rather than insulating people from it." So he had begun to explore the possibilities of the triangle, the
polygon (recalling the form of mineral crystals), and even the circle. For some time, he had been ready to take the logical step from the circle to the spiral, the form of conch shells, "plastic and continuous." This form is more properly called a helix, and is really a circle carried to the third dimension. Wright boldly designed the new building in the shape of an inverted conical spiral, and convinced Solomon Guggenheim that this form would make a magnificent museum.
The museum is essentially a long ramp that starts at ground level and spirals upward in five concentric turns, continually growing wider so that it opens out toward the top. Within the spiral is a vast central space, illuminated primarily by a huge skylight. At the first-floor level, the main spiral is joined with a smaller, round building, used for readings, lectures, and offices. A broad horizontal rectilinear base connects both elements and also relates the museum as a whole to its rectilinear environment of city blocks and conventional buildings.
In defense of his stunningly original design, Wright declared that he was not merely playing a game with forms: He believed that the helix was really the best shape for a picture gallery. He claimed that the conventional manner of displaying paintings in one dreary room after another distracts the attention of visitors by making them concerned with the condition of their feet rather than the masterpieces
on the walls. According to Wright, this museum fatigue was the result of bad architecture. At the Guggenheim, visitors would enter on the ground floor and be carried by elevator up to the top, where they would begin to slowly wind down along the spiral. Any weariness would be counteracted by the natural form of the shell, which would gently "spiral" visitors down to the first floor. As they descended, they would be able to study the paintings hung along the outward-leaning walls.
In this way, each work of art would be viewed at an angle—as Wright believed the artist himself had seen it on the easel. But in reality, the museum is a challenge. Visitors must make their way down a ramp at an angle, studying paintings hung on a wall that both curves and slopes.
As a building, however, the Guggenheim Museum defines a magnificent space and has become a compulsory stop on even the most basic tour of New York. The startling effect of the Guggenheim lies in its unusual form and stark simplicity. While it was under construction—and remaining upright in apparent defiance of gravity—Wright would smirk happily and say of his colleagues, "They'll spend years trying to work it out."
After You Read Making Inferences and Drawing Conclusions. With a partner or in a small group, read the following statements taken from the article. What inferences can you make or conclusions can you draw about Wright and his relationships with people from them?
1. Wright commented, warn you that having made an excellent start, I fully intend not only to be the greatest architect that has ever been but also the greatest of all future architects." (lines 5 to 7) Wright has a lot of confidence in himself. He also has a lot of ambition. He wants to get ahead of others. He is very competitive.
2. With the help of devoted assistants, Wright had created dozens of these (innovative) houses, year after year. (lines 11 to 12) Wright had designed a lot of modern houses year after year, with the help of his devout assistants.
3. Once, when the owner of one of his houses called to say that rain was dripping on him from a crack in the ceiling, Wright is said to have suggested that the man move his chair. (lines 27 to 29) Wright didn’t take care of his client but his work. His idea was more important than anything else.
Find the following words in the article, using the clues given here and the number of blanks as aids. 1. An adjective beginning with c that means "present-day" (Paragraph 2) contemporary
2. A noun beginning with p that means "a person who goes before, preparing the way for others in a new region or field of work." This word is often used to refer to the early settlers of the American West. (Paragraph 3) ________________ pioneer
3. A synonym for stubbornness that begins with o (Paragraph 4) _______________ obstinacy
4. The opposite of original or unusual, beginning with c (Paragraph 5) _______________ conventional
5. Two synonyms for tiredness, one beginning with f and the other with w (Paragraph 7) fatigue and weariness
6. A smile is not always nice: a noun that begins the same way as the word smile but means a smile that is offensive, insulting, or irritating (Paragraph 8) smirk
Choose the best answer, according to "Guggen heim Museum U.S.A." 1. When the exhibition of modem architecture was presented in New York in 1932, Frank Lloyd Wright was______. a. the oldest of the participants b. the youngest of the participants c. unknown
2. In his architectural work Wright was most concerned with____. a. expressing his heritage of liberal Protestantism b. finding the correct form for an idea c. making his clients happy
3. It is ironic that Solomon Guggenheim chose Wright to design his museum of modern art because____. a. it is one of the most original buildings in the world b. he found himself in need of more space for his collection c. Wright did not like modem art very much
4. Wright was searching for an "organic architecture" that would use forms found in nature, such as the___. a. square b. cube c. polygon
5. One of the strikingly original aspects of the Guggenheim Museum is that it follows the form of an upside-down cone in a___. a. spiral b. pyramid c. rectangle
6. Another unusual characteristic of the Guggenheim is that___. a. it is illuminated only by five huge skylights b. visitors view paintings while they walk down a ramp c. paintings are displayed in one dreary room after another
Assignment Choose the best answer, according to “Guggenheim Museum U.S.A.” items 1-6