The Beauty of FL Wright’s Influence

[If reading this by email, please tap the title at the top to open your browser for the best experience.]

The Solar Radicycle (1969 ~), second iteration, south facing, with a studio on the north side


As I have shared before, I once aspired to become an architect, a vocation toward which I may still be temperamentally disposed, though way too late to consider as a second career. Here, I want to take another risk. Having previously shared a drawing from my exploration of shell forms, from when in my youth I sought to develop as an artist, I would like to offer a glimpse of my very early architectural aspirations.

The drawings I feature above and below very obviously reflect the impact upon me by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. The plan above, which I titled the Solar Radicycle, is one that I first conceived in late middle school or in early high school, but then later elaborated. With its reliance upon circular patterns, it is clearly influenced both in name and design by Wright’s second Herbert and Katherine Jacobs house (1944), the 1950 Wilber C. Pearce house, and related designs (the David Wright house, among them).

While in eighth and ninth grade I memorized FLW construction design and building facts in the way that some of my peers memorized baseball card details. Among such were significant aspects of Wright’s remarkable achievement with the columns of the Johnson Wax company building (Racine, WI), and the unexpected and astonishing test-endurance of those structural features.

I have searched in vain for my colored study drawings from the 1970’s of the exterior elevation for the Solar Radicycle plan, showing the proposed domed roof over the central living area. Yet, the isometric drawing of the building (below) may help give an idea of its intended eventual shape.

An isometric view of the Solar Radicycle plan (not showing roofs)

The word ‘solar’ explains itself; the suffix ‘cycle’ implies something circular; and the prefix ‘radi’ comes from the common words radical and radish, and implies ‘of the root.’ Naively, I had the hope to build this house somewhere in rural Vermont or New Hampshire upon my graduation from high school in Massachusetts. Obviously, I was a romantic dreamer. And, of course, it did not happen. But I had thought through a number of key details, neglecting those of financing. Here I was a true follower of Frank Lloyd Wright!

The first iteration of the above design was more simple, with a focus upon the central living, kitchen and dining areas. The first or inner ring of the design depicted above will reflect this. The second, outer ring of structure in the plan, reflects the later iteration, involving a re-conceived master bedroom location, along with the addition of a den, and also a large studio.

I envisioned the walls as being embedded in surrounding earth berms, and using either local stone and or limestone for the vertical structure. I thought that the roofs, both the T-shaped slabs over the bedroom wings and studio, as well as a large dome over the living area – and small domes (or possibly sky-lights) over the  kitchen and restrooms – might be cast in pre-stressed concrete. Here again, I may have been too slavishly an FLW follower in not fully considering the roof-leak potential for those roof slabs and the seams between them, especially in New England winters and springs. I might have had a beautiful house, if I could have pulled it off, while yet having to deal with raindrops seeping down and falling onto the side bedrooms.

I am proud of the overall design, but fully acknowledge how this was an adolescent flight of fantasy! Below are a couple of representative examples – among many – of very obviously FL Wright-influenced designs for houses and plans for other structures that I produced in the mid to latter 1970s, just out of high school, while contemplating a vocation in architecture.

To this day, the possibility of what my original plan might have been hovers at the edge of my mind. In God’s Providence, architecture was not to be my professional vocation, though I am so glad for all that my interest in it has brought to me.


Among a huge abundance of books about FLW, a very helpful guide is The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: A Complete Guide (color photo illustrated), by William Allin Storrer, which includes locations maps for all the buildings included.

New Orleans as Viewed by Errol Barron


Through our nearby family we are able to stay some weekends in New Orleans, an opportunity which delights us given that we live up in ‘the country.’ Our son and his family reside in what is called the “Irish Channel,” an historic neighborhood close to the Mississippi River and on high ground that did not flood during Katrina. Like much of New Orleans, that neighborhood is filled with old houses, some in excellent condition and others looking blighted by years of hot and wet weather.

While visiting our family there, we became acquainted with a very unique New Orleans local bookstore, The Garden District Book Shop, located incongruously in what seems to have been a former roller skate facility. The building now houses this book seller, as well as a coffee house and other vendors. It was here that we discovered Errol Barron’s remarkable and yet relatively small book featured in the image above.

Having once aspired to be an architect, having a longterm interest in architectural history, and having dabbled in watercolor painting, Errol Barron’s work immediately captured my attention. For this is a beautiful book, filled with color illustrations, and very affordable. The images in the book are the fruit of a sabbatical that he took in 2009, while most often visiting the sites for his paintings by bike.

 The author at a book signing event

Barron, as a career-long faculty member of the Architecture department of Tulane University, knows well the field that provides the material for his watercolor paintings, and also the substance of the profession and vocation he has pursued. Underlying all his work is the evident hand of a highly skilled draftsman, in both the historic sense of someone who draws well, and in the more formal sense of someone who is well-prepared to render architectural plans. His attention to scale and proportion, especially with regard to building facades, is particularly evident.

Through his dedication to his life’s work, Barron has nurtured generations of students. His beautiful as well as informative illustrations help us appreciate why this has been so. He has a sharp eye for what to notice, as well as a developed skill with which to communicate what he sees.

My regret here is that, in commending his beautiful work, I need to rely upon photos I have taken of his printed book. So why isn’t this book available in digital download book format, especially for the sake of its many compelling images?

Below is one image that is available on the internet, which for me captures part of the mystery of the appeal of New Orleans. Barron’s book’s subtitle says a lot – “drawings and observations of America’s most foreign city.” An aspect of the curious beauty of much of New Orleans is the juxtaposition of well-cared-for historic homes with attractive landscaping, and properties where the wear and tear of time is unavoidably evident. The latter clearly sets apart the former, and the former so often has a visually compelling character.

Having acknowledged the limitations of some of these images, I offer here a few that I have photographed from the paperback version of the book. Note how the book cover (depicted above, with an evident visual seam down the middle) reflects a similar use of a split photographic image of two pages within the book.

Barron’s sketches and watercolor paintings help us appreciate how there are at least four significant cultural influences that have contributed to the historical life of Louisiana and what might be called the ‘gumbo’ of its architecture: Spanish, French, English, as well as African, the latter of which is more likely evident in landscape (and culinary) selections. For it is thought that some of those transported here in slavery from Africa may have brought seeds of certain plants with them. Predictably, some of the above-mentioned cultural influences are more visually evident than others.

Below is an image of Barron’s rendering of the St Charles streetcar, an iconic image.

For me, Errol Barron’s book, New Orleans Observed, is a beautiful discovery that provides ample inspiration.


My thanks to my son, Anders, and his family, for the lead on this posting. Through visits with them I have come to love New Orleans despite its problems and or challenges. I want to note that I have no personal relationship with Errol Barron nor any commercial relationship with the publication of his remarkable work.