There’s a good story in the New York Times about the exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Even people who haven’t been there often recognize this landmark on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, just off Central Park. It is one of the last great works of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who died at age 91, six months before the museum opened in 1959.  He spent 16 years working on the Guggenheim, which is one of his most recognizable buildings, probably rivaled only by Fallingwater.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (NYT photo)

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (NYT photo)

The Guggenheim was a huge controversy in the 1950s. It was called an eyesore, an anomaly, a parking garage masquerading as a museum. I suspect it would still be considered radical today if it had just been designed and built in a major American city by one of the world’s great contemporary architects.

But when I walked into it, I immediately knew what Mr. Wright intended a visitor to feel. Suddenly I was inside a chambered nautilus, that “ship of pearl” as the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes described it: enclosed in spiraling circles and flooded by an ethereal light.

I’ve been an FLW fan for a long time, and any time I am in a city with Wright buildings in it, I try to visit them. I haven’t gotten to them all, by any means, not even close — although I am well acquainted with both of the Wright buildings in Dallas (the Gillin House, which is a private residence in North Dallas, and the Kalita Humphreys Theater building on Turtle Creek). There are so many more Wrights I want to experience, because every one is beautiful and memorable in its own way.

Mr. Wright was a singular genius, and he well knew it. He once remarked airily that he could merely shake his sleeve and ideas would fall out — and he probably did not exaggerate much there. He led an outrageous and controversial life, to be sure. But he was a particularly American kind of genius, one who built for millionaires and for ordinary people alike. He came from the Midwestern prairies, and his love of the American landscape — of its hills, trees, deserts, rocks, skies and water — is evident in every one of his designs.  

Every time I walk into any Wright-designed building, I am amazed and uplifted not just by its beauty, but by its organic quality. For something so completely man-made, every Wright building owns an essential connection to the earth — one that began with Mr. Wright’s turn-of-the-century Prairie houses in Oak Park, Ill., and continued right into the dawn of the space age with the Guggenheim.

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