Up­dated mid-sizer takes us to a house un­like any other

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -


ARCHITECTURE? Pfft. It’s just draw­ing boxes, right? But then we could say the same of de­sign­ing cars – quite lit­er­ally in the case of Volvos past – and yet we li­onise the lines drawn by the great au­to­mo­tive crayon-wield­ers. We love their work be­cause they don’t just please our eye, they make us feel some­thing ap­proach­ing awe.

Build­ings are gen­er­ally harder to get ex­cited about, but there are a few ar­chi­tects who can do the same – I chal­lenge you to visit Barcelona and not go ga-ga over Gaudi, for ex­am­ple.

Only one, though – the late, great Frank Lloyd Wright – had a truly pro­found ef­fect on the world we live in: The Car World. This was partly be­cause he was a mad mo­tor­ing en­thu­si­ast him­self, which in­formed his out­put, and New York’s mag­nif­i­cent Guggen­heim Mu­seum in par­tic­u­lar, but mostly be­cause he came up with some­thing you may well use ev­ery day – the car­port.

Oh, and he’s also ar­guably re­spon­si­ble for the cre­ation of sub­ur­bia, which you prob­a­bly live in ev­ery day.

Wright, a phe­nom­e­nal and pro­lific tal­ent who de­signed more than 1000 build­ings in his long life­time (around 500 of which were built, with more than 420 of them still stand­ing to­day) – is also some­times cred­ited with in­vent­ing the mod­ern garage, be­ing the first to in­cor­po­rate such a struc­ture into an Amer­i­can home – a three­car one no less, for a very early mo­tor­ing en­thu­si­ast – at the Ro­bie House, built in Chicago way back in 1910.

Iron­i­cally, how­ever, he hated garages, and later re­fused to build them for clients, even if they asked nicely, be­cause they pro­moted clut­ter (I can’t imag­ine where he got that idea from), “and clut­ter is a sure sign of a dis­eased mind”, as he liked to say.

When he came to build what many see as his most as­ton­ish­ing master­piece, a feat of fancy called Falling­wa­ter, which some­how floats over a wa­ter­fall, he gave it some­thing he dubbed a ‘car­port’, ar­gu­ing that cars were not horses, and didn’t need sta­bles to stop them from run­ning away.

As a bonus, the car­port also al­lows your most cher­ished ve­hi­cle to show its face, and to be­come part of the aes­thetic of your home, an idea that ap­pealed to the car-mad ar­chi­tect (see side­bars, next spread).

We de­cided to pay pil­grim­age to this cre­ation with a trip to deep­est Penn­syl­va­nia, where this house has been re­ar­rang­ing peo­ple’s jaws (it will re­ceive its 6 mil­lionth vis­i­tor in 2018) for more than 80 years, and Mazda, a com­pany that shows a love of de­sign, par­tic­u­larly with its sleek and sharp-edged new 6, was more than happy to lend us a car for the eighthour schlep from New York City.

I have al­ways loved NYC, but never driven in it, and I must ad­mit that tack­ling its im­mov­able, in­fu­ri­at­ing traf­fic does knock some of the shine off the Big Ap­ple.

Lloyd Wright hated Man­hat­tan’s in­or­ganic messi­ness, ap­par­ently, but still agreed to live there, for five years in the 1950s, in a spe­cial celebrity suite at the Plaza Ho­tel. It was here, ru­mour has it, he had many trysts with his clients, in­clud­ing Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, de­spite the fact that he was in his 80s by then (he was born in 1867). Clearly, we’re talk­ing about an ex­tra­or­di­nary hu­man be­ing here.

We valet park our pretty red Mazda, which looks un­sur­pris­ingly tiny in this thrust­ing con­crete jun­gle, at The Plaza, once dubbed ‘the world’s most lux­u­ri­ous ho­tel’ and spend the night soak­ing up the olde-world won­ders Frank en­dured. There are places where even the air seems scented with the crinkly sniff of money, and this is one of them (we just missed Mariah Carey, ap­par­ently, and the only celebrity

we spot is … Aussie maths nerd and pre­sen­ter Adam Spencer).

Mirac­u­lously we made it out of Man­hat­tan the next morn­ing with our pan­els in­tact (although not our tem­pers, as the 6’s sat-nav man­aged to be­come con­fused by even the sim­ple grid of New York) and quickly found our­selves ex­plor­ing the di­chotomy that is the United States of A-mess-ica.

Not so far from the cul­tured crazi­ness of Man­hat­tan you are driv­ing through Amish town­ships (In­ter­course was our favourite) where sup­pos­edly tech­nol­ogy-fear­ing young girls in bon­nets and boots are rolling in horse-drawn bug­gies with sus­pi­ciously mod­ern in­di­ca­tors.

And then there are the billboards – right op­po­site the Lion’s Den sex shop, some­one has raised a sign say­ing: ‘Lust drags you down to HELL’. Nearby is an ad claim­ing that ‘Good Chris­tians love their en­e­mies’ al­most next to another say­ing, ‘We buy and sell guns’.

A lit­tle way up the free­way – the con­stant road grum­bling of those in­ter­states is a sound well soaked up by our Mazda’s quiet cabin – is my favourite: ‘Im­peach now! Make Amer­ica Amer­ica Again!’

Penn­syl­va­nia, where Falling­wa­ter hides in a deep, fe­cund for­est, is an in­ter­est­ing state, to say the least. It voted Demo­crat in ev­ery elec­tion since 1992, and leaned Obama’s way twice, but in 2016, the state’s vot­ers plumped for Trump.

At a fill­ing sta­tion sit­ting on the Ma­son-dixon line, which seemed to be putting an­tique bowsers to good use, we meet John P Re­ichen­becher, 76, who is very cu­ri­ous about where we’re from and why our car is so puny, and shows off his gen­eral knowl­edge by point­ing out that the fa­mous Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger comes from the same place as us, “yup, that Aus­tria”.

Af­ter a day of dirge-like driv­ing on dron­ing high­ways, we find the fi­nal wind­ing, smooth-sur­faced climb to Falling­wa­ter a blessed re­lief, and a chance to find out if our Mazda 6 GT has real legs to stretch.

The good news is that there are at least touches of the won­drous, Wheels COTY win­ning, MX-5 in the way it steers and turns in, although its ride is, hap­pily, more pli­ant and com­fort­able when cruis­ing.

The 2.5-litre turbo en­gine, how­ever, is more suit­able than scin­til­lat­ing, which is a sur­prise, con­sid­er­ing it also does duty in the CX-9, de­liv­er­ing the same 170kw and 420Nm. While it never strug­gles to over­take or climb hills, nor does it in­spire much in the way of ex­cite­ment, par­tic­u­larly in the au­ral sense. Hitting the Sport but­ton merely seems to make the six-speed auto hold each cog end­lessly, pro­duc­ing more in­duc­tion in­tru­sion than in­vig­o­ra­tion.

As a fam­ily car, how­ever, and an un­de­ni­ably at­trac­tive one, it hits its tar­gets per­fectly. On a twisty bit of road I am re­minded, once again, of how pas­sion­ately I pre­fer a car like the 6, with its in­her­ently su­pe­rior han­dling bal­ance and lower cen­tre of grav­ity, over any small-, mid- or stupid-sized SUV you might care to name. I would have the 6 not just over a CX-5, but over a Q5, per­son­ally.

Mazda Amer­ica’s CEO, Masahiro Moro, told me at the launch of this car last year in LA that Mazda is now tak­ing on the Ger­mans, but more in “de­sign and crafts­man­ship” and “hu­man-cen­tric driv­ing per­for­mance”, than sheer driv­ing plea­sure. It’s about “ev­ery­day driv­ing, rather than peak per­for­mance”, as he put it.

The qual­ity of the ex­te­rior de­sign is inar­guable, but it’s the new in­te­rior that re­ally com­mands your at­ten­tion. The har­mony of the de­sign, the qual­ity of the ma­te­ri­als and gen­eral tac­til­ity all take the cabin of the 6 to a new level for a main­stream man­u­fac­turer. Yes, there’s still room to im­prove the multi-me­dia sys­tem and screen but, vi­tally, ev­ery­thing is un­de­ni­ably nicer than you’d ex­pect at this price point – A$43,990 for our leather-trimmed GT.


Parked in the world’s first car­port out the back of Falling­wa­ter (all four bays are partly filled in now to be used as of­fice space) the 6 looks suit­ably de­signer-y, but not even a Fer­rari could match the ex­pe­ri­ence that is see­ing Falling­wa­ter for the first time.

It’s not just the fact that it seems to pause in the glimmering air over a gush­ing, bub­bling and frankly quite noisy wa­ter­fall, like a ques­tion no one had ever thought to ask, it’s the sheer au­dac­ity of it. The leap of imag­i­na­tion it rep­re­sents, par­tic­u­larly when you con­sider that, as shock­ingly mod­ern as it looks, it was built in 1937.

It’s also as­ton­ish­ing to con­sider that the owner of the site, Edgar Kaufmann, asked Lloyd Wright to build him a house with a view of his favourite wa­ter­fall, and he ba­si­cally said no; any­one can do you a house with a view, I’m go­ing to have you “live with the wa­ter­fall, not just look at it” .

The sound, vi­bra­tion and scent of the wa­ter, which seems to run al­most into the liv­ing area (there’s a float­ing stair­case down that al­lows you to dip your toes in) were to be­come “an in­te­gral part” of their ev­ery­day lives.

Lloyd Wright, who was al­ready 70 when Falling­wa­ter put him on the cover of Time mag­a­zine, was all about the idea of or­ganic de­sign, and it’s ev­i­dent ev­ery­where, most mag­i­cally where one of the boul­ders used to hold fast the can­tilevered ter­races erupts from the stone floor, and into a vast fire­place.

Per­haps most sur­pris­ingly, you re­ally can’t fully ap­pre­ci­ate Falling­wa­ter, or even prop­erly see the Bear Run Falls it strad­dles, un­til you leave it, and walk to The View, a spot cho­sen seem­ingly by some­one who knew In­sta­gram would one day ex­ist.

The direc­tor of Falling­wa­ter, Justin W. Gun­ther – who has 150 staff help­ing to run the prop­erty – can wax lyri­cal about architecture all day, but ask him what his favourite thing is about this house and he’s mo­men­tar­ily lost.

“Falling­wa­ter is about the whole com­po­si­tion, it’s not a sin­gu­lar thing… but the fact that it’s built over a wa­ter­fall is pretty cool,” he laughs.

“Frank wrote that he was try­ing to heal this rift in the land­scape with this house. He saw that break in the rock as a wound in the land, so he’s try­ing to build this work of architecture that’s go­ing to heal and har­monise the land­scape, and I love that idea.”

You would call this Lloyd Wright’s tour de force, and in house terms it is, but New York’s Guggen­heim is surely his more fa­mous work. It, too, has touches of his love for cars, and speed (“Frank was one of those peo­ple who sim­ply couldn’t drive 55” as one ex­pert told us).

“He’d pre­vi­ously de­signed this spi­ral ramp to sit on top of a moun­tain in Mary­land, that was sup­posed to give peo­ple this au­to­mo­tive ex­pe­ri­ence where you drove up to an ob­ser­va­tory plat­form; the Gor­don Strong Au­to­mo­tive Ob­jec­tive, it was called,” Gun­ther ex­plains.

“The Guggen­heim was an in­verse of that de­sign – it spi­rals in in­stead of up, but you’re in­tended to feel that idea of mo­tion and speed and au­to­mo­tive de­sign. When you’re in­side the build­ing he wants you to work your way to the top, then use your own mo­men­tum on the way down.”

LATER, as we head back to our rather rus­tic ho­tel, we bump into Jimmy Klink, 54, with a mouth full of gums and a truck full of guns, plus one on his hip. Jimmy has no idea what a Mazda is, and thinks Frank Lloyd Wright might have been a pre­vi­ous pres­i­dent, but then he also seems to be un­aware of the ex­is­tence of tooth­paste.

For­tu­nately he doesn’t have much to smile about as his be­low-poverty-wage job wash­ing dishes forces him to eat squir­rels that he shoots him­self. A proud NRA mem­ber, Jimmy takes some time to ex­plain to me what the an­swer to school shoot­ings is: “Mr Trump got it right: we needs to arm our school teach­ers.” No, I’m not mak­ing this up. Let’s move on.

In­vent­ing the car­port was one thing, but Lloyd Wright was also one of the first to see how the ad­vent of the car would change the way peo­ple live. He drew up some con­tro­ver­sial plans for a fu­tur­is­tic ‘Broad­acre City’, and was one of the first to pro­mote and dis­cuss the idea of peo­ple com­mut­ing into cities from satel­lite sub­urbs.

“He fig­ured out early that ev­ery Amer­i­can was go­ing to end up hav­ing a car, so we needed to think about de-cen­tral­is­ing our cities; that the way peo­ple were liv­ing was go­ing to change,” Gun­ther says. “Quite prob­a­bly, the rea­son that we have sub­ur­bia to­day is Frank Lloyd Wright.”

It’s a bold claim, but then he was a guy who lived a bold life, and whose de­signs and ideas con­tinue to move peo­ple, long af­ter this death in 1959.

Not bad for draw­ing boxes.



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