What Frank Lloyd Wright Knew About Digital Information

BY Mark Magnuson

By incorporating his philosophies into our work, we continue to translate digital technology into engaging experiences, now and in the future.

About nine miles west of downtown Chicago, the Des Plaines River meanders across the prairie through the planned community of Riverside, Illinois. Settled nearly 200 years ago, this “Village in the Forest” was designed by the father of landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmstead. With curved streets, gaslights, park-like lots and greenways, Riverside contains one of the most architecturally important houses in the US.

Frank Lloyd Wright made his mark in Riverside with the Avery Coonley house, a particular obsession of mine. Within one of the country’s first planned communities, the Coonley house itself is meticulously planned to the very last mosaic tile. The “house” is a compound of sorts, where the bedrooms and the living and dining rooms have their own wings.

A building is not just a place to be. It is a way to be.

Frank Lloyd Wright

There’s no grand entrance to the Coonley house. Instead, visitors are greeted by a rather dark, unobtrusive entrance hall on the first level. Passing through and up this compressed space, the visitor enters into an expansive living room with dramatic overhead beams. These architectural features create a sensation of traveling through a dark forest and then suddenly stumbling onto a beautiful, light-filled prairie. They tend to slow down the visitor and heighten the appreciation of the space.

Great architecture like that of the Coonley house is about creating an experience through time and space. I think of our work at Anode as a form of architecture. Technology and interactive media can be planned and crafted into an experience as surprising and energizing as those created by Frank Lloyd Wright. Here are two important lessons that Wright has taught me about digital media:

1: We focus on an understanding of human needs and perspective.

The rather obscure entrance at the Coonley house is a common trademark for Wright in that a visitor is never presented with a full view of the floor plan. Instead, Wright created an unfolding story for the visitor to discover new information at his or her own pace. This process of guided discovery creates a subtle emotional connection with the space. Just like with architecture, digital media can be layered into an experience that creates a deeper understanding of the underlying message.

2: We take full advantage of setting and environment.

Consider another of Wright’s most famous homes, Fallingwater. Rather than designing a home to observe the natural beauty of the property, Wright designed a home that turned a thirty-foot waterfall and the Pottsville sandstone into a part of the inhabitants’ daily lives. For Anode, the merger of digital media and architecture is one of the most exciting areas we’ve entered. New technologies are moving us beyond isolated screens on walls. Projections, LED displays and microtiles allow us to weave interactive media into the core of a building’s architecture.

“A building is not just a place to be. It is a way to be,” Wright believed. This is why his buildings have remained relevant for so many years. By incorporating his philosophies into our work, we continue to translate digital technology into engaging experiences, now and in the future.

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