Topic: Continuity in/of Architecture, Culture, and Spirituality

In the early 1930s Frank Lloyd Wright began to use the term continuity as a kind of master trope for his concept of an organic architecture.  For Wright the origin of this idea began when his mentor Louis Sullivan . . . eliminated the background in his ornament in favor of an integral sense of the whole.”  At its heart this action seems a simple one, but its implications can be profound.  Our concept of a building, for example, is typically one of a unique and internally structured thing placed upon a site, with the site seen as a setting, a background.  It is similar to the concept of a window or a door as an independently conceived thing placed in a wall, where the wall is seen as background.  In each of these cases the thing, the object, is conceived according to its own rules or habits of thought before being placed in a setting.  When Wright refers to the elimination of the backgroundhe is suggesting that we see a window and the wall in which it sits as one thing, the wall and the idea of the building as one thing, and eventually the building and the landscape as well.  “Instead of many things one thing” he says of this conception, evoking a sense of richness and complexity brought into the present moment: . . . ceilings and walls made one with floors and reinforcing each other by making them continue into one another.”  By the end of the decade Wright was describing what we might see as a broad projection of this vision. “We are talking about the countryside itself developing into a type of building. . .” he wrote, . . . in which will lie naturally, building becoming part of the countryside, building belonging there naturally with grace."

Thus conceived, the idea of continuity presents in architectural terms a powerful way of seeing the interaction of forms and forces in the world around us that has striking parallels to the thought of Wright’s contemporary, John Dewey.  Dewey referred to continuity explicitly as an expression of the idea that we are not merely in nature, we are of nature.  His many works across years of teaching and writing express a desire to overcome our age-old habits of conceiving ourselves otherwise.  “An organism does not live in an environment” he wrote, “it lives by means of an environment.” Its constant adapting and adjusting to the environment, and to the other creatures there, alters that environment.  Because of the Darwinian scope of these relationships, he suggests that our concepts of environment must therefore describe something much more engaging than simply a place for an organism to be, they must “. . . denote the specific continuity of the surroundings with (an organism’s) own active tendencies.”  In other words, the environment is not merely the background, it is the consistent and dramatic presence of all the forces of life with which we are continuous.  Dewey uses this idea to undermine the many dualisms in our traditional conceptions, dualisms such as mind vs. body, theory vs. practice, means vs. ends, even matter vs. spirit, so that we can see interacting forces in motion together in continuous fields of activity in ways that enrich our conceptions of purpose.

This discourse is one that sees endurance and stability in terms of evolution and change.  While being about topology instead of geometry, about the one instead of the many, the unifying nature of continuity encourages variety, transformation, and difference.  It speaks to temporal as well as spatial, social, and spiritual connections even though we know that such transitions are far from easy and often demand ruptures.

Sixty years after Wright’s passing, the ACS Forum will convene in the stunning environment of Taliesin West to ask how the idea of continuity may inform our views of architecture, landscape architecture, art, craft, and urbanism.  What opportunities and challenges might this discourse, and related emerging paradigms, bring to our conceptions of architecture and spirituality, to our views of culture and its apparent (dis)continuities with nature?  Is a conception of continuity even possible in a cultural, physical, and increasingly virtual reality that appears ever more fragmented and discontinuous?  In what ways might this, and other aspects of Wright’s legacy, inspire ACS practices, scholarship, and teaching?

Consideration: while the ACSF 11 symposium will focus on "Continuity," we will consider submissions addressing other issues related to ACSF and include them in at least one open session during the symposium. Please, review submission guidelines.