Dec. 10, 2008 (Archdruid Report) -- In bringing up the vexed relationship between evolution as it happens in nature, on the one hand, and the ways the concept of evolution has been redefined in current ideologies on the other, last week’s Archdruid Report post dipped a tentative toe into some very deep and murky waters. Over a century or more, ideas and metaphors from the natural sciences have become potent factors in the public life of the western world; terms such as “natural,” “organic,” and, yes, “evolution” have been caught up by any number of players in the scrimmage of contemporary culture, and more often than not have come out much the worse for wear.
There’s no shortage of ingenious ways to misuse concepts such as these, but one in particular has had a pervasive presence in our collective dialogue. Perhaps the best way to show it at work is to track the use of natural concepts in one of the towering creative minds of the twentieth century, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Full disclosure probably requires me to admit up front that I’m a fan of Wright’s work, and not only because he was one of the handful of first-rate creative talents to have been influenced by the modern Druid tradition. In his quest for an organic architecture -- notice the concept lifted from the life sciences -- he reshaped the vocabulary of space and form in ways that are still being explored by architects today, and he also produced rather more than his share of stunningly beautiful buildings.
Still, there are few geniuses whose works are without flaws, and Wright was not one of them. Stewart Brand of Whole Earth Catalog fame has set out the case for the prosecution in his useful book How Buildings Learn (1994). To begin with, Brand points out, all Wright’s roofs leak. This may seem like a small thing, but since the basic purpose of shelter is to keep weather out, and it’s not actually that difficult to design a watertight roof, Wright’s failure to accomplish this fundamental requirement is not a good sign.