While visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright house at Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, a group of us stood in the living room taking in how he used space, and I wondered, what if Frank Lloyd Wright were alive today? Would he be the busiest architect and designer of retail space? If he were still here, I would sit down with him in the Bachman Wilson House and interview him. Here’s how I imagine the conversation going:
Shelley: Hi, Mr. Wright. Please introduce yourself to the group and tell us what you’d like us to know about you.
Frank Lloyd Wright: I was an American architect and interior designer who created more than a thousand designs for churches, homes, schools, skyscrapers, and museums. More than 500 of my designs were built – you can go just about anywhere in the country and see one of my homes or buildings. I believe buildings should be designed to be in harmony with humanity and the environment. No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other. People refer to it now as organic architecture. The most famous example of my Usonian style is Fallingwater. I think it’s the best example of American architecture in the country.
What do you mean by Usonian style?
‘Usonian’ is the word used to describe a style of home I created in 1936. There are about 60 of them, starting with the Jacobs House. Usonian homes are designed to blend with the environment, often using materials native to the area. I designed these homes to have a strong visual connection between the interior and exterior space. They have flat roofs with large cantilevered overhangs to provide passive solar heat, natural lighting with clerestory windows, and radiant floor heating. To me, a Usonian house is a thing loving the ground with the new sense of space, light and freedom.
Do you think your principles of Usonian architecture can be applied to retail design?
I think if retailers looked at how the Usonian home is designed that they would be inspired. Think about the design of museums, Apple stores, or high-end luxury shops. People have space to breathe and think and consider. The space within becomes the reality of the building. The elements of a Usonian home can be applied to the shopper experience:
Space, light, and freedom: My homes feature large windows, provide expansive views of the outdoors and flood the spaces with natural light.
Low cost without sacrificing quality: My homes have a green design includes radiant heating in the floors and a roof with a large overhang to provide shade to regulate and minimize utility costs.
Uncluttered: My homes feature glass walls, open designs, and high ceilings to invite you in. Buildings, too, are children of Earth and Sun.
What advice would you give 21st Century marketers for optimizing the shopping experience?
To give shoppers a chance to really see and experience your products, give them space, light, and freedom.