Located in the hills of Los Angeles, Hollyhock House is ahead of its time, and a bit different from Frank Lloyd Wright’s usual designs. The American architect, one of the luminaries of the industry in the 20th century, was well-known for his organic architecture. He integrated buildings into their surroundings to the point that they became part of the landscape. Yet the majestic, temple-like appearance of Hollyhock House doesn’t disappear into the nature around it. Instead, Wright was inspired to design a distinct style for the region, calling it “California Romanza”.
The outside areas play an essential role, and Wright went beyond the simple addition of gardens. He broke the barriers between interior and exterior by connecting all the rooms to the exterior and bringing the outdoors in. The innovative, open plan design might have been inspired by Japanese architecture — Wright was working on the Japanese Imperial Hotel at the same time.
The narrow entrance and its titanic concrete doors are accessible through a long corridor, evoking a secret passageway. Once inside, the visitor is guided to the living room, the focal point of the house.
The furniture, also designed by the architect, is presided over by the majestic concrete fireplace. Above it lies a bas-relief representing earth. Combined with the fireplace, the skylight above and the water surrounding the house, these constitute the four elements — another Japanese touch.
The name of the house is derived from Barnsdall’s favorite flower, the hollyhock, which is present as a motif throughout the house. Wright deconstructed the flower and integrated its abstract, geometrical representations into ornaments and furniture. Thus the dining chairs feature the flower pattern along their spine, while simultaneously evoking human vertebrae. The motif is also found on interior and exterior column reliefs, and actual hollyhock flowers grow in the garden.
Another notable feature of the house is the outdoor pool, mirroring Barnsdall’s passion for theater with an amphitheatre-like shape. Also, Hollyhock House was one of the last projects where Wright included his unique leaded glass window designs.
Barnsdall donated Hollyhock House to the City of Los Angeles in 1927. With the combined efforts of the City and the Barnsdall Art Park Foundation, the house was restored and is now open to the public. It has since earned the status of a National Historic Landmark and is on the waiting list to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Written by Kamila Beyssembaeva
Headline image by Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose