Interview by Mike Wallace
This interview aired in September 1957 on the television program, The Mike Wallace Interview. Frank Lloyd Wright was 90 years old.
We uncovered the recording in the archives of the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin.
The Animated Transcript
Mike Wallace rose to prominence in the mid-1950s with the New York City television interview program, Night-Beat. That became the nationally televised prime-time program, The Mike Wallace Interview, which ran from 1957-60.
Somebody said that the museum out here on Fifth Avenue [The Guggenheim] looked like a washing machine.
This one that you’re building?
That’s one of my buildings. But I’ve heard a lot of that type of reaction and I’ve always discounted it as worthless and I think it is. I think that any man who really has faith in himself will be dubbed arrogant by his fellows. I think that’s what happened to me.
Fellow architects have called him everything, from a great poet to an insupportable windbag. The clergy has deplored his morals, creditors have deplored his financial habits, politicians, his opinions. When you come to New York, as you did today, and you see the skyline of New York, this does not excite you, this does not exalt you in any manner?
It does not. Because it never was planned, it is all a race for rent, and it is a great monument, I think, to the power of money and greed trying to substitute money for ideas. I don’t see an idea in the whole thing anywhere. Do you? What’s the idea?
I understand that last week in all seriousness you said, “if I had another fifteen years to work I could rebuild this entire country, I could change the nation.”
I did say that. And it’s true. Having had now the experience going with the building of seven hundred and sixty-nine buildings, it’s quite easy for me to shake them out of my sleeve, and it’s amazing what I could do for this country. I think the way of life to which the country is committed needs that change. I wouldn’t like to change so much the way we live, as what we live in, and how we live in it.
You’re saying practically everyone in the United States is out of step except Frank Lloyd Wright?
Frank Lloyd Wright: Not at all. I don’t say anything of the kind. It isn’t their job to build. It’s mine. For five hundred years what we call architecture has been phony.
Phony in what sense?
In the sense that it was not innate, it wasn’t organic; it didn’t have the character of Nature. I put a capital N on Nature, and call it my Church. And that’s my Church. But because my Church is elemental, fundamental I can build for anybody a church.
What do you think of church architecture in the United States?
I think it’s a great shame because it is a paragon monkey reflection and no reflection of religion.
Something immediately comes to mind. I am not a Catholic but when I walk into St. Patrick’s Cathedral here in New York City, I am enveloped in a feeling of reverence.
Sure it isn’t an inferiority complex?
You feel nothing when you go into St. Patrick’s?
Regret. Because it isn’t the thing that really represents the spirit of independence and the sovereignty of the individual, which I feel should be represented in our edifices devoted to culture. I’d like to have a free architecture. I would like to make it appropriate to the Declaration of Independence, to the center line of our freedom. I’d like to have architecture that belonged where you see it standing, and as a grace to the landscape instead of a disgrace. The letters we receive from our clients tell us how those buildings we built for them, have changed the character of their whole lives and their whole existence. It’s different now than it was before. Well, I’d like to do that for the country.
Mr. Wright, suppose you were approached by one of your students who felt pessimistic about his future because of the hydrogen bomb, the threat of war, the world’s general insecurity, and he came to you and he said, “help me to understand, give me something to live by.” What could you tell him?
I don’t put a line on a drawing board if the answer isn’t there. The answer is within yourself. Within the nature of the thing that you yourself represent, as yourself. That’s where architecture lies, that’s where humanity lies, that’s where the future we’re going to have lies. If we are ever going to amount to anything it’s there now, and all we have to do is to develop it.
As an intellectual yourself, Mr. Wright, what do you think President…
That is not an allegation, and I refuse to marry that girl.
(LAUGHS) What do you think of?
I don’t like intellectuals.
You don’t like intellectuals, why not?
Because they are superficial, they are up top. They’re from the top down, not from the ground up. And I’ve always flattered myself that what I represented was from the ground up.
Does that mean anything?
I’m trying to figure it out.
Watch the full interview
“I listen to the audio first. In terms of design especially, I tend to look at the time period. And Frank Lloyd Wright had a lot of design work to his name, so I always like to pull that in, too. In terms of the actual animation, you listen to the audio, close your eyes and try to do what you see.”
Building The Guggenheim
“I want a temple of spirit, a monument” – Guggenheim director Hilla von Rebay, in a letter to Wright
“It’s going to make the Metropolitan look like a Protestant barn” – Frank Lloyd Wright
The Reviews in 1959
“A war between architecture and painting, in which both come out badly maimed.”
“If he had deliberately designed an interior to annihilate painting as an expressive art, he could not have done much better.”
“an indigestible hot cross bun”
Interactive Timeline of the Guggenheim’s Construction
Frank Lloyd Wright designs recreated in…
Reinvisioning the American Suburb
We found Wright’s sketches for Broadacre City, a proposed community development based on his theories of decentralization and the expansion of suburban living.
Prelude No. 17 (Chris Zabriskie) / CC BY 4.0
Remedy for Melancholy (Kai Engel) / CC BY 4.0
Sunset (Kai Engel) / CC BY 4.0
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
The Library of Congress
Historic American Buildings Survey