Abstract. Leonard Eaton examined fractal geometry in the late workof Frank Lloyd Wright through an analysis of the Palmer House at Nexus 98.

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Fractal Geometry in the Late Work of Frank Lloyd Wright

Leonard K. Eaton
Box 300
Otter Rock, Oregon 97365 USA

Fractal elements in the plan of the Palmer HouseDuring the incredibly long and fruitful career of Frank Lloyd Wright there are two constants: Nature and Geometry. That Nature was Wright's deity is well known. He summed up his attitude in the following language: I wish more life to creative rhythms of great Nature, Nature with a capital N as we spell God with a capital G. Why? Because Nature is all the body of God we mortals will ever see. Donald Hoffman traced this vein of thinking to the organic analogy in the works of Viollet-Le-Duc and noted that it was present in a variety of other thinkers as well. Recent scholarship has stressed the importance of Wright's feeling for geometry. Anthony Alofsin has pointed out the impact of Wright's contact with the geometric forms of the Vienna Secession. Referring to Wright's use of the rectilinear grid, Narciso Menocal writes that it "...was contingent on his conception of the universe as a geometric entity that architecture mirrors".

Whether or not Wright was aware of such concepts as the Golden Mean and the Fibonacci series is a moot point. Wright used nature as the basis of his geometrical abstraction. His objective was to conventionalize the geometry which he found in Nature, and his method was to adopt the abstract simplification which he found so well expressed in the Japanese print. Therefore, it is not too shocking perhaps that in this quest his work should foreshadow the new mathematics of nature first put forth by Benoit Mandelbrot: fractal geometry.

Leonard K. Eaton
is Emil Lorch Professor of Architecture Emeritus, the University of Michigan, where he taught architectural history from 1950 to 1988. He has also taught at Wayne State University, Michigan State University, and the University of Victoria (British Columbia). In 1985 he was Margan Professor at the University of Louisville. He took his B.A. with highest honors at Williams College in 1943, and after war service with the 10th Mountain Division, received an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. His publications include: Landscape Artist in America: the Life and Work of Jens Jensen (1964), Two Chicago Architects and their Clients (1969), American Architecture Comes of Age (1972) and Gateway Cities and Other Essays (1989). He is best known for his work on Frank Lloyd Wright. Prof. Eaton is the author of "Hardy Cross and the 'Moment Distribution Method" in the Nexus Network Journal.

 The correct citation for this paper is:
Leonard K. Eaton, "Fractal Geometry in the Late Workof Frank Lloyd Wright", pp. 23-38 in Nexus II: Architecture and Mathematics, ed. Kim Williams, Fucecchio (Florence): Edizioni dell'Erba, 1998. http://www.nexusjournal.com/conferences/N1998-Eaton.html

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