Frank Lloyd Wright | HOW TO SEE Midway Gardens with Spyros Papapetros

I started my research on Wright with the project
of the Midway Gardens. It was a large, vast in fact, entertainment
complex in Chicago. And the reason I was interested in it is that
Wright has the most elaborate ornamental program for this project where ornament expands from
the plan to the facade to the interior courtyard, and the interior decorations until even the
cutlery, the plates, the chairs and the furniture for that building. We can start with this mural that was in fact
installed in the tavern, one of the interior spaces of the complex and what interests me
a lot here is first it has this graphic quality with the circles that you see are hanging
in certain sequences like pendants. So there is an element of both levity and
gravity and these two forces compensate one another on the mural. Also, I find it very interesting that they
were supposed to represent the bubbles of sparkling drinks. Midway, I find it very interesting that ornament
has a spatial quality. All of these ornaments that we see here on
these electric needles, high columns installed at the facade and the courtyard were supposed
to orient visitors, driving to the complex from a distance in Chicago at night, but also
act as modes of disorientation. That is, it was supposed to attract and suck
them in the atmosphere, this phantasmagoric atmosphere of the complex and make them stay
more. So these elements of both orientation and
disorientation balancing themselves, I find them very interesting. And both of them are achieved through ornament. As we know in Wright in some of his projects,
perhaps the majority of even the budget is about the cost of these ornaments or side
objects, lamps, furniture, rugs, murals and we see that both in public buildings like
the Midway but also in residential buildings as well. One of the interesting discoveries I made
while researching the project was in fact a drawing for the Barnsdall House that shows
a series of furniture, but quite unexpectedly it shows the price of each and every of these
items. We realize that they cost a lot including
the rugs, the lamps and all the pieces of furniture for each residence, and they might
even represent the majority of the expense for the house. One of the qualities of what Frank Lloyd Wright
calls organic ornament, that is an ornament that holds the building together that has
an integral quality and brings all the elements together is that in fact it’s very hard to
extract anything from that scheme. So it makes these costs for things that might
seem marginal or secondary absolutely essential and very hard to extract from the project. Another interesting discovery, which I think
speaks a lot to the amplified function of ornament in Wright is the transition from
a surface element to the plan. For example, this graphic design for the Liberty
journal covers called “March Balloons” while it was originally intended to be a journal
cover and that never happened, the original publisher rejected those- it kept transforming
and at some point it turned into the plan of a rug that would cover the floor of the
living room for Wright’s son, David Wright, in his house in Arizona around 1950, ’51,
that is about 25 years after the original design was made for the Liberty covers. Overall, the sequence of drawings shows the
process of transformation of ornament as a very interesting and privileged category of
object, a unique object that as I said throughout modernism is under the threat of extinction
but in Wright it survives and in order to survive, it has to change.  
And that change is precisely the transformation we see in Wright from a graphic surface element
to the very building the interior organization and the structure of that building that is
both on the exterior, the interior and even the interior structure of the building itself.


  1. The building was ahead of its time. Even though it's gone, let us never forget what was achieved. More importantly, looking to the future, amazing feats of engineering that bring people together are still possible. Cookie cutter architecture need not define the 21st century.

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