Virginia, also exerts a collective unity shot through with smaller domains of a hearth, dining recess and intimate wood cove, combined with many small glimpses of nature and two panoramic windows. Equally significant, each domain is itself composite with its own unique balance of outlook and refuge, which can be altered by the slightest shift of location or orientation. In part it may be Wright’s identification with what he considered the ‘dream of freedom’ and ‘democratic spirit’ of America that led him to pay as much attention to the ‘sovereignty of the individual’ as to the collective unity of buildings. Volumes were configured to place a ‘premium upon Individuality as the highest possible development of the individual consistent with a harmonious life of the whole’, and embodied his notion that ‘the whole to be worthy as complete must consist of individual units, great and strong in themselves, not units yoked from outside in bondage but united by spirit from inside with the right to freely move’.85
It is important to recognize that Wright’s ‘individual units’ are never neutral, redundant or mere formal alternatives, but are built up from choices of primal conditions about which people care passionately. He ensured that options are real incentives that invite and reward the deepest human urges: the hearth became an earthy site of primitive masonry and mesmerizing fire; the dining area possesses an ambience conducive to gathering over meals; and everywhere are sheltering alcoves complemented by glassy bays liberating in outdoor vistas. ‘Buildings, at long last – like their occupants – may be themselves free’, he wrote, when ‘in every part of the building freedom is active’.86 But Wright also understood that if left too vacuous, choices would not be free in any meaningful sense. The ‘new liberation’, as he called it, demanded opportunity and not just a loss of bondage.87 It required a freedom for rather than merely from something. ‘Escape is not freedom’, he knowingly observed, for ‘the only freedom we have a right to ask for is the freedom to seek.’88
The extraordinary perimeter of Fallingwater, as well as the living rooms at Taliesin East in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona (p. 139), was conceived as a series of intermediate zones, turning the boundary into a deep, interpenetrative fringe of spaces that are inherently ambiguous. Instead of being reduced to a thin border, the boundary is expanded and staggered to create alternating inlets and peninsulas. Wright’s pushing and pulling at this interface marries inside and out by extending each into the other while stitching together their polar conditions, and makes the boundary itself space-containing, inundating the edge with conflated qualities that people can ponder and act upon.
An analogy can be drawn between the improvisational nature of Wright’s decorating and the experience of playing jazz, a musical form indigenous to America that was emerging in New Orleans, Kansas City and Chicago concurrent with Wright’s prairie decorating. Jazz is based to an unparalleled degree on personal liberty set within limits, where each musician has the leeway to play off of and act on the melodies of the others. Unlike the strictly sequential beginning, middle and end of most music, jazz starts and stops without a predetermined narrative. Often considered the quintessence of democratic equality, jazz is
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Wright’s liberation of space finds European parallels in the interiors of Le Corbusier and Alvar Aalto, as well as in the extraordinary feeling of participation created by Hans Scharoun for the Berlin Philharmonic. Surrounding the concert hall’s central void is a complex wrapping of spatial sherds through which theatregoers can freely manoeuvre. This composite space begins in the lobby, where triangulated zones and level changes ensure there is always an undetermined margin around any normative course of action, enhancing deliberative powers as people linger between performances. The Cubist composition, developed both in plan and section, culminates in the auditorium itself. Facing the stage and surrounding its axis are differently angled domains for the audience, with each skewed and tilted plane having slightly different sightlines. Scharoun likened these fractured components to the terraces of vineyards, their irregularly cascading plots united yet always varied in space and orientation.
Displaying the same generosity of spirit but conceived with humility are the works of Herman Hertzberger, whose forms, especially those built between the 1960s and ’80s, are intentionally poor in outward appearance but rich in desirable actions. Hertzberger has described this many-faceted wealth as ‘polyvalence’, calling attention to its heterogeneous meanings and interpretations. These ‘inducements’ provoke and inspire latent associations by people, stimulating choices that make a difference to their lives. By contrast with authoritarian space, whose commands are exerted by excessive rigidity, repetition or expression, Hertzberger’s paths and rooms are configured to liberate people by playing a wide range of secondary roles while remaining true to their primary function, melding spontaneous action with practical need and, in a more general sense, play with work.