Frank Lloyd Wright, “the 87-year-old champion of American modernist architecture,” visited the Twin Cities to address the annual meeting of the Citizens League of Minneapolis and Hennepin County in November 1956. He picked up ammunition for his speech during a tour earlier in the day, visiting the new Southdale shopping center in Edina, the Prudential building in Minneapolis and other landmarks. He didn’t have many kind things to say about anything, including our climate. “Minneapolis is just too far north,” he said.
But he did praise the Twin Cities’ lakes and parks as a “beautiful gift from nature.” And he managed to recall “with a chuckle” his 1926 visit to Minneapolis during which he landed in jail in a dispute with his estranged wife. “Nothing came of it,” he said, somewhat cryptically.
Here is the Minneapolis Star’s account of his speech at the Leamington Hotel:
Wright Asks City to Seek ‘Truth, Not Just Facts’
By FRANK MURRAY Minneapolis Star Staff Writer
Minneapolis was urged to “look for the truth and not just the facts” in planning for its future, by Frank Lloyd Wright Tuesday night.
The 87-year-old stormy petrel of American architecture blamed members of his profession for “the mess we’re in” and kept an audience of nearly 2,500 persons on the edge of their chairs for an hour at the annual meeting of the Citizens League of Minneapolis and Hennepin county.
He told his listeners it “may take 10 years” to get their “thinking straightened out”; but that it would be worth it.
And he added that he thought Minneapolis was “close to understanding the difference between culture and education” – which he said was the key to the whole approach.
Wright pulled no punches and patted no backs as he described what he felt were the shortcomings in the architecture he had seen in a tour around the city.
But he tempered the acid criticism that the crowd ate up with the remark that it was “heartless to stand here and beat people over the head, when they did their best to do something good.”
The blame, he insisted, should rest upon the architects who don’t know that their profession is the foundation stone of culture and who “learn by comparison instead of by analysis.”
He referred to the Southdale development as “a flight from Egypt” and to the Prudential building as a “desecration of a park area.”
He suggested that most of the loop buildings “be blown up, and only a few tall buildings left standing with room enough to cast a shadow.”
But his comments on the rest of the American scene were equally caustic, and he made it plain that Minneapolis was no worse off, in this respect, than other major cities.
The only answer, he said, is to seek out the truth as disclosed in nature.
“It is the knowledge of the verities that make a man a man, and beauty, with a capital B, is the only thing that will ever pay off in your life,” he said.
At the end of his formal lecture he devoted 10 minutes to discussion of plans for his mile-high super-skyscraper and left no doubt in the minds of his audience that he was serious.
He said such a structure was not only architecturally possible, but highly feasible and added that it would not only survive the winds and storms but be “better able to resist an atomic bomb than any thing we have now.”
He said his idea had attracted world-wide attention and made it plain that the structures need not be a mile high – that what he was getting at was to direct thought at building up, instead of out and along the ground.
Earlier, during the dinner session, Wright chuckled appreciatively, while Wilhelmus Bryan, director of the Minneapolis School of Art, quoted extensively from his early writings and glowed while Gov. Freeman presented him with a scroll attesting to his “unparalleled contributions” that have ennobled man’s living.
Charles Silverson, retiring president of the Citizens league, presided and urged listeners to join with the league in planning for the future of the city.
Otto Silha, vice president, traced the accomplishments of the year and outlined plans for the future.
“Who wants to sit in that desolate-looking spot?” Wright said of Southdale, the world’s first enclosed shopping mall. “You’ve got a garden court that has all the evils of the village street and none of its charm.” It’s not clear which evils the stormy petrel of American architecture was referring to. But thanks to a towering cage that kept the mall’s colorful songbirds in check, at least Southdale shoppers didn’t have to worry about white gunk falling on their heads. (Minneapolis Tribune photo by Paul Siegel)
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