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Frank Lloyd Wright And Ayn Rand
Categories: Ayn Rand
Never religious, Ayn Rand was as potently spiritual as any writer; she knew how to speak in a thoroughly earthly way to those aspirations that have traditionally been religion's business. And she herself found these aspirations realized in, among other sources, the buildings and writings of the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).
Wright and Rand
That Wright stands somewhere in the background of The Fountainhead has been a common impression for as long as the novel has been in print, and the publication of the author's letters and journals in the past few years has confirmed this. One reason the book is not a roman à clef, however, is that the borrowings from Wright are so small next to Rand's fictional inventions; another is that she already knew what she was looking for before she discovered Wright. In a 1932 letter to actor Colin Clive, she wrote:
You see, I am an atheist and I have only one religion: the sublime in human nature. There is nothing to approach the sanctity of the highest type of man possible and there is nothing that gives me the same reverent feeling, the feeling when one's spirit wants to kneel, bareheaded. Do not call it hero-worship, because it is more than that. It is a kind of strange and improbable white heat where admiration becomes religion, and religion becomes philosophy, and philosophy — the whole of one's life. (Letters of Ayn Rand [henceforth LAR], ed. Michael S. Berliner, New York: Dutton, 1995, p. 16.)
When she made her first approach to Wright, Rand clearly believed that she had found that ideal made real.
[The story of human integrity] is what you have lived. And to my knowledge, you are the only one among the men of this century who has lived it. I am writing about a thing impossible these days. You are the only man in whom it is possible and real. It is not anything definite or tangible that I want from an interview with you. It is only the inspiration of seeing before me a living miracle — because the man I am writing about is a miracle whom I want to make alive. (LAR, p. 109.)
The outlines of the Rand-Wright story are familiar from the former's Journals and Letters and from Barbara Branden's biography (The Passion of Ayn Rand, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1986). Novelist approached architect repeatedly for an interview, and each time she got what must have been a hurtful and frustrating brush-off from her hero. In the end, she finished The Fountainhead without his help and, so far as any biographical data establish, without having seen one of his buildings in person. She did, however, make extensive notes on his published writings, especially his Autobiography and his 1930-31 Kahn lectures at Princeton.
The two finally met at length after The Fountainhead was published (though before Wright had read it), and in time they became friends: Rand and her husband visited Wright at his home, Taliesin, in 1945. Among the probable souvenirs of that trip is one of her rare appreciations of natural beauty, Atlas Shrugged's description of the southern Wisconsin autumn. Still, for various reasons, none of the proposed Rand-Wright ventures ever came off — not the purchase of the 1924 Storer house in Los Angeles, nor the building of a new house in Connecticut, nor the designs for the screen version of the novel.
Wright seems to have been interested in the movie commission. Years later, Mildred Rosenbaum, an Alabama client of Wright's, told this author that during a 1947 visit to Taliesin, Wright asked her husband Stanley (owner-manager of a chain of movie theaters) what the charge for such a job should be. Rosenbaum declined to give advice, saying he knew only the exhibiting and not the producing end of the business. Their son Alvin writes in Usonia: Frank Lloyd Wright's Design for America (Washington, Preservation Press, 1993, p. 166) that Rand herself was due at Taliesin that weekend to make her final plea to Wright, but for one reason or another she did not show up. In the event, Wright did not take the job, and the mostly insipid, sometimes ludicrous, modernism that got to the screen is among the movie's disappointments. In a 1949 article for the design magazine Interiors, architectural critic George Nelson gleefully but astutely trashed the designs, prompting Wright to telegram the magazine:
ANY MOVE I WOULD MAKE AGAINST SUCH GROSSLY ABUSIVE CARICATURE OF MY WORK BY THIS FILM CREW WOULD ONLY SERVE THEIR PURPOSE. THEY BELIE THE ONE DECENT THESIS OF "THE FOUNTAINHEAD", THE INALIENABLE RIGHT OF THE INDIVIDUAL TO THE INTEGRITY OF HIS IDEA. IT IS BEST TO LAUGH.
However, Nelson based his derision on drawings; mercifully, the designs go by too quickly on the screen for most of his points to be apparent — and this was Rand's own directorial suggestion, according to Michael Paxton's documentary Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life.
Pointing out similarities between fiction and fact was not, as readers of the Letters know, the way to Ayn Rand's heart. She insisted that looking for such contingencies, apart from the significance she gave them as an artist, was the wrong way to understand a story (LAR, p. 492), and as literary consumers we have every reason to take her advice. Still, such particulars make an interesting footnote to our record of two of the most interesting personalities and several of the greatest works of art we could hope to find.
Buildings and their sites. A foremost principle of Wright's aesthetic is fittedness to the site: a building ought to follow the shape of the earth and convince the viewer that neither this building nor this piece of ground could have come about without the other. We read of Taliesin:
I knew well by now that no house should ever be on any hill or on anything. It should be of the hill, belonging to it, so hill and house could live together each the happier for the other... . The lines of the hills were the lines of the roofs. The slopes of the hills their slopes, the plastered surfaces of the light wood-walls, set back into shade beneath broad eaves, were like the flat stretches of sand in the river below and the same in color, for that is where the material that covered them came from. (An Autobiography [henceforth A], in vol. 2, Collected Writings, New York: Rizzoli, 1992, pp. 224-27.)
Our first sight of Howard Roark's architecture is a drawing Wright would have approved:
It was as if the buildings had sprung from the earth and from some living force, complete, unalterably right... . Not a line seemed superfluous, not a needed plane was missing... . He had designed [them] as an exercise he had given himself, apart from his schoolwork; he did that often when he found some particular site and stopped before it to think of what building it should bear. (Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead [henceforth F], New York: Scribner, 1986, p. 7.)
Years later, at Monadnock Valley, he has not forgotten this principle:
[N]o artifice had altered the unplanned beauty of the graded steps. Yet some power had known how to build on these ledges in such a way that the houses became inevitable, and one could no longer imagine the hills as beautiful without them. (F, pp. 528-29.)
Neoclassicism. Another parallel: Roark explains to the Dean what is wrong with doing classical styles in the twentieth century: the outcome is a concrete-and-steel imitation of a marble imitation of a wooden original, a point Wright had made in both his Princeton lectures and his Autobiography, characteristically taking paragraphs to say what Roark says in a few sentences. (Modern Architecture, Being the Kahn Lectures at Princeton University [henceforth KL], in vol. 2 of Collected Writings, p. 48; also, A, p. 373.)
Mentors. On leaving school, Roark goes to work in New York. His first employer, Henry Cameron, had once been the preeminent American architect, but alcohol and changing fashions (a result of the 1893 Columbian Exposition) have virtually ended his career. This is just the story of Wright's "Lieber Meister," Henry Louis Sullivan, except that Wright was at Sullivan's office during the glory days, around 1890, rather than during his mentor's long decline.
Integrity. A scene readers of The Fountainhead do not forget is the one in which Roark, with his practice at stake, turns down a lucrative bank commission rather than change the design he has offered. For most of the scene's length it closely parallels one in Sullivan's life when he was in similar straits: The directors of a Midwestern bank asked him to change his proposal in ways he could not condone and, like Roark, he refused, but the outcome was happier. Seeing his determination, the board relented. (See the reference to Hugh Morrison's Louis Sullivan, in "Flourishing Egoism," a paper by Lester Hunt.)
Structures. Three of Wright's buildings found their way with fair exactness into The Fountainhead. The earliest was Unity Temple, a 1906 Unitarian church and "temple to man" (A, p. 212) in Oak Park, Illinois. Like Roark at the Stoddard Temple (F, 343), Wright fit the building to human scale and to the lines of the earth, and used no traditional religious imagery anywhere. Steven Mallory's statue is an invention, but Wright collaborated with the sculptor Richard Bock on several buildings, most notably the Dana house in Springfield, Illinois. (Nowadays, the building is called "Dana-Thomas," after a subsequent owner.)
In 1929 came the St. Mark's Tower, an apartment-hotel for New York. Rand's description of the Enright House (F, 237-38), an aggregation of distinct forms growing like a crystal, would have suited this building well. Although the project fell victim to the Depression and was never built, Rand would have seen a drawing of it in Wright's autobiography, and the reader first comes across Roark's building as a drawing in a newspaper. In 1953, the architect revived the design for the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
Wright's best-loved building is Fallingwater, a 1936 country house outside of Pittsburgh. Like the Wynand house (F, 610), it is a composition of interlocking terraces at water's edge (a waterfall in fact, a lake in fiction), culminating in a rough stone chimney. Wynand has no counterpart in Wright's life, although Wynand's decision, late in the story, to champion Roark's architecture resembles what Henry Luce was doing for Wright in Time, Life, and Architectural Record in the 1930s.
Miscellaneous incidents. Several small incidents in The Fountainhead also have real-life parallels.
(1) As Rand notes in her journals, the intimate, late-night camaraderie of sculptor, model, and architect at the site of the Stoddard Temple echoes Wright's account of the Midway Gardens, an indoor/outdoor entertainment complex in Chicago. The trashing of the Stoddard Temple is somewhat reminiscent of Wright's sad account of Midway's decline — "a distinguished beautiful woman dragged to the level of the prostitute" — as a result of indifferent ownership and, finally, Prohibition, which drove nightlife underground.
(2) When a sudden insight tells Roark that the ill-fated Sanborn residence needs another wing, he redesigns the house. His unsympathetic clients balk at the change, and he ends up paying for it himself. Wright tells a similar story of how he came to articulate the corner stair towers from the rest of the building at the Larkin offices in Buffalo, but he had a more reasonable client and the story a happier ending. (A, p. 210.)
(3) Roark spends a winter camped out in Pennsylvania while building Monadnock. Wright did the same in Arizona designing the San Marcos-in-the-Desert hotel. But while Roark and his crew roughed it, with time and energy only for work, the bon-vivant Wright put up a wood-and-canvas colony that, to judge from photos and from his own memories, must have been one of his most exuberant buildings. On the other hand, Monadnock saw the light of day, while San Marcos remains perhaps the most regretted of the "office tragedies," as he called his unrealized projects.
Important to Rand's plot is the architectural ghosting whereby Roark more than once saves Peter Keating by designing anonymously for him. Wright sometimes insinuated that he had played such a role at the Arizona Biltmore. (See Brendan Gill's Many Masks, New York, Putnam's, 1987, pp. 304-05) but not in the Autobiography. For the record, the builders hired him as a consultant in the use of reinforced concrete block (in the end not using his method), and scholars still disagree as to what more he might have contributed. A liklier source for Rand would be the 1907 novel Comrade John by Samuel S. Merwin and Henry K. Webster, whose Calumet K she named as her favorite novel. Comrade John is at once a suspense story and a satire of Elbert Hubbard and the Roycrofters, turn-of-the-century flower children who produced some notable examples of the American Arts-and-Crafts style in their upstate-New York workshops. As the novel opens, Herman Stein, a mix of Übermensch and medicine-show charlatan, hires John Chance, an amusement park specialist, to ghost "Beechcroft," the movement's headquarters and mother church. Not only is Chance to deliver designs that Stein will pass off as his own, but he and his crew are to go undercover, posing as Beechcrofters in order to foster the cultists' illusion that their own none-too-strenuous pursuit of "beauty through toil" actually put the buildings up.
Ad Astra per Aspera
Through much of The Fountainhead Roark struggles mightily to establish his career and build as he sees right, even to make a living. This is one part of a more complicated story Wright tells about himself, but even in its milder form it is biographically questionable. Once she got to know him, Rand made regretful note of Wright's preoccupation with making an impression on people. Without the advantage of the decades of scholarship at hand today, she could not have known that his writings show this same penchant for hype.
In a story she notes in her journals, Nathan Moore came to Wright in 1894 and asked for a more conventional house than others the architect had built, so that Moore would not become an outcast who had to take the back way to the train each morning. Having a family to support, Wright gave in and, to his everlasting regret, served up Victorian Tudor. This is flattering to the architect, implying that in his twenties, a year into independent practice, he was already the accomplished revolutionary, with finished buildings to prove it, and needed only clients who were up to his vision in order to turn out more of them. In fact, the young Wright, like the young Beethoven, produced excellent work in a variety of inherited styles, straining at their bounds and finally breaking out a few years after thirty; his Eroica is the 1901 Willits house in Highland Park, Illinois. The Moore residence is simply one of many youthful experiments. (An interesting sequel, not in his memoirs, is that when fire damaged the house thirty years later and the Moores asked him to rebuild, the mature Wright gave them an amazing blend of his early Tudor and the heavy, exotic style he was using at the time in Tokyo and Los Angeles.)
Certain contractors and fabricators, Wright recalls and Rand notes, would have nothing to do with a design once they recognized it as his. The scholarly record shows that contractors always had reservations about bidding on a Wright building, even in his lionized old age, because he experimented constantly with new materials, techniques, and details — nearly always to his clients' greater expense and not always to the buildings' benefit. Rand's own letters attest to this. In 1944, she wrote to Gerald Loeb that she and her husband were considering buying the Storer house in Los Angeles, but it was "in terrible condition." They consulted Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright and himself an important architect, about the cost of a restoration. A house that needs an architect-supervised restoration at the age of twenty years must have been badly built in the first place, and for a variety of reasons the textile-block houses of the 1920s were. They all went to at least twice budget and have been maintenance horrors ever since.
More often than refusing to work on his buildings, contractors simply bid very high on them, for the extra time they knew they would need. Thus, far more clients (including the O'Connors) turned down Wright's finished designs for cost reasons than for their unconventionality.
At times, Wright talks about himself in terms that readers of The Fountainhead will recognize. Recalling the years when he created his first great houses, he wrote:
And would the young man in architecture ever believe that this was all "new" then? Not only new, but destructive heresy, or ridiculous eccentricity. So new that what little prospect I had of ever earning a livelihood by making houses was nearly wrecked... . Oh, they called them all sorts of names that cannot be repeated, but "they" never found a better term for the work unless it was "horizontal Gothic," "temperance architecture" (with a sneer), etc., etc. (KL, p. 54.)
Wright claims, without giving details, that he lost jobs over his refusal to use sash-hung windows ("guillotine" was his term) instead of the outward-swinging casements he preferred, but the record shows no documented instance in which he lost a commission, as Roark did, over a refusal to give clients the styles they wanted. Those who were in the market for historical revivals did not come to Wright in the first place.
Just as often and less dramatically, Wright treats his tribulations as a normal cost of the prosperity and professional success that he enjoyed from the start. Like Roark, if clients wanted something unsuitable, Wright dealt with them by persuasion, and the extent of his built work shows how good he was at it. One of his most charming accounts of this is from a recollected conversation with an "exponent" of the Chicago World's Fair, in which he had refused to participate:
Ex: "Frank, I don't know how you feel about it. But I believe if a client wants a door here or a window there I give it to him. If he wants this or that room here or there or so big, he gets it and where he wants it. And after the thing is all together, if I can't make architecture out of the thing I camouflage the whole business. I am camouflaging a house now."
W: "Easy enough, but on that basis, Ray, any contractor could do for your client all you do. Any fool decorator can camouflage. Where do you come in as an architect?"
Ex: "All right, then, how do you get your houses built? By telling the owner what he's got to do? Or do you hypnotize him?"
W: "Yes, I hypnotize him. There is nothing so hypnotic as the truth. I show him the truth about the thing he wants to do as I have prepared myself to show it to him. And he will see it. If you know, yourself, what should be done and get a scheme founded on sensible fact, the client will see it and take it, I have found." (A, p. 361. "Ray" would be Raymond Hood, whom Rand discusses so disapprovingly in J, pp. 149-52)
Art and Philosophy
Whatever story ideas Rand may have gotten from Wright and whatever he may have taught her technically, we would not expect her to have learned philosophy from him. She remarked herself that he was "the greatest architect of modern times, perhaps of all time, but philosophically he was anything but an Objectivist." (The Objectivist, March 1967, p. 13.) Here and there in his published work is an aphorism Rand would have liked, but nearly as often there is one she would have found silly or even repellent:
As new validity here was a revolutionary sense of architecture; entirely new sense of building sprouted in Usonian soil, parallel to truths of being found innate in the simplicities of Jesus of Nazareth: seen, no, as natural in the organic philosophy of the Chinese sage, Laotze. Yes, my functionalists, why attempt to rely on science and reason? (A, p. 367.)
Interestingly, the very important insight that the reality of a building is the space within it — which Wright says he hit on independently then discovered, centuries old, in Laotze — comes in Rand's fiction from the mouth of Gordon Prescott, one of Ellsworth Toohey's protégés.
As thinkers about art, Wright and Rand both wrote about eliminating the insignificant (Wright) or unimportant (Rand), but this would have come to them independently from their experiences as working artists rather than by conscious imitation on Rand's part. However, what Rand said in later years about art and sense-of-life may have been inspired by an earlier statement of Wright's:
In other words, if and when we perceive anything to be beautiful we do instinctively recognize the rightness of that thing. This means that a glimpse of something essentially of the fiber of our own inner nature is revealed to us. (The Sovereignty of the Individual, 1910.)
Far more philosophically interesting than these isolated quotes, however, are Rand's first musings on the concept of "unit" in her 1937 journals:
Let us decide once and for all what is a unit and what is to be only a part of the unit, subordinated to it. A building is a unit — all else in it, such as sculpture, murals, ornaments, are parts of the unit and to be subordinated to the will of the architect, as creator of the unit... . As to the rules about this — my job of the future (J, p. 147.)
Wright recalled the invention of the skyscraper in strikingly similar terms. The historical Sullivan, like the fictional Cameron, was not the first to build a high-rise but rather the first to design one. Sullivan realized — in one of those astonishing breakthroughs that seem obvious once they have occurred to somebody else — that a tall building ought to look tall; it ought to be a single, emphatically vertical entity rather than look like a stack of separate masonry structures. Wright wrote:
There it was, in delicately penciled elevation. I stared at it and sensed what had happened. It was the Wainwright Building — and there was the very first human expression of a tall steel office building as architecture. It was tall and consistently so — a unit, where all before had been one cornice building on top of another cornice building (KL, p. 61).
Until Louis Sullivan showed the way tall buildings never had unity. They were built up in layers. They were all fighting tallness instead of accepting it. What unity those false masses that pile up toward the New York and Chicago sky have now is due to the master mind that first perceived the tall building as a harmonious unit — its height triumphant. (A, p. 300.)
Rand's architectural studies may not have been the source of what she later wrote about units in her theory of knowledge, but her early interest in this concept would help to explain why she returned to it as a nonfiction thinker.
The Ideal and Its Creator
A tenet of the Randian "religion" is that character and outward appearance are in harmony. Nearly always, her lovers take an interest in each other at first sight, whether they act on this interest soon (Howard and Dominique, Kira and Leo) or only years later (Hank and Dagny). Not all can sense this harmony, however. Toohey's pimping scheme backfires because Dominique's character matches the physical beauty of Steven Mallory's statue, and Gail Wynand observes what Toohey misses. Rearden sees Dagny Taggart's sexuality immediately, while to his wife she is "an adding machine in tailored suits."
As a storyteller, of course, Rand had the luxury of inventing her heroes, and they always lived up to the outward impressions they made on their admirers. What did she do when, in life, inner and outer did not match? Was she bewildered that this vain man, whom she knew as the author of so many amateurish judgments, could have created such unforgettable beauty? If so, she seems to have dealt with it by asserting that he lived in two worlds. "His achievement is authentic and first-hand, he does not let others into this sphere — but he still wants their admiration, afterwards, and it is an important concern to him." (J, p. 494.) We need see no duplicity in the reverence she showed in her letters to the ideal Wright, while she confided a more complicated story to her journals. She found the ideal, her only religion, in the world of his buildings; and in that world, the character of the man matched the ideal.
Fittingly, then, a religious building of Wright's became Roark's most symbolic and emotionally telling building. The Stoddard Temple differs from Unity Temple in many respects; it is of stone instead of concrete, and it reaches out to a wooded site and distant city views while Wright's building faces inward, turning its back to a busy suburban street; one centers on a statue, the other on a lectern. Just the same, Rand captured exactly the emotional impact that this structure, and all of Wright's best buildings, can still have on us:
When a man entered this temple, he would feel space molded around him, for him, as if it had waited for his entrance, to be completed. It was a joyous place, with the joy of exaltation that must be quiet. It was a place where one would come to feel sinless and strong, to find the peace of spirit never granted save by one's own glory (F, p. 343).
I invite the reader to find out.
Peter Reidy, a software tester by trade, has been a guide at Wright's Hollyhock House in Los Angeles since 1983 and on occasion at Unity Temple, the Tomek house, and the California textile block houses. He can be reached at PeterReidy@hotmail.com.
Following up on Wright
Buildings, because they surround us in three dimensions, lose more than paintings or statues when they are reduced to photographs; to take proper stock of them is necessarily to move around them and through them. Fortunately, these days, some sixty of Wright's works in the United States and Japan are regularly open to visitors, as well as room installations in museums in New York, Pennsylvania, and England. This includes, of the buildings mentioned herein: Fallingwater, Unity Temple, and the Rosenbaum (temporarily closed for restoration) and Dana-Thomas houses.
The best public-access guide is Wright Sites, published by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Building Conservancy, available for $12.95. It may be ordered by phone at (773) 784-7334 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (773) 784-7334 end_of_the_skype_highlighting; fax: (773) 784-7862; or by mail from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, 4657-B North Ravenswood Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60640-4509. It may also be ordered from the Conservancy's Web site, listed below. Public-access information is also available from Ted Giesler's Web site, also listed below.
The Web has hundreds of pages about Wright, many excellent and nearly all accessible from at least one of:
The video of the Burns documentary is for sale online at the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.
In addition to the buildings in institutional hands, private homes open from time to time for fundraisers. The best-known of these is the annual Wright Plus Housewalk, held the third Saturday of May in Oak Park/River Forest, Illinois, and sponsored by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. Keep an eye out for other fundraisers. William Allin Storrer's The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 1974) is useful for its zipcode-indexed address list of all the buildings. Presumably, an Objectivist audience needs no injunction to respect property rights at all times.
The Conservancy's home page and its quarterly newsletter carry real-estate advertisements. Buildings also differ from paintings in that the best of them are not much more expensive than any others; you can probably afford one of Wright's houses if you can afford the house next door to it.
Unless you are an Ayn Rand, the time to start reading profitably about Wright is after visiting some of the buildings. The best biographies to date, both named for their subject, are by Robert C. Twombly (New York: Wiley, 1979) and Meryle Secrest (New York: Knopf, 1992). I particularly and heartily do not recommend Brendan Gill's Many Masks (New York: Putnam, 1987); although it brings some interesting facts to light, especially about Wright's family and childhood, Gill's snide tone and frequent inaccuracies render his book nearly worthless. The best architectural survey remains Henry-Russell Hitchcock's 1942 In the Nature Of Materials (New York: Da Capo Press, 1975). The best book about a single building is Edgar Kaufmann Jr.'s Fallingwater (New York: Abbeville, 1986). To learn what life is like in a Wright house, try Down to Earth by Maya Moran (Carbondale: SIU, 1995).
The master's own writings, especially his autobiography, are indispensable to a thorough follow-up, but readers beware: Wright grew up on massive doses of Walt Whitman and of his Welsh-preacher relatives, and he can be tough sledding stylistically. At times he could write almost as beautifully as he built; at others he is excruciating. The two books that Rand studied at greatest length, the Autobiography and the Princeton lectures, are conveniently available as a single volume, volume 2 of the Collected Writings.
Book Notes, 1999
Three books so far in 1999 have at least briefly taken up Ayn Rand's architectural connections. Douglas Den Uyl's The Fountainhead: an American Novel (New York, Twayne) gives only a few pages to the topic, a sobering reminder of just how large it looms in the wider field of Rand studies. In that space, though, Den Uyl makes one questionable claim, when he says on page 50 that Keating, at the beginning of the story, is trying to decide between architecture and art, the latter in the form of a scholarship to the Beaux Arts in Paris. In fact, while the École des Beaux Arts had both art and architecture schools, Keating's scholarship is to the latter. It was ground zero of the neoclassicism that he is to practice and that had done its part in ruining Cameron / Sullivan, and Sullivan himself had studied there in the 1870s. Rand may have drawn from an episode in Wright's Autobiography (pp. 187 - 189) wherein he turned down the offer of such a scholarship from Daniel Burnham, one of the leading Chicago architects of his youth. Keating's choice is not between two careers but between practice and further schooling, and the novel makes this clear at several points: Guy Francon tells him that "a Beaux Arts diploma is very important to a young man" (p. 18 of the hardbound); its potential professional value to Keating is that he can "impress the yokels" with it; its disadvantage is that he wants "to practice architecture, not talk about it" (emphasis in original).
The question is of some literary importance. When we meet Keating, he has already given up thinking independently in career matters but is trying to stay honorable in his personal life, particularly his romance with Katherine Halsey; because he is too far down the slippery slope, he will fail at this, too. Had the author introduced him at an earlier stage of his corruption, she would have needed to explain him at much greater length.
Several contributors to the Gladstein / Sciabarra Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand (University Park, Pennsylvania State University Press) deal at least briefly with the Wright-Rand connection, none at such length as Barry Vacker in "Skyscrapers, Supermodels and Strange Attractors". His full thesis is beyond the grasp of a simple beauty-lover, but on pp. 146 - 148 he provides a valuable selection of quotes from The Fountainhead that help to show just how Wrightian Roark's architecture is, in its unification of nature with artifice and indoors with out, and its preoccupation with developing a single geometric pattern in all aspects of a building.
Also beyond me is the full awfulness of Jeff Walker's The Ayn Rand Cult (Chicago, Open Court), which cites an earlier version of the present article (Journal of the Taliesin Fellows, Spring 1997) as one of its sources. What Walker has to say about architecture does not inspire confidence in the rest of his book.
- I am not an architect (pp. 318, 319). One of the most unattractive features of Walker's book is its snobbish double standard about people's professional and academic qualifications. Speak well of Rand and you can't have quite enough degrees, from quite the right schools, to satisfy him; speak ill of her and you are thereby an expert. I dismissed the designs for the movie version of The Fountainhead (of which more later) and brought to light an unacknowledged (but likely) source, Comrade John, so Walker rewards me by fabricating an entire career.
- Eli Jacques Kahn, an art-deco specialist who flourished in the 1930s and in whose office Rand typed when she was researching her novel, and Louis I. Kahn, an Internationalist who flourished in the 60s, were two different people. Thus the question of what Wright might have thought of Rand's associations with the latter (p. 317) is moot; there weren't any. (Here the mistake is Meryle Secrest's, not the only one in a generally excellent book.)
- Richard Neutra, whose von Sternberg house Rand lived in during the 40s and 50s, was briefly an employee of Wright's but never a student (317). He was in the office around 1925, several years before Wright had anything resembling a school.
- The St. Mark's Tower was to be a luxury apartment-hotel, not a housing project (318). How Walker came to think this is anyone's guess, but my own is that he misread the earlier article's reference to "the St. Mark's project". In architectural parlance, a project is an unbuilt design. It is not a housing project.
- Screenwriters are not set designers or art directors and thus are not responsible for these aspects of the finished movie (319 - 320). This mistake is especially hard to excuse in the case of The Fountainhead, since the author's efforts to engage Wright for the job have been on record for fifty years.
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