Sacred Spaces: Frank Lloyd Wright and Andrew Pielage

Exhibitions at the Speyer Gallery

Available through September 10, 2023

Logo for Sacred Spaces by Andrew Pielage

Expanding our knowledge of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and challenging our assumptions about “sacred” space, Sacred Spaces: Frank Lloyd Wright and Andrew Pielage, curated by architectural journalist Sam Lubell and organized by Fallingwater, Beth Sholom Preservation Foundation, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and Taliesin Preservation, Inc., features photographs captured by Andrew Pielage (b. 1977) over his decade-long project to document Wright’s work. Juxtaposing what may be considered “traditional” places of worship with “iconic” Wright houses, museums, and civic spaces allows for a comparison between reverence for a higher power and the awe of our natural surroundings.

The hatch steps photographed at night with the warm yellow glow of the interior lights shining down and reflecting in the waters of Bear Run below.
Andrew Pielage, Fallingwater (1937), 2018.

Wright thought about space in a fundamentally different way from his contemporaries, and sacred spaces were no exception. He did not design his religious buildings like typical places of worship with a prescribed organization of space, imagery, and heavenly inspiration. His philosophy on religion was one that emphasized self-reliance and personal insight over doctrine, and expressed divinity through man and nature rather than an all-powerful creator. Wright’s introduction to religion came early as both his father, William Cary Wright (1825-1904), and his Welsh grandfather, Richard Lloyd Jones (1799-1885), were Unitarian ministers. Crucially influential was Wright’s maternal uncle, Jenkin Lloyd Jones (1843-1918), the famously unorthodox Chicago preacher who advocated a rethinking of Unitarianism, with a focus on independence, rationality, and free will and, like many religious liberals of his time, also upheld a view of divinity focused on earth, not in heaven.

Exterior of the circular, blue and white Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church with blue sky and white fluffy clouds reflecting in a pool.
Andrew Pielage, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Wauwatosa, WI (1961), 2016.

As a child, Wright absorbed the tenets of Transcendentalism, a Unitarian-inspired movement that believed there is a divine spirit in nature and in every living soul. He especially devoured the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), whose most influential work, Nature (1836), called for a relationship to the universe that is based on observation and intuition, not tradition. “Every man has through his own existence, intuitively, an understanding of nature,” Emerson wrote, charging the reader to build their own world, free of the past. “Nature is, as we are, fluid, and moulded by the spirit which we find within ourselves.”

As Wright began to travel extensively, he was drawn to Eastern philosophy, particularly Taoism, which emphasized balance between humans and nature, and the unity of all spirits. Discussing his concept of organic architecture, he wrote that architecture “develops from within outward in harmony with the conditions of being.” Wright pointed to ancient Taoist philosopher Lao Tze, who “first declared that the reality of the building consisted not in the four walls and the roof but inhered in the space within, the space to be lived in.”

The stone walls and plaster ceilings of Unitarian Meeting House frame modern pews against the sunlight flooding in through large windows behind the pulpit.
Andrew Pielage, Unitarian Meeting House, Shorewood Hills, WI (1951), 2015.

With Unity Temple (Oak Park, IL; 1908), Wright’s first major religious commission, the architect stunned the traditional establishment with its poured concrete facade, square plan, illuminated skylights, and little resemblance to established ecclesiastical design. Wright noted that the congregation’s pastor had at first been trapped in the tradition of “the little white New England churches,” but the architect clearly swayed him. The Unitarian Meeting House (Madison, WI; 1951) shares more with Wright’s Usonian houses than any familiar place of worship, with its concrete floors, large fireplaces, wide overhanging eaves, and a low unobtrusive entryway. All spaces flow into the next, and the space is designed to unify religious and community activities. Wright considered every one of his works to be sacred in some way—infused with the divinity of nature, channeled through humanity, and, by extension, architecture.  Assembling “sticks and stones” to make them stand is not architecture. “No,” he felt. “It is the knowledge to make something sing with the beauty that we associated with the high-minded human spirit.”

About the Artist

Andrew Pielage

Andrew Pielage has photographed 108 Frank Lloyd Wright sites around the country and has been published in newspapers, magazines and websites from CNN to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation’s quarterly magazine.

Born to an adventurous mother and a geologist father, his childhood was spent exploring the dusty backroads of the American Southwest. This constant desert travel rooted his artistic soul in landscape photography.

In his hometown, Pielage discovered the beautiful relationship of landscape and design in the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright inspired his passion for this relationship and his mission to photograph all of Wright’s remaining designs. With over 20 years of experience, including international ad campaigns and publications, television features, exhibitions and workshops, Pielage continues to do what he loves: capture the soul of his subjects and inspire imagination through photography and education.