A division of the Center
for the Study of Diagonality
in World Culture
Frank Lloyd Wright
A religious building symbolic of Wright’s lifelong engagement with the diagonal motif is Beth Shalom synagogue, located just north of Philadelphia. The corrugated, wire-glass roof sits on a concrete base whose projecting bat-like ears redirect the structural loads down from three tripod-arranged, aluminum-faced steel girders. The ceiling is a fiberglass material, originally intended to be blue but finally frosted white.
The pyramidal design of Beth Shalom (commissioned in 1953, completed 1959) is based on one of Wright’s unbuilt earlier schemes called the Steel Cathedral. Author Joseph M. Siry notes “…the crystalline metaphor had been a favorite motif of the German expressionists, whose projects of the 1920s may have inspired both the Steel Cathedral and Beth Shalom.”
The prismatic, angular, jutting forms of Temple Beth Shalom, the Steel Cathedral (1926), and Wright’s Unitarian Meeting House (1951) appear prefigured in the architect’s ornamental glass wreath above the front entrance in the 1902-04 Susan Lawrence Dana House. The wreath is composed of a matrix of triangular shapes forming a diagonally abstracted, though still bilaterally symmetrical, butterfly motif. The Dana House lampshades designed by Wright also hint at the architect’s early embrace of the diagonal motif.
The American Institute of Architects listed the synagogue as one of the 17 American buildings to be preserved recognized as an example of Wright’s contribution to American Architecture.