Wright stressed that “Organic Architecture” should be viewed as a philosophy rather than as a style. As a philosophy, Wright’s designs could change in appearance yet be governed by uniform organizing principles.
Thus, the designs of a monolithic concrete structure such as Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois (1905), the warm stucco and stone dominating Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin (1911, 1914, 1925-59), the dramatic concrete, glass and stone Fallingwater over a waterfall in Mill Run, Pennsylvania (1935), and the concrete spiral of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City (1943) can all be said to operate under the same philosophy even though the structures look strikingly different from one another.
There are three basic tenets of the philosophy of Organic Architecture as Wright practiced it:
Nature of the Site (or, respect and response to landscape).
Needs of the Clients (or, respect for the needs of the client).
Nature of Materials (or, respect for the nature of materials).
The "Nature of the Site" may translate as respecting local traditions and designing a building that uses local materials. It may also mean a structure that frames landscape views or takes advantage of unusual site elements.
One example of the response to landscape is Wright’s design of Taliesin West. The building incorporates locally collected free-standing rocks and boulders into the cement that forms the main building material. In addition, Wright specified the use of rocks found on his property that contained petroglyphs carved into them by indigenous peoples. These rocks were placed in specific areas and situated in their original compass orientations. The building also framed distant views of the valley and surrounding mountains.
The “Needs of the Clients” can be interpreted in the most practical terms: how much room does the family need, or where do they like to gather. However, Wright also considered how the structure could enhance the family’s activities and hopefully elevate their daily living into art.
A good example of this is the Zimmerman house in Manchester, New Hampshire. The Zimmermans were fans of music, so Wright designed their living room to produce superb acoustics. Fallingwater is famously placed over a waterfall that was loved by the clients (the Kauffmanns).
Once the home was built, the Kauffmanns could no longer see the waterfall unless they left their home; however the sound of the waterfall became a part of their daily experience with the building.
The “Nature of Materials” extends beyond the use of local materials to include the respect for the materials themselves. As the Wright wrote in 1908, in an article entitled “In the Cause of Architecture”:
“Bring out the nature of materials, always let their nature intimately into your scheme. Strip the wood of varnish and greasy paint, let it alone or stain it. Develop the natural texture of the plastering and stain it. Reveal the nature of the wood, plaster, brick or stone in your designs; they are all by nature friendly and beautiful....”
At its greatest extent, Wright’s definition of Organic Architecture informed his entire life, including his work and pastimes, his spirituality, and his philosophy of design. He felt that beautiful structures could elevate the lives of the clients, leading each person to fulfill his or her potential.