A Quantitative Comparison between Wright’s Prairie Style and Triangle-Plan Usonian Houses using Fractal Analysis

By Josephine Vaughan and Michael J. Ostwald.

Published by The Design Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In recent years a computational variation of the “box-counting method” has been developed that can produce objective and quantitative determinations of the visual complexity of buildings. Ongoing research to test the validity of this computational method has produced more than 30 sets of consistent data representing the work of several historically significant architects including Eileen Gray, Le Corbusier, Kazuyo Sejima and Peter Eisenman. These results suggest that the box-counting method is potentially significant and that its computational variation merits further testing and exploration. Past research using this method has typically focused on sets of works, produced as part of a consistent stylistic period in an architect’s career. This research typically showed significant clustering of the characteristic complexity, or fractal dimension, of various architect’s designs. If this is true, then the method may be useful for differentiating particular stylistic periods in an architect’s career. In order to test this possibility, the present paper undertakes a comparison between the visual complexity of five of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Triangle-Plan Usonian houses and five of Wright’s Prairie houses. Through this comparison of the fractal dimensions of both the elevations and plans of these ten buildings it may be possible to quantify the formal differences between these two periods in the architect’s oeuvre.

Keywords: Computational Analysis, Design Tools, Frank Lloyd Wright, Visual Complexity

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.333-344. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 704.162KB).

Josephine Vaughan

Research Assistant, School of Architecture and Built Environment, The University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

Josephine Vaughan is a research higher degree candidate at the University of Newcastle, where she is also a member of the architectural computing research group. Her postgraduate studies are focused on the fractal dimensions of buildings. Josephine’s architectural designs have been exhibited and installed regionally and nationally.

Prof. Michael J. Ostwald

Dean, School of Architecture and Built Environment, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, Australia

Professor Michael J. Ostwald is Dean of Architecture at the University of Newcastle, Australia, a Visiting Professor at RMIT University (Melbourne) and a Professorial Research Fellow at Victoria University Wellington.He has a PhD in architectural history and theory and a higher doctorate (DSc) in the mathematics of design. He has lectured in Asia, Europe and North America and has written and published extensively on the relationship between architecture, philosophy and geometry. Michael Ostwald is a member of the editorial boards of the Nexus Network Journal and Architectural Theory Review and he is co-editor of the journal Architectural Design Research.

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