Stained Glass - Table of Contents................... Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

Frank Lloyd Wright - Light screens

Historical Perspective

Art glass, also known as leaded glass and stained glass, reached its apogee as an artistic medium in the Gothic cathedrals of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in Europe, fell into disuse in the Renaissance and Baroque eras as platonic geometry supplanted the mystic qualities of light, and was revived in the nineteenth century by a small but ardent group of medievalists that included William Morris, Augustus Welby Pugin, and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc.

In the United States art glass was brought to a high level of distinction in the studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany and John La Farge.

Frank Lloyd Wright began using art glass around 1890 but rejected the opaque pictorial approach of Morris, Tiffany, and La Farge. Instead he favored screens of carefully adjusted thicknesses of metal caming containing generous amounts of clear glass in combination with patterns of opalescent colored glass, creating windows of an unprecedented transparency and abstraction. Most importantly, however, Wright made the art glass window a fully integrated feature of his architecture.

- Jack Quinan, "The Martin House Art Glass: Documents and Insights," in Frank Lloyd Wright: Art Glass of the Martin House Complex, edited by Eric Jackson-Forsberg, published by Pomegranate, 2009, p. 29


Traditional Japanese buildings ... did not have glass windows. They were lighted instead by shoji, lightweight screens made of wood and rice paper. Although most shoji are simple rectilinear grids, in some cases the wooden bars were decorative, depicting landscapes or flowers... It was shoji that Wright evoked in his term "light screens." ...

To achieve the some effect as shoji, he chose instead to use casement frames, which open with hinges on one side, like a door, placing them next to one other in a band.

When closed, the wooden grid of the shoji provides decoration for the interior. Instead of using wood mullions, which would have been expensive, Wright turned instead to the craft of leaded glass, in which metal strips called "cames" hold together pieces of glass in a delicate network that can easily be designed to represent anything.

In 1893, the year Wright opened his own practice, rigid zinc and brass cames (called "bars') were invented in Chicago. Wright was one of the first designers to put them to use. Lead cames are flexible and can conform to curves, so they are well suited to naturalistic designs.

Neither zinc nor brass cames bend easily into curved lines, but they are ideal for rectilinear designs. Many of Wright's windows designed before 1893 are curvilinear; those created after the invention of zinc cames are not. Zinc cames made it easy lo create shoji-like designs, but Wright went further than that. Working with the tools of the drafting table straight edges, triangles, and T-squares - he produced amazingly intricate designs such as the so-called "Tree of Life" pattern for the Darwin D. Martin House. Each "tree" in this pattern is typically no more than seven inches wide yet is composed of over 260 pieces, 230 of which comprise the"foliage" at the top....

Wright indicted that it was the linear design - the "grille" created by the caming - that was important, not the glass, which was just an "insertion."

- Julie Sloan, "Introduction," in Frank Lloyd Wright: Art Glass of the Martin House Complex, edited by Eric Jackson-Forsberg, published by Pomegranate, 2009, pp. 7-8

From 1890 to 1923, decorative glass windows were an integral part of Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture. During this period, he designed more than 4,500 windows for 160 buildings. Rejecting the opalescent, painterly effects and glass "pictures" achieved by Louis Comfort Tiffany and John La Farge, Wright used predominantly clear glass and abstract geometric shapes to create transparent glass screens between inside and outside environments. In his own words, he sought to create "light screens"- a term that evokes Japanese shoji screens, which were arranged in bands like his windows.

Wright's earliest designs in glass.

Influences include writings by Victor Hugo, Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, John Ruskin and William Morris, as well as in the decorative patterns devised by his mentor, Louis H. Sullivan. Also cited as an influence is Japanese art and architecture, including the Ho-o-den pavilion, which Wright saw as a young man in 1893 at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Wright's designs integrated buildings with landscape and furnishings. He introduced a new direction towards open interiors -- Prairie houses -- a perfect setting for clear glass doors and windows.

Critical to the success of Wright's ornamental window patterns, the casement window was a single panel from sill to lintel, uninterrupted by the meeting rails of the double hung sash. If these patterns had been executed in double-hung sash, the raising of the lower sash would superimpose its pattern on the upper sash, muddling the design and rendering it illegible.

His designs featured straight parallel lines and small squares in repeated patterns. Dramatic change in Wright's approach to the window form after a European tour exposed him to the modernist movements of the time. The glass from the Coonley House has colorful circles like children's balloons. The Martin House in Buffalo has over 100 leaded windows. Unity Temple has a skylight of amber squares "to get a sense of a happy cloudless day ... no matter what the weather."

Page by Chuck LaChiusa in 2009
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