The Ultimate Frank Lloyd Wright
Byron Preiss Multimedia
Reviewed by Jenny Louie
November 13, 1998

The Ultimate Frank Lloyd Wright (UFLW) interactive CD-ROM takes full advantage of the diverse forms of media to present to the user a comprehensive study of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. This CD-ROM has six different components:

This resource uses a compelling combination of audio clips, video clips, computer generated graphics, original photographs, text and simulations in an interactive environment to teach the user about the life and work of Frank Lloyd Wright.

CONTENT


Each of the six components of the CD-ROM provided extensive amounts of information. Structural Elements, Library, Life & Times and Wright Works were presented using primarily text, audio and digitized photographs. The content itself was fairly linear and divided into subcategories and easily browsed. The Library content was quasi-searchable by clicking on a list of terms, but there was no search engine function. Although these components are good interactive resources, the Modeling Wright and Walking Tour components were the most engaging interactive features of the UFLW CD-ROM.

Model Making Component

This component of the program enabled the user to create a their own building using architecture characteristic of Wright’s work. The user could perform three functions to design his/her own Frank Lloyd Wright Building:

Concieve: Allows the user to develop a floor plan by dragging various shapes around.

Articulate: Allows the user to add a variety of, doors, windows, roofs by dragging and dropping.

Visualize: Allows the user to view a three dimensional representation of the building at different angles and distances.

Initially, this simulation is very engaging requiring the users to select and create various scenarios. The functionality of this program, however, was limited in a couple ways. First, there were a pre-defined number of shapes, doors, windows and roofs that could be used. Second, the user can not save his/her work. Once the building was completed and the user had finished viewing it, there was nothing left to do. Therefore, this particular component only has entertainment value.

Walking Tour

The most impressive aspect of this CD-ROM was the simulated walking tours of three of Wright’s buildings: the Robie House, the Ennis-Brown House and the Larkin Building (now destroyed). The initial outside views the house is accompanied by a menu of options for learning more about the particular house. Information on the lighting, furniture and background of the house was given in the forms of text, graphics as well as a narrated video.

Once inside the house, the screen was divided into four sections. There is an actual floor plan and a front view of the house. A blue arrow on each these diagrams indicates your current position in the house. Another frames shows a picture of the room the user is currently in which is accompanied by a text description in the fourth frame. A user navigates throughout the entire house by double clicking on a part of the picture to indicate that he/she would like to go to the left, right or forward. A circle with a line through it and arrows indicate areas where the user can and cannot go. Once a direction is selected the user is whisked through hallways and downstairs into a different room or space. Although this whisking effect detracted somewhat from the ability to "browse" through the house, the user is able to get a feel for the "organic" nature of Wright’s structures. This is of particular importance since the Larkin Building is no longer standing.

TECHNICAL IMPLEMENTATION

Presentation

Once the program is run the user is presented with an introduction sequence similar to a credits sequence before a sitcom of a television show. The portions of a Mondrian-esque work slides into place, a Wright discusses the nature of architecture. This sequence can be skipped and by double clicking (if it occurs to you), and the complete graphic is presented. The graphic itself is also the main navigation tool that links to the six components of the CD-ROM.

The graphic theme of the UFLW CD-ROM was extremely well thought out. The navigation and text were incorporated well through the use of fonts. A music clip is played each time the user starts a different component of the CD-ROM. A major drawback to the presentation was that only about 50% of the screen used viewable. Although the actual experience of being in the buildings could never be expressed with a computer, the diminutive size of the images exacerbated the problem.

Navigation

Navigation in ULFW was fairly confusing. Although the content is structured in a logical way, there needed to be more navigation to enable users could move more freely throughout the information. Each screen contained the icons "I", "Q", "?", "<" "^" and ">." When the mouse is placed over one of these icons the word "Index," "Quit," "Help," "Previous," "Back" or "Next" was displayed on a bar to the right. It took a few trials to learn that "Previous" took the user to the previous screen in the sequence and "Back" took the user back to a higher level page. The index was a list of links of specific houses and their characteristics.

Within the text, there were links that lead to content in other directories. With the current navigation, it was much more difficult to go back to the screen containing the original link with the navigation that was provided. Architectural structures and other Wright related terminology are linked to a definition. In the case of a link to a defintion, a new window would pop up containing a brief explanation. The commands for touring and creating buildings were accessible and easy to use.

Performance

To run UFLW, the user needs to install some portions of the program on his/her hard drive. It requires at minimum a 486 processors with 4 MB of ram and .5 MB of hard drive. The program itself was not particularly stable, even when it was run on a Pentium II 233 PC with 64 MB of RAM. Numerous crashes occurred when running the program.

The delays in response time were kept to a minimum. Due to the diverse nature in the media of this resource CD-ROM was an excellent medium to convey all the information. There were still pauses and lags when accessing the audio and video files, but much less so than if these programs were online.

CONCLUSIONS

Although there several ways that the ULFW could be improved, this resources enables the user to learn about and experience the work of Frank Lloyd Wright in a way that could never be experienced in an Art History classroom. The scope of the content and the functionality of the UFLW are extremely impressive and its greatest strength. The modeling and touring features of this resource were fun and engaging. The inclusion of basic terms, it is especially useful for the user who is not familiar with his work. The scope of the content is extensive and the Walking Tours are engaging which may cause users who are just discovering the Wright’s work to use UFLW repeatedly. Features such as the link to basic terms and concepts makes understanding this artist’s work easier, but at the same time makes it too basic for the Frank Lloyd Wright expert.