This appeared in today's NY Times...
Frank Lloyd Wright's Mile-High Rise
By PHILIP NOBEL
Published: October 17, 2004
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT had a problem with the skyscraper. "Incongruous mantrap of monstrous dimensions!" he wrote. "Enormity devouring manhood, confusing personality by frustration of individuality? Is this not Anti-Christ?"
He was talking about other people's work, of course. In his own, the man known for his ground-hugging prairie houses (and his habit of matching ceiling heights to his own diminutive stature) worked through a series of revolutionary ideas for the construction of tall buildings. Only two were built (one in Racine, Wis., and one in Bartlesville, Okla.) and they weren't all that tall. But that never stopped Wright from claiming that, on paper, he had solved all of the nagging structural problems - and not a few of the social ones - associated with skyscrapers.
"Frank Lloyd Wright: The Vertical Dimension," a show at the Skyscraper Museum in Manhattan, is the first to examine this conflicted aspect of the master's work. Wright often claimed that to preserve open land, building tall was a necessary evil. And how better to preserve the land than to pack a city of 100,000 into a single mile-high tower? Wright presented that idea in Chicago in 1956, standing before a 26-foot-tall, 6-foot-wide drawing of a building called the Illinois.
The origins of the tower are in dispute. One historian says it evolved from a request to design a television antenna; another claims that a client asked for a half-mile-high tower and Wright answered, "the hell with that." But on one count everyone agrees: it was the single most grandiose gesture in Wright's grandiose seven-decade career. He claimed that the transmitter at the top of the tower would reach every television set in the nation. And you just know he wanted to be a part of that broadcast.
Following is a key to the picture, above right:
The highest habitable floor was to top out at 5,280 feet. Wright proposed atomic-powered elevators for travel within the structure.
Like many of Wright's towers, the structure is conceived to resemble a tree. All of the floors hang off of a central ''trunk,'' here made of reinforced concrete.
The total rentable area of the tower was to be six million square feet, comprising residences, shops, offices and space for concert halls seating 70,000.
As a reminder of his place in history — and for scale — Wright sketched in the Pyramid of Cheops, the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building. His tower is much bigger.
Never content to leave well enough alone, Wright developed a novel structure to underpin his towers, which came to be called a tap root foundation. Wright wrote that it would be ''three times stronger in any disturbance.''
Late in his life, Wright began quietly working historical allusions into his designs. Here, Gothic flying buttresses support the spire.
Hanging gardens, much higher than those in ancient Babylon, appear on several levels. Wright did not shy away from pronouncing himself the greatest architect who ever lived, nor from taking on the wonders of the world.
When Daniel Libeskind unveiled his plan for a 1,776- foot-tall tower at ground zero, many observers noted a resemblance to the Illinois. Both designs feature triangular floors, a tapering profile, hanging gardens and a needlelike spire on top.
9. TOWN AND COUNTRY
The tower replaces the old-fashioned city beneath it while preserving Wright's beloved prairie landscape.
A structure at the bottom was to provide parking for 15,000 cars (and pads for 100 helicopters).