The Magical Realm

                        by Joseph M. Marcial, Architect 

Many, if not most of us, who had the singularly marvelous experience of knowing the phenomenon that was Frank Lloyd Wright have wondered a great deal about the makeup of his overall outlook on things and on life, his psychological orientation, or, more comprehensively, his gestalt.  We know that his gestalt was on the upper levels of human consciousness.  His field of vision did not have the confines characteristic of most of the rest of us.  It is probably true that many of the limitations that people are burdened with in the normal course of events are subjectively engendered.  Although Mr. Wright was severely tested, he was able to avoid subjectivizing the limitations that such tests might realistically appear to impose.  Consequently, he was able to transcend many of the limitations that life places on us, seemingly, from without.  In him, as in others who have attained these heady heights, the demarcation between the self-imposed, and the superimposed limitation becomes hazy.  The frontier of possibility is pushed forward.  The impossible loses character.  Mr. Wright was able to transcend self, which enabled exaltation (read also exultation) of the self. 

The different aspects of an analysis of the dynamics of Mr. Wright’s life may seem to be, of themselves, trifles.  Nevertheless, they may provide us with insight.  I am for analysis, not in the spirit of dissection of the beautiful specimen, but in the spirit of the charge posed by the great architect himself when he said: “Make analysis your habit, and synthesis will, in time, follow.” 

It was the Italian artist, who also tried his hand at architecture, who said, “Perfection is made up of trifles, but perfection is no trifle.”  Our quest should be neither for trifles, nor for perfection, but for oneness.  Formerapprentice, John Geiger aptly tells us when he alludes to the character of Wrightian spaces, “…………they embrace the exact degree of imperfection required for a true work of art.”  (Journal of the Taliesin Fellows 4 · Summer 1991): an astonishing and thought provoking statement signalizing further the mystery and profoundness of Wright’s organic expression. 

Some have felt that Mr. Wright had a flaw of naïveté: an imperfection interwoven with the golden threads of his genius.  One such was his brother-in-law, Vladimir Lazovich.  On an April afternoon circa1950, “Uncle” Vlado, as he was known to us, was attempting to convince Mr. Wright that one of the apprentices, an accomplished amateur pianist, performed with markedly ethnic mannerisms.  Mr. Wright seemed to try, but could not understand or perceive the connection that Vlado was trying to make.  Later, Uncle Vlado remarked to a group of us that, as well as he tried to explain it, Mr. Wright, surprisingly, was just unable to see it.  Vlado appeared mystified. 

This uneventful vignette bears looking at.  Even I, at that time a somewhat dampened youth, not too long out of high school, knew that something more significant was going on here than appeared on the surface.  I understood, on some level, that Mr. Wright’s apparent ingenuousness emanated from a noble wellspring beyond the cognition of the hapless Vlado.  Uncle Vlado seemed convinced of the perspicacity of his own interpretation.  He seemed to be confounded by some inexplicable lack in Mr. Wright’s persona.  I think that Vlado’s way of seeing was characteristic of most, if not all of us, who surrounded Mr. Wright.  At least I never felt that any of us, at that time, had attained Mr. Wright’s perspective.  This is not to say that any of us would have characterized the pianist’s mannerisms as representing those of a particular race, but merely to indicate that, in general, we were just as prone to the facile classification of persons and events.  Frank Lloyd Wright had been able to escape from the confining, mechanistic tendency to classify, or “dichotomize” to use Abraham Maslow’s term. 

It is by now known scientifically what, in Mr. Wright’s lifetime could only be gleaned from perusal of Buddhist, and other Eastern writings, and more recently, of the Bahá’í sacred writings, that this automatic act of classifying, this eagerness to “size up” the other person, put him in a niche, put a handle on him,

hang a monicker on him, is not only demeaning and limiting to the person classified, but demeaning and limiting to the classifier as well.  Classification, it would appear, is a two way street.  There is no escape for the judge.  He is, himself, relentlessly judged.  He is trapped in the mirages of a looking glass labyrinth.  To withhold judgement is to be open to the limitless possibilities of the other person, and, within ourselves.  The converse, of course, is valid: to accept the possibilities within ourselves and in others is to be purged of the role of judge.  The eschewal of the classifying modality is of one essence with becoming detached from what, too easily, can be seen as the warts, pimples, and assorted pustulations of others (and consequently of ourselves).  Normally all we perceive are these excrescences.  By “we” I mean all of humanity except perhaps a hundred, or so, people on earth (as estimated by one Oregonian writer).  They are there, and they are real, people will argue with impeccable, unassailable logic.  This characteristic of human beings can be readily seen at virtually any time throughout the world in extreme situations in which people defend their subjective, exclusive perception to the death.  Their view is real, because that is the viewer’s reality.  But that was not Frank Lloyd Wright’s reality. Those of us who are members of the Taliesin Fellowship, and who were there in Mr. Wright’s lifetime were witness to this.  In Mr. Wright’s presence we grew, and in those moments were capable of more than our inherent capacity at that point.  Paradoxical?  …..Quite, but we all lived it.  We gloriously basked in the light of being viewed, not with our perceived limitations, but in our full potential as human beings. 

It has been documented elsewhere that Mr. Wright would see his clients as special, gifted persons, endowed with extraordinary cognition and understanding, qualities which the apprentices could not at all see.  I suspect that more than a few apprentices had the feeling that Mr. Wright was prey to perceptual lacunae which were somehow linked to his inscrutable geniality, and could therefore be overlooked.  This parochial, “logical” view is, of course, self limiting, and by comparison, wormlike, and certainly not conducive to attaining what Mr. Wright referred to as “a sense of the whole.”  I think wholeness is the key, for as apprentices we may have been abstacting (as Uncle Vlado appears to have been doing) certain aspects, or isolating certain behaviors of the individuals viewed, merely because we were unable, from our low, but quite common, vantage, to perceive others in terms of wholes.  Our “logical,” “realistic” view was, in the ultimate reality, one dimensional, and partial.  Everyone, of course, likes to be seen wholly, which accounts for our distress and resentment when a certain aspect of ourselves is isolated for classification.  We may feel nonplussed, for example, even when our foibles are brought to our attention, feeling, rightly, that we are not our foibles.  The absence of being seen partially, rather than in toto, undoubtedly accounted, in great measure, for our good feelings in Mr. Wright’s presence. 

I remember that some of us would refer to leaving Taliesin as, “going back into the world,” or “back to the real world,” “back to reality,” as if Taliesin were a never-never land which we all loved but which was somehow, unreal, or not of the world.  And, it was true that Taliesin was not of the world: true to the extent that virtually all human beings “out there” are immured in their lower centers of consciousness.  At Taliesin we were privileged to view with fascination the exercise of higher consciousness, even though we may not have known how to experience it for ourselves.  We could vicariously extend our horizon, transcend our limits. 

I have heard opinions to the effect that Taliesin during Mr. Wright’s lifetime was, by virtue of its arcane orientation, an island disconnected from the life around it.  I do not think many, if any, apprentices would share this viewpoint.  I have never known anyone more connected to life, and more desirous to assist his fellow human beings in the fulfillment of their higher needs than Frank Lloyd Wright.  The converse is probably true: that the atavistic disconnectedness with their own upper levels of being aptly characterizes the surrounding sea of humanity.  Submersion in a medium which mirrors our own proclivity to remain gripped by the common, unenlightened view of the natural and man-made order of things can be overwhelming.  Other apprentices may have experienced, as I did, great difficulty in reconciling “the world” with Taliesin.  At one point, after leaving Taliesin, I turned my back on the attempt to do so.  I fell into, or rather, refused to climb out of, the commonality of life:  the antithesis of Taliesin. 

I was not able to avoid that struggle.  The realization came, eventually, that it had to be faced, for it is the direction of growth.  Implicit in the reconciliation process I found what may be a few but what seems like a host of requirements: the attainment of detachment, i.e., the ability to be able to escape the predominance of lower consciousness levels in which most of us are grounded, or to put it another way, the avoidance of determining personal direction through the satisfaction of the base motivators of security, sensation, and power.  Implicit in the transcendence of these three lower levels of consciousness (which characterize the entire animal kingdom) is the opening up and widening of the capacity to love, which is none other than the capacity to view rightly; wholly rather than incompletely.  A step higher is, perhaps the arrival at what Mr. Wright called a “sense of the whole”  Those of us who had the advantage of the Taliesin experience would realize that this entails, among other things, seeing the harmonious oneness that exists; seeing other persons (and, since it is a mirror, seeing ourselves) and events, not with the cognition of a limited consciousness, but the way in which they could be, through the eyes of an expanded consciousness: not necessarily what appears (a limit) in the given moment, but what exists in the realm of possibility.  The avoidance of classification, the ultimate paradox: the realization that the struggle for attainment of Being is not a struggle at all but the incorporation of perception which may lie beyond the constraints of logic, that struggle, per se, is devoid of attainment, and that to have attained is to have superseded struggle. 

Taliesin teaches us (if we are open) that the dissolution of what we had known as self into expanded consciousness resulting from the breakdown of the walls between ourselves, and other human beings, as well as between ourselves and the totality of our surroundings, brings with it a pervasive effusion of exultation.  Our attained gestalt, thus characterized by joy, is a place where fear, in any form, is not present.  We have passed ……”from the last plane of limitation into Unity” (as stated in the Bahá’í writings) or to a “sense of the Whole,” (as expressed by Frank Lloyd Wright).

All this has absolutely nothing to do with architecture as it is generally practiced, but is quite of the essence regarding an architecture which may itself serve humanity as a vehicle to progressively higher levels of growth, realization and consciousness.  There is no way that architects can embody these rare levels of human experience in their work without having arrived at this place which is in reality, placeless.  We may capture the “look” of an architecture a la Wright, and even achieve an outwardly cute or clever solution, but, as Mr. Wright himself reminded us, we can never produce more than what we are at the given moment.

Technology Review has reported that …..“at the 1986 fiftieth birthday celebration of Fallingwater, Kathryn Smith, a professor at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, spoke about the bridge over which one approaches this unique house as giving the feeling of a ‘ceremonial entrance’  ….. that established the demarcation ….. ‘between the  …… magical realm of the building and its site, and the outside world.’”

Most of us are prisoners living in the “outside world.”  The only way we, as architects, can liberate ourselves to create any sort of magical realm, even on a humbler or less ambitious plane than Fallingwater, is by taking leave of this prison of self which is the outside world, and entering the immeasurably more elevated reality of ……..  the Magical Realm.

Mr. Marcial’s essay above, entitled “The Magical Realm,” was published in the Journal of the Taliesin Fellows, Issue 8, Fall 1992, Los Angeles.