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A Lesson from Frank Lloyd Wright: Patterns of Nature

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation | Mar 20, 2017

The following passage, an assignment given to apprentices at Taliesin, was taken from the book, “Art and Philosophy of Frank Lloyd Wright.” The book was written by architect Vernon Swaback, one of Wright’s former apprentices.


Nature Pattern and Conventionalization

Tan-Y-Deri,  July 27, 1967

Assignment due August 3, 1967




Prepare a geometric study of any Wisconsin wildflower endeavoring to get at the essence of its inherent character. Organize this pattern into a design structured upon a unit system. Strive to establish a grammar which will be an inseparable consequence of the design element and unit system. Grammatical pattern must be consistently of the same source and of the same direction from that source. On a separate overlay, isolate the geometric unit system in linear pattern only. Know the common name of the wildflower and bring a few of the flowers to class.

Every design worth considering as a work of art must have a grammar of its own. “Grammar,” in this sense, means the same thing in any construction – whether it be of words, or of stone or wood. It is the shape-relationship between the various elements that enter into the constitution of the thing. Your work must be consistently grammatical for it to be understood as a work of art.

Grammar may be deduced from some plant form that has appealed to me as certain properties in line and form of the sumac were used in the Dana house in Springfield. The motif is adhered to throughout the building.



. . . All my planning was devised on a properly proportional unit system. I found this would keep all to scale, insure consistent proportion throughout the design, which thus became – like tapestry – a consistent fabric woven of interdependent, related units, however various . . . Invariably it appears in Organic architecture as visible feature in the fabric of the design – insuring unity of proportion. The harmony of texture is thus, with the scale of all parts, within the complete ensemble.

Let us learn to see within, at least far enough to grasp essential pattern in all created things. Method in creation will come freely to him who learns to see in the abstract. Study the geometry that is the idea of every form: a quail, a snail, a shell, a fish. Take for analysis the more simple, obvious things first.

Then take the texture of the trees.

Learn the essential pattern that makes the oak and distinguishes it from essential pattern that makes the pine.

Then make new ones. Try after this, the curling vine, flowing water, curving sand.

Then try the flowers, butterflies, and bees.

A Chrysanthemum is easy.

A rock or rose is difficult.

And I do not mean to take the obvious surface effects that differentiate each, but to go within to find the essential geometry of pattern that gives character to each. That is the proper study for an architect who would find method and get legitimate “effects.”

Try this method and gradually discipline your power to see. Get patiently to the point where you naturally see this element of pattern in everything.

– Frank Lloyd Wright