Frank Lloyd Wright’s unabashedly pro-Soviet sentiments during the 1930s

Frank Lloyd Wright and Mr. and Mrs. Iofan, Society of Cultural Relations Banquet, Moscow (1937)

Frank Lloyd Wright, almost indisputably the greatest architect America ever produced, was throughout his life a strong supporter of the ideals of liberty and democracy and strove to find their expression through architecture.  However, it is less well known that he was a staunch supporter of the Soviet social experiment during the 1930s.  Of course, he did not believe that this support was in any way incompatible with his prior belief in democracy and liberty.  Quite the opposite, he considered the Soviet Union to be embarking upon an entirely new path toward a more perfect democracy.  Like many other observers in the West, he failed to recognize the totalitarian and undemocratic nature of the Stalinist regime.  Wright can probably be excused for not seeing this at the time, though he did problematically endorse program of “Socialism in One Country” as a fitting course of action for the Russian people.  Nevertheless, Wright’s belief in the emancipatory potential of the Bolshevik Revolution is symptomatic of the great surge of utopian sentiment involving the young USSR, as well as of a deep disillusionment with the capitalist socioeconomic order, which was in shambles over the whole course of that decade.

You can download Wright’s various statements and articles written with regard to the Soviet Union by clicking the following link:

Frank Lloyd Wright on the Soviet Union

Frank Lloyd Wright with Mr. and Mrs. Arkin, outside Moscow (1937)

 The following is an excerpt from one of these exchanges:


October 19, 1933

Dear Mr. Wright:

A year ago the Pravda asked your opinion about the position of the intellectuals in the United States in connection with the economic crisis. Your opinion was then forwarded to Moscow. Today the Pravda editors, wishing to acquaint their readers more thoroughly with the changes wrought in the life of the intellectuals, during the last year, solicit your opinion on the following questions:

1. What change, if any, has taken place in the life of the intellectuals (engineers, technicians, architects, artists, writers, teachers, etc.) during the last year?

2. How has the prolongation of the crisis influenced the creative activities in this country in the realm of technique, art, literature and the sciences?

3. Do you see improvement ahead for the intellectual groups?

An early reply will be highly appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Moissaye J. Olgin

My dear Mr. Olgin:

Little visible change in the life or the attitude toward life of the intelligentsia of the United States is evident. No clear thinking is possible to them. They are all the hapless beneficiaries of a success-system they have never clearly understood, but a system that worked miracles for them while they slept. The hardships of the last three years have left them confused but not without hope that more miracles will come to pass in their behalf. They are willing to wait for them to happen.

The capitalistic system is a gambling game. It is hard to cure gamblers of gambling and everybody high and low in this country prefers the gamblers chance at a great fortune to the slower growth of a more personal fortune.

It is true that the educational system of the country has for many decades been breeding inertia. It aims to produce the middle-class mind which is able to function only in the middle of the road, boulevard preferred. It is the “safe” mind for the system as set up.

Machine power is vicarious power at best and breeds a lower type of individuality, it seems, the longer it functions. Action of any sort becomes less and less likely. So creative activity is a thing of the past — so far as it goes with machine power in these United States. Little art of any but the most superficial kind — the formula or the fashion — now characterizes the life of the States. The capacity for spiritual rebellion has grown small and the present ideals of success are making it smaller every day. No radical measures have been undertaken in the New Deal but there has been a great deal of tinkering and adjusting and pushing with prices to bring the old game alive again. Something more is needed than an arbitrary price-system to re-awaken capitalistic confidence in the spending of money.

The capitalistic system has evidently come to the necessity for a radical change that no tinkering can effect.

It is now proposed among the more sensible of the intelligentsia that all absentee-ownership be declared illegal by legislation.

The far-reaching consequences of such an enactment are hard to forecast but certainly the stranglehold of capitalism would be cut by such a measure and a freedom would ensue that would soon make Democracy a reality instead of the pretense it is. There is little chance however for any such measure until all the expedients have been tried and have failed in plain sight of everyone.

In the course of the next five years a real demand for such “repeal” of special privilege may come to pass. This is the feeling of the minority among the intelligentsia but they are doing nothing about it. They are spectators by birth, breeding, and habit.

Meantime all are getting on with about one-tenth of their former incomes.

I believe all three of your questions are answered in this answer to the first question.

1. The present economy has practically eliminated our profession, such as it was.

2. An entirely new set of ideas more in keeping with the principles of architecture are needed before thinking men can be inspired with sufficient confidence to go on building any more buildings. In the epoch now painfully closing — disguised as “economic depression” — architecture was only bad form of surface decoration: landlord bait for tenants. If the profession of architecture has any future it must get the building more directly and sensibly out of nature for the native.

3. Nor do I see any possibility of any return to the abnormality which has become normal, without some serious recognition of such organic integrity as a matter of means as well as an end to be achieved. Capitalistic centralization was content to employ the makeshift. Its economic structure was a makeshift. Its buildings were makeshifts. Its social life was an economic anxiety to makeshift. And finally its devotion to the makeshift is sterilizing all human creative power. There is left but ingenuity and scientific research.

4. I view the U.S.S.R. as a heroic endeavor to establish more genuine human values in a social state than any existing before. Its heroism and devotion move me deeply and with great hope. But I fear that machine worship to defeat capitalism may become inverted capitalism in Russia itself and so prostitute the man to the machine. Because the heart beats of the human soul are not like the ticking of a watch creative art is essential in any up-building of any social order worthy to be called organic and to endure. Individuality is a precious asset of the human race where it rests upon a common basis fair to all and should be rewarded according to its just value. This just reward is no less the problem of Russia now than of every other sincere attempt to enable all to rule and be ruled by their own bravest and their own best.

Yours sincerely,

Frank Lloyd Wright

Death and Modern Architecture

Frank Lloyd Wright with his model for the Getty Museum in Manhattan

Until the dead-past has buried its dead — Life us poisoned and itself dies of its own dead.

— Frank Lloyd Wright, “The Logic of Contemporary Architecture as an Expression of This Age” (1930) in Frank Lloyd Wright: Essential Texts, pg. 243

When they came to design a new Kamenny Bridge over the Moskva River for their projected Utopia (No. 1, pg. 30), they dispatched a gravedigger to ‘carry out a thorough excavation of the archives, to unearth a historical reference to the Kamenny bridge’ and then to ‘present a detailed report, of which the separate data will together constitute a basis for consideration, when selecting the artistic-architectonic shape of the new bridge.’

— El Lissitzky, “The Catastrophe of Architecture” (1921), pg. 369

This pseudomodern decorative architecture, governed by caprice and artificial fashions, puts its own era and culture to shame, even if it did assume a representative, official place within it.  In the way it conjures the old specter of historicism from its grave, there lurks a betrayal of international modern civilization, modern culture, and contemporary life.  Such a betrayal must inevitably fail.

— Karel Teige, Modern Architecture in Czechoslovakia (1929), pg. 155

Adolf Behne’s The Modern Functional Building (1926)



The Original Cover to Behne’s Book, Featuring El Lissitzky’s “Cloudprop”



Man’s primordial reason for building is to protect himself against the cold, against animals, against enemies.  He is driven by necessity: he would not build were it not for definite, compelling, urgent purposes.  His early buildings are purely functional in character; they are in their nature essentially tools.

But when we study the earliest stages of human culture, we find that the instinctive joys of play cannot be separated from practical matters.  Primitive man is not strictly utilitarian.  He demonstrates his instinct for play even in his tools, which he makes smooth and beautiful beyond the demands of strict necessity, painting them or decorating them with ornaments.

The tool called “house” is no exception to this.

From the very beginning the house has been as much a toy as a tool.  It is difficult to say how long a balance was maintained between the two poles.

In the course of history we only rarely find such a balance.

The play instinct led to interest in form.  Without that instinct it would be impossible to understand why the tool called “house” must look good and be a certain shape.  Thus our play instinct established certain laws of form, although they are subject to change from time to time.

The laws of form did change periodically.  But if laws of form were unquestionably the secondary element in the origin of all building, they became the stronger, stricter, more rigid principle in the history of human building — stronger, stricter, and more rigid than mere fulfillment of utilitarian function.  Formal considerations outweighed considerations of purpose.

Thus a return to purpose is always revolutionary in its effect.  Forms that have become tyrannical are discarded in order to create — from the recollection of the original function, from as neutral a condition as possible — a rejuvenated, living, breathing form.

Continue reading