Frank Lloyd Wright, born in Wisconsin in 1867 to become the most distinctly famous American architect, left behind much for us to contemplate—least of all his thoughts on books. Championing his own horizontal “Prairie House” designs, Wright was insistent on the role of the machine in progressive design in the arts and crafts. From Chicago in 1901 he delivered a lecture called “The Art and Craft of the Machine”, in which he made his case for using the efficiency of technology to produce modernizing ideas and bring a new mode into style.
In discussing the lecture in his book Why Architecture Matters, Paul Goldberger suggests that “Wright was acting on the presumption that architecture was a form of communication, a radical thought indeed for 1901—architecture as media.” Wright argued that the easily-produced printed book, not even the printing press, was the first machine and had a profound and lasting effect on the role of architecture. Until Gutenberg, he said, architecture was civilization’s record, “the universal writing of humanity”; the iconic achievements were “great granite books.” Architecture, once supreme, was forced to adapt to this newer method of cultural production and survived by perpetuating itself through the work of architects who simply copied examples from the past. An extreme view, to be sure, but for his time, it was certainly in line with the Modernist advocates of novel creation, doing away with traditions of previous ages. It was the machine of the book that had once displaced architecture, but the machine aestheticism of modern design would give architecture its chance to reclaim its central role in society and begin anew the chronicle of human history. So labored Wright to transform the vision of American architecture.