Did Ned Meet Frank?

Michael Hanson

There is no doubt that Edwin Lutyens and Frank Lloyd Wright were the greatest British and American architects of their generation respectively, but did they ever meet? At one time, standard reference books on architecture said that they were born in the same year, 1869, but we now know that FLW was almost two years older, having been born on 8 June 1867, whereas Ned was born on 29 March 1869.

Frank led a colourful life, marrying three times, fathering seven children (four sons and three daughters) and adopting an eighth, designing 1,141 projects (of which 532 were built and 409 still survive) and living to 9 April 1959, two months short of his 92nd birthday. Ned was more restrained, marrying just once, fathering five children designing more than 550 projects, of which 80 per cent were built (plus more than 150 war memorials), before dying of lung cancer (caused by his incessant pipesmoking) on New Year’s Day 1944 aged 74.

In 1921, the RIBA awarded Lutyens the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture, which 20 years later was awarded to Frank Lloyd Wright “for the great ability of this outstanding architect.” The RIBA gold medal had been awarded every year since 1848, when the first recipient was C R Cockerell. Owing to the Second World War and the difficulties of travelling, Wright did not attend the royal gold medal ceremony in London but sent a telegram expressing his gratitude. Had he come to London in 1941, he would undoubtedly have met Lutyens, who by then was President of the Royal Academy.

The American Institute of Architects was slower off the mark to create the AIA gold medal for architecture, the first of which went to Sir Aston Webb in 1907, who had been awarded the RIBA royal gold medal two years earlier in 1905. In 1924 the AIA awarded its gold medal to Lutyens, 25 years before it was awarded to Frank Lloyd Wright, which suggests both institutes considered that Lutyens was the greater architect (though it should be noted that Wright was never a member of the AIA, but received its gold medal in 1949 for the quantity, quality and variety of his work, and was finally recognised posthumously in 1991 by the AIA as “the greatest American architect of all time”).

Lutyens made the long sea journey to New York to attend the 58th annual convention of the AIA at a reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 24 April 1925, at which he was presented with the AIA gold medal. Lutyens described the event with a mixture of horror and pride. “For an hour I shook hands with strangers…Everybody standing, and I, poor me, before a huge Union Jack. The President spoke a eulogy and gosh!! called to me and put the medal round my neck – a great and very beautiful golden disc.”

Then Lutyens replied. “It took ten minutes. I had much better not have read it, but just said thank you as best I could. But off I went, and it got worse. I found myself trembling, but could steady myself by pulling the paper I was reading from hard. Then I was frightened that if I pulled as I was pulling, the paper would burst. And I was thinking of every sort of terror as I read. At last it was over. No one could hear me, which was something.”

When it was all over, he recalled that “a band played God Save the King and the Star Spangled Banner,” though the AIA Journal reported that it was a symphony orchestra, and that it played America the Beautiful. Although his sister Elisabeth was a composer, perhaps Ned’s artistic interests did not extend to music.

He was in the US for less than a week, staying at the old British Embassy on Connecticut Avenue, Washington, where he had preliminary discussions with the British Ambassador, Sir Esme′ Howard, about building a new embassy on a larger site on Massachusetts Avenue, which was duly completed in 1928. He embarked for England on the S.S. Homeric on 28 April 1925 in order to be back in London in time for the Royal Academy’s annual banquet.

Earlier, in 1909, Frank Lloyd Wright came to Europe: first, to meet his publisher Ernst Wasmuth in Berlin, who printed two volumes of his work in 1910 and 1911, and then to live in Fiesole, Italy, for a year with his mistress Mamah Cheney, before returning to the USA late in 1910, but it does not appear that he ever came to England (or to Wales, from where his mother’s family originated).

Wright held Lutyens in great respect, writing a three-page review of the Memorial Volumes in Building magazine in July 1951. Having scoured the online archives of the RIBA and the AIA, however, I am unable to find any evidence that Ned and Frank ever met. If anyone knows otherwise, please contact me at mhanson@propertywriters.com

Michael Hanson

When Ned met Frank

from Autumn 2010 Newsletter

In my article in the Summer Newsletter I asked if Lutyens had ever met Frank Lloyd Wright. I am grateful to Dr. Mervyn Miller for pointing out that FLW gave four lectures at the RIBA in May 1939, where he also met Lutyens and Voysey. In 1956, Wright also made a visit to Wales, the land of his mother’s family, to receive an honorary degree from the University of Wales at Bangor. Accompanied by his third wife, Olgivanna, and their daughter Iovanna, he stayed for a few days with Clough Williams-Ellis at Plas Brondanw and visited Portmeirion.

Michael Hanson