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The Language of an Organic Architecture


ORGANIC (or intrinsic) architecture is the free architecture of ideal democracy.  To defend and explain whatever I have myself built and written on the subject I here append a nine-word lexicon needed, worldwide, at this moment of our time.

May 20, 1953 The Future of Architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright


The words.


  1. NATURE.  Why?  As in popular use this word is first among abuses to be corrected. 
  2. ORGANIC.  Ignorant use or limitation of the word organic.
  3. FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION.   Too many foolish stylistic constructions are placed upon the slogan.
  4. ROMANCE.   A universal change is taking place in the use of this word, a change to which organic architecture has itself given rise.  No longer sentimental.
  5. TRADITION.   Confusion of all eclectics, especially critics, concerning the word.
  6. ORNAMENT.   The grace or perdition of architecture; for the past 500 years “appliqué.” 
  7. SPIRIT.   Any version or subversion of the word by so-called international style or by any fashion promoted by experts.
  8. THIRD DIMENSION.   Where and why the term was original.  What it now means in architecture.
  9. SPACE.  A new element contributed by organic architecture as style.


When the nine words I have listed here are added together (they often are) a degradation of original form and intent which no vitality can bear, is widespread.  Due to much prevalent imposition the gutter seems the only visible destination of an original idea of architecture that is basic to democratic culture:  an ideal that might become the greatest constructive creative philosophy of our day if only understood and well practiced.   That philosophy is surely the center line of integral or democratic culture in these United States if and when we awaken to the true meaning and intent not only of organic architecture but also of the American democracy we are founded as a nation to maintain.   So I shall try to explain these nine terms.   All are on the center   education today tend to turn young lives more and more toward sterility.   Elimination of creation in favor of any cliché that will best serve mechanization.  Mediocrity serves it best because mechanization best serves the mediocre.    Present tendencies toward the mediocre international style not only degrade organic American architecture but will eventually destroy the creative architect in America, as elsewhere.




1.   NATURE means not just the “out-of doors,” clouds, trees, storms, the terrain and animal life, but refers to their nature as to the nature of materials or the “nature” of a plan, a sentiment, or a tool.  A man or anything concerning him, from within.  Interior nature with capital N.  Inherent PRINCIPLE.


2.   The word ORGANIC denotes in architecture not merely what may hang in a butcher shop, get about on two feet or be cultivated in a field.  The word organic refers to entity, perhaps integral or intrinsic would therefore be a better word to use.   As originally used in architecture, organic means part-to-whole-as-whole-is-to-part.   So entity as integral is what is really meant by the word organic.   INTRINSIC.


3.   FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION.  This is a much abused slogan.  Naturally form does so.   But on a lower level and the term is useful only as indicating the platform upon which architectural form rests.  As the skeleton is no finality of human form any more than grammar is the “form” of poetry, just so function is to architectural form.   Rattling the bones is not architecture.   Less is only more where more is no good.

Form is predicated by function but, so far as poetic imagination can go with it without destruction, transcends it.    “Form follows function” has become spiritually insignificant:  a stock phrase.  Only when we say or write “form and function are one” is the slogan significant.    It is now the password for sterility.   Internationally.


4.   ROMANCE, like the word BEAUTY, refers to a quality.  Reactionary use of this honorable but sentimentalized term by critics and current writers is confusing.   Organic architecture sees actuality as the intrinsic romance of human creation or sees essential romance as actual in creation.  So romance is the new reality.  Creativity divines this.  No teamwork can conceive it.  A committee can only receive it as a gift from the inspired individual.  In the realm of organic architecture human imagination must render the harsh language of structure into becoming humane expressions of form instead of devising inanimate facades or rattling the bones of construction.  Poetry of form is as necessary to great architecture as foliage is to the tree, blossoms to the plant or flesh to the body.  Because sentimentality ran away with this human need and negation is now abusing it is no good reason for taking the abuse of the thing for the thing.  

Until the mechanization of buildings is in the service of creative architecture and not creative architecture in the service of mechanization we will have no great architecture.


5.    TRADITION may have many traditions just is TRUTH may have many truths.  When we of organic architecture speak of truth we speak of generic principle.   The genus “bird “ may fly away as flocks of infinitely differing birds of almost unimaginable variety: all of them merely derivative.    So in speaking of tradition we use the word as also a generic term.   Flocks of traditions may proceed to fly from generic tradition into unimaginable many.  Perhaps none have creative capacity because all are only derivative.  Imitations of imitation destroy an original tradition.    TRUTH is a divinity in architecture.


6.      ORNAMENT.  Integral element of architecture, ornament is to architecture what efflorescence of a tree or plant is to its structure.  Of the thing, not on it.  Emotional in its nature, ornament is- if well conceived-not only the poetry but is the character of structure revealed and enhanced.  If not well conceived, architecture is destroyed by ornament.


7.      SPIRIT.  What is spirit?   In the language of organic architecture the “spiritual” is never something descending upon the thing from above as a kind of illumination but exists within the thing itself as its very life.  Spirit grows upward from within and outward.  Spirit does not come down from above to be suspended there by skyhooks or set up on posts.

There are two uses of nearly every word or term in usual language but in organic sense any term is used in reference to the inner not the outer substance.  A word, such as “nature” for instance, may be used to denote a material or a physical means to an end.  Or the same word may be used with spiritual significance but in this explanation of the use of terms in organic architecture the spiritual sense of the word is uppermost in use in every case.


8.      The THIRD DIMENSION.  Contrary to popular belief, the third dimension is not thickness but is depth.  The term “third dimension” is used in organic architecture to indicate the sense of depth which issues as of the thing not on it.   The third dimension, depth, exists as intrinsic to the building.


9.      SPACE.   The continual becoming:  invisible fountain from which all rhythms flow to which they must pass.   Beyond time or infinity.    The new reality which organic architecture serves to employ in building.    The breath of a work of art.    


If what I have myself written upon the subject of architecture and any one on the 560 building I have built are studied with this nine-word lexicon in mind, I am sure we will have far less of the confusion and nonsensical criticism upon which inference, imitation, doubt and prejudice have flourished.   Isms, ists and ites defeat the great hope we are still trying to keep alive in our hearts in face of prevalent expedients now sterilizing the work of young American architects and rendering our schools harmful to the great art of architecture although perhaps profitable to science commercialized.  If organic (intrinsic) architecture is not to live, we of these United States of American will never live as true culture.  Architecture must first become basic to us as creative art, therefore beneficent the world over.    Present tendencies in education are so far gone into reverse by way of museum factotums, various committees and university regents spending millions left behind by hard working millionaires that owing to fashions of internationalism promoted by the internationalite we will have seen the last of the architecture of great architects not only in our democracy but all over the world besides where there is danger of the machine becoming a pattern of life instead of life using the machine as a tool.


Because our Declaration of Independence saw democracy as the gospel of individuality and saw it as above polemics or politics, probably a definition of the word democracy should be added to this lexicon of nine words.  Therefore a tenth:


Democracy is our national ideal….  Not yet well understood by ourselves so not yet realized.    But we are a new republic professing this ideal of freedom for growth of the individual.   Why not cherish it?  Freedom is not to be conceived as numbered freedoms.  It true, freedom is never to be conceived in parts.      Freedom is of the man and is not accorded to him or ascribed to him except as he may require protection.  


For that purpose government-as protection-exists, not as a policy maker.  Democracy is thus the highest form of aristocracy ever seen.  Aristocracy intrinsic.


A gentleman?  No longer chosen and privileged by autocratic power he must rise from the masses by inherent virtue.   His qualities as a man will give him title and keep it for him.   Individual conscience will rule his social acts.   By love of quality as against quantity he will choose his way through life.  He will learn to know the difference between the curious and the beautiful.  Truth will be a divinity to him.  As his gentlehood cannot be conferred, so it may not be inherited.   This gentleman of democracy will be found in any honest occupation at any level of fortune, loving beauty, doing his best and being kind.


Anyone may see by our own absurd acts and equivocal policies how confused we are by our own ideal when we proceed to work it out.   But the principles of organic architecture are the center line of our democracy in America when we do understand what both really mean.  


Only by the growth and exercise of individual conscience does the man earn or deserve his “rights.”   Democracy is the opposite of totalitarianism, communism, fascism or mobocracy.   But democracy is constantly in danger from mobocracy-rising tide of as yet unqualified herd-instinct.   Mechanized mediocrity.  The conditioned mind instead of the enlightened mind.


May 20, 1953 The Future of Architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright


May 20, 1953

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I have lived my life and practiced my architecture by my understanding of these words.

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