A Photography Exhibit Investigates the Sacred in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architecture

On view at the Beth Sholom Synagogue and traveling to Wright sites around the country, Sacred Spaces: Frank Lloyd Wright x Andew Pielage explores the architect’s unique conception of sacredness and the spiritual weight of his buildings.

Beth Sholom Preservation Foundation, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Taliesin Preservation, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy/Fallingwater have joined together to produce Sacred Spaces: Frank Lloyd Wright x Andrew Pielage, an exhibition of 30 photographs of Wright’s religious and spiritually oriented buildings taken by Andrew Pielage. Curated by Sam Lubell, executive editor of Metropolis, the exhibition will be on view at the Wright-designed Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, before traveling to other Wright sites around the country, including Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin; Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona; and Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. 

Pielage is an architectural photographer who, like Wright, has an artistic practice that draws on a spiritual connection to the natural world. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, he spent his childhood exploring the outdoors in the desert southwest before discovering architecture. Since he began teaching photography at Taliesin West, Pielage has been on a mission to document every existing Frank Lloyd Wright site worldwide, a total of 432 locations.

For Wright, who was raised by a family of Unitarian ministers, sacred inspiration was often found in the natural world. “His architecture grew out of the earth not out of anything from heaven,” explains Lubell. Indeed, Wright made this connection explicit, once writing: “Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day’s work. I follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain.”

Ceiling with stained glass above pews
First Christian Church in Phoenix, Arizona, is one of the buildings featured in Sacred Spaces for its exceptional use of light.

The Sacred Spaces exhibition chronicles how Wright applied this spiritual conception of space to his designs for places of worship including some of his best-known works like Unity Temple in Chicago and Beth Sholom Synagogue to under-the-radar works like the Pettit Chapel, a prairie-style structure in Belvidere, Illinois. Lubell contends that even in his religious buildings Wright’s architecture is grounded in the terrestrial and natural world, pointing out that only one of his religious buildings had a spire, the ultimate symbol of connecting to the heavens. But the architect’s conception of sacred space was not limited to places of worship, and the show also features Pielage’s photographs of homes such as Fallingwater and cultural buildings like the Guggenheim, both buildings imbued with spirituality, if not religion.

By displaying photography of Wright’s religious architecture alongside secular projects, the exhibition shows how Wright used geometry, light, and the relations of his buildings to their landscapes to create places with spiritual resonance. “Wright was a master of controlling light,” Pielage says, “facing his buildings the right way, bouncing light where he wanted it, filling the room with light. For me, as a photographer, a huge theme of a sacred space is light.”

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