2blowhards post on Frank Lloyd Wright prompted one reader there to comment that part of Wright's claim to fame (and BTW, I, at least, am not saying Wright was without merit --- simply that his reputation seems to have run ahead of other matters) is that he helped in promoting "[t]he idea of making a house fit into the landscape..."
That is indeed a common thought and I have heard it many times, and not only in connection with Wright, but as a general proposition, though Wright may have indeed helped that idea become popular.
But is the idea of any value? Should houses "fit into the landscape"? And indeed do Wright's houses "fit into the landscape" any better than houses by architects of his era who proclaimed their own genius not quite so loudly? And putting the drama of Frank Lloyd Wright aside (and judging by many comments, our interest in him is as much about celebrity as architecture) what does it mean for a house (or any structure) to "fit into the landscape"?
I have questions here, not answers. But my sense is that having a "fit into the landscape" is a largely meaningless idea. Or maybe a phrase with so many potential meanings that it becomes useless. Certainly one can agree that in modern terms we should build so that our impact on the environment is minimal. (At least I would hope we could agree on such a truism.) But Wright can hardly be thinking of that; Fallingwater, by its very location spanning a stream, has a high potential for adverse environmental impacts. And it's expensive construction. By both environmental impact and cost, "Fallingwater" as one instance can hardly seem to offer any larger social lessons of fitting into the landscape. In fact, building over a stream is a text-book example of brazenly imposing oneself on the landscape and would not be allowed, for example, under the Shoreline Management rules of the State of Washington. (I guess Wright could have applied for the "genius variance.")
Could "fit into the landscape" refer to tree houses or subterranean houses such one can learn about here?
Could "fit into the landscape" mean that one should plant lushly around the house? Or that one should adapt the house to the climate? Those are ancient practices, well beyond a mere "idea," and hardly something started in Wright's era.
So what is it? What does that idea ("fit into the landscape") mean? Does it mean to make the house invisible or at least visually obscured etc etc? If so, why? (Not that Fallingwater can be remotely said to do so, at least from the photos I have seen: no wallflower that house) Why would one want a house to blend in so you can't see it? I mean if that's what you want, fine; that's a personal choice. But why any imperative to make the house unobtrusive? Some of the most marvelous landscape combine the natural setting with human alteration and with human alteration which can hardly be missed. (Sackville-West's house & garden at Sissinghurst pop to mind for some reason.) Is "fit into the landscape" a different concept from "working gracefully with the natural setting"?
Honestly, I have no idea exactly what it means but if I have heard the phrase once I have heard it ten thousand times. I suspect that it's a verbalization designed to provide a rationale where none truly exists, a way of characterizing something so that when one sees it, the words supercede one's own reactions. (Calling dull, boring brown an "earthtone" would be another instance.) There is a power of words to dull our own perception of the physical world so that our conclusions follow the words which preceded. I wonder if "fit into the landscape" is one of those phrases. Somewhat like "designed by an artist" maybe it's a phrase which seeks to end inquiry rather than start it. There are a lot of awkwardly-sited and poorly-proportioned buildings but I wonder if the term "fit into the landscape" reveals much about their problems.
More later, I suspect.