Frank Lloyd Wright and Theosophy

John Algeo – USA

Although the architect Frank Lloyd Wright was not a member of the Theosophical Society (as far as the records indicate), he was strongly influenced by the wider range of modern theosophical insight, according to a recent article in Theosophical History 15.2 (April 2011, published in September): 5-24. That article is “The Red Square: Frank Lloyd Wright, Theosophy, and Modern Conceptions of Space,” by Eugenia Victoria Ellis. According to comments by the editor of Theosophical History, James A. Santucci, this article “offers revelatory insights in understanding . . . the vision of the apparently non-Theosophist and architect Frank Lloyd Wright . . . [whose] notion of interiority . . . space and light, rather than form, guided from ‘within outwards’ [correlates with HPB’s SD (1:274) statement:] ‘The Universe is worked and guided from within outwards.’ . . . And so we find Wright’s vision conforming to that of Blavatsky’s perspective. . . . The larger theme of Dr. Ellis’s article is that of the esoteric or occult milieu permeating the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

Frank Lloyd Wright

Incidentally, the “Red Square” of the article’s title is not an allusion to Moscow, but a reference to a symbol Wright used to sign his early architectural drawings: “a red square circumscribing an encircled cross,” which combines three geometric forms (square, circle, cross) prominent in esoteric and Theosophical symbolism. This article is a demonstration of the prevalence of Theosophical thought, especially among artists, in earlier times and of its generally overlooked influence on one of the major architects of recent times.

Although not mentioned in this article, another architect similarly influenced but also formally connected with the Theosophical Society was Claude Bragdon, who like Wright was a student of Louis Sullivan, who has been called the "father of skyscrapers" and "father of modernism." Although Bragdon wrote directly on architecture, for example in The Frozen Fountain; Being Essays on Architecture and the Art of Design in Space (1932), he also wrote on many other subjects, including Theosophy, for example in Episodes from an Unwritten History (1910) and The Beautiful Necessity: Seven Essays on Theosophy and Architecture (1910). Bragdon also designed the gateway leading to the Wheaton headquarters of the Theosophical Society in America. Wright’s buildings are works of art, justly valued by history; but Bragdon’s domestic buildings are far more livable, as Bragdon was responsive to how people use architectural space, whereas Wright tended to be concerned solely with the abstract artistry of space. As this article expertly shows, however, Wright’s work was deeply influenced by Theosophy.

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