Do Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings have low ceilings because he was short?

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Dear Cecil: How tall was Frank Lloyd Wright? His autobiography claims he was 5 feet 8 inches tall, but friends say he was only 4 feet 11. The doorways for his houses are only 6 feet 2, which makes me wonder. Was this giant of modern architecture really a midget? Joseph S., Chicago

Cecil replies:

Dear Joseph:

My acquaintance with Frank Wright — a charming fellow in many respects, but a tad pushy — was regrettably brief. Still, I seem to recall him as being of middling stature — certainly no dwarf. Photos taken of him in company with others, as well as the memoirs of his associates, confirm this. You’re quite right, though, in suspecting that the cramped dimensions of many of his buildings have a lot to do with his none-too-lordly stature. Wright’s architectural modus operandi was to build things to suit himself, and to hell with the rest of mankind. He told his students, “I took the human being, at five feet eight and one-half inches tall, like myself, as the human scale. If I had been taller, the scale might have been different.” This attitude did not sit well with many of Wright’s contemporaries. Someone once said to him, “Whenever I walk into one of your buildings, the doorways are so low my hat gets knocked off.” Wright calmly replied, “Take off your hat when you come into a house.” Edgar Tafel, a longtime student of Wright’s, tells a story about a fellow student named Wes Peters, who happened to be 6 feet 4, the same height as the ceilings at Taliesin, Wright’s combination home/studio/school. Watching the Peters’s noggin brush up against the rafters more than once moved Wright to holler out, “Sit down, Wes, you’re destroying the scale!” Pretty funny, and an indication how far being a wise guy can take you in this world.

Cecil Adams

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