What do Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard M. Stallman have in common? Well, I see an interesting connection. Let’s see if it makes sense once I commit this vision to my blog:
I recently returned from a two-day visit to Bartlesville, OK full of enthusiasm for idealism but wondering how to balance that with pragmatism. Bartlesville is the home to the ONLY Frank Lloyd Wright skyscraper. One gets the sense of the vision of Wright while touring the building especially considering it was built fifty years ago (the original design was from the 1920s, but was not realized because of the Great Depression.) The entire space is a work of art and it is quite literally like walking inside a sculpture. Wright was prolific in the area of design and managed all details of the space including furniture, fixtures and wall paintings. The building and the interior design reflect the idealism of Wright who thought that buildings should be more organic and infused this structure with his idealism. He called Price Tower “the tree that escaped the crowded forest” because it was originally designed for New York, but also because it incorporated a design borrowed from nature. He modeled the skyscraper after the structure of a tree. Price Tower has a strong center support structure with a tap root base and the floors are suspended by cantilevered extensions of the trunk much like branches on a trees. Our tour guide told us that Wright made many buildings which leaked and I thought perhaps that was because nature leaks so much. It was really due to the fact that when the building was designed with glass windows meeting at edges, there was no silicone to seal those joints.
I was a bit disturbed because our camera was confiscated before the tour because pictures are not allowed due to copyright. ARRGH! Funny too, because there is a Whitman poem in the lobby which Mr. Wright changed to his own liking… changed quite a bit.
Then, I realized (strictly my own speculation) that perhaps the restriction of the cameras and the enforcement of copyright of Frank Lloyd Wright’s creations was that of those who are now the keepers of his artifacts and not what Wright would have desired himself. Perhaps he did not have this same view of copyright and ownership of ideas. It does seem evident that he shared his vision and taught many students, shared his creations with them and they, in turn, built on those ideas. This is consistent with what Wright did to Whitman’s poem. He took Whitman’s creative work and built upon the basic idea it expressed.
Wright could have easily patented his cantilevered design and kept anyone else from using it, but his students made many structures based on this design, his idea lived and grew. In fact, it could be argued that his design would have never been realized if not for those students he taught. The main reason that Price Tower was the only sky scrapper built (though many were designed) was likely (though I am no expert) linked to the eccentric and idealistic Wright who was often at odds with the person financing the building of his design. He often held to his idealistic view even when it was pragmatically wrong. An example from our tour was that supposedly Wright didn’t want to install a phone in the penthouse office because there are no phones at the tops of trees. I have no way of knowing if this is true, but it is quite idealistic.
It actually reminds me of some of my studies of another great idealist and luminary from the same time period: Buckminster Fuller. He had some incredible idea, but his idealism often got in the way of the pragmatic work of actually manufacturing his concepts for the public. One of these was the Dymaxion home which people were lining up to purchase, but which he continued to argue with the financiers of the operation because he wanted it to be perfect.
OK, so how does this relate to Richard M. Stallman (RMS) the father of Free Software? RMS came up with the idea of copyleft – the legal codifying of the four software freedoms. RMS suggested that just as copyright protected creative works, there might be the opposite which he called a copyleft. The mechanism for this was the GNU General Public License .
(Now at version 3.)
Before this, the only method for releasing code to the public was to release it to the public domain which would allow access to the source code, but which contains no means to prevent someone from making that code proprietary software.
The GPL insures that the source code is made available and also that any modifications remain under the license, thus insuring that it will remain free.
RMS is quite the idealist and does often butt heads with others over said idealism, but I’m glad to count him in a class with Bucky Fuller and Frank Lloyd Wright. We need idealist visionaries. Those of us who are more pragmatic can keep things moving from day to day, but those idealist can shine a light.