happy birthday to the first son of organic modernism.
Somewhat of a neglected figure within the annals of American architectural history, visionary architect Lloyd Wright (yes, the son of that Wright) spent most of his accomplished career designing some of the most iconic structures of twentieth-century Southern California. (Anaïs Nin once wrote of the younger Wright, "He is a poet of architecture. For him, a building, a home, a stone, a roof, every inch of architecture has meaning.") So let's celebrate the architect's 128th birthday with a look at my favorite Wright Jr. creation- Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
Completed in 1951 on a picturesque bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Wayfarers Chapel remains a testament to Lloyd Wright's allegiance to the organic ideal. Influenced by both his father's philosophy and his own religious experience within a redwood grove, Wright used nature (and a delicate glass enclosure) to define sacred space, creating a dramatic and dynamic spiritual greenhouse. In contrast to thousands of years of masonry cathedrals, Wayfarers Chapel uses panes of clear glass, triangulated redwood frames, and natural stone to deliver an ethereal spirituality based in the overwhelming grandeur of the California coast. Developed for the Swedenborgian Church, Wright's design masterfully integrates the manmade with the natural, treating the chapel, the complex, and the landscape as one unified and unique organism.
In some ways, Wayfarers Chapel seems both simple and spectacular, offering a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and promoting a casual wholeness with nature. Eight redwood bents and an indigenous stone and concrete foundation support the structure's transparent walls and ceiling. The redwood framing echoes the site's natural context (and the trees planted by Wright alongside the chapel), while prisms of glass enhance the visitor's intimate relationship with the surrounding environment. As part of a larger complex that includes gardens, a bell tower, a visitor center, and a grassy amphitheater, the chapel is just part of an unfolding architectural system united by each component's connection to the natural world.
Often considered the apex of Wright's successful career (he also designed the John Sowden House and the Samuel-Novarro House), Wayfarers Chapel successfully models the principles of organic architecture through the reinterpretation of natural forms, the marriage between site and structure, and the use of stone, wood, and glass. Attempting to fuse landscape with form, Wright molded a space nearly inseparable (especially after sixty years of growth) from its surroundings. The chapel, a place of repose and relief, provides a physical, mental, and spiritual connection to the natural world.
Today the complex continues to function as a place to contemplate, meditate, and find solace in nature's inherent beauty. Wright's chapel, one of the most distinctive religious forms of the mid-twentieth century, employs concepts of organic architecture to create harmony between the natural world and the inner workings of mind, body, and spirit. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, Wayfarers Chapel is a powerful example of Lloyd Wright's unique spiritual modernism and a true monument to his own creative genius.
You can find more information regarding Wayfarers Chapel here.
Image at top: Image courtesy of Palos Verdes Library District Local History Center. Image Barcode 000033803. Title: Wayfarers’ Chapel Portuguese Bend, California.
A version of this post was published on May 15, 2017.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.