Frank Lloyd Wright sought to create an “American” architecture. Wright gained inspiration from his childhood on the family farmlands of Southern Wisconsin. Wright viewed those years as an intimate introduction to the aesthetics of nature. He discovered the catalyst to new principles of architectural expression only after he chose to imitate the prairies of the Midwest. The prairies had been a strangely open land. He believed that the open landscape was nature’s eloquent way of making freedom visible.
He used “compression and release” to make his buildings “speak” directly of freedom, the one great ideal of the American people. This confining space, termed the "compress," made the visitor uncomfortable and encouraged them to move from the entrance into the larger main room, hence the "release." The "release" also imparts a feeling (or the impression) of freedom.
Wright was a stickler for good manners and often used “compression and release” to promote this trait in visitors. Wright designed entrances as narrow hallways with extremely low ceilings, often no more than six feet high. The claustrophobic hallways encouraged a flow of traffic into the main room, thereby preventing people from obstructing the entrance. A similar concept of encouraging good behavior through architecture can be seen in the group dining room of Taliesin West. This room had ceilings that were also uncomfortably low, which encouraged diners to sit at the tables instead of standing.
Compression and release, which is also known as “tension and resolution” or “embrace and release,” were concepts that Wright used in many of his designs, including the playroom in his Oak Park Home and Studio, Johnson Wax Headquarters, the Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, Kentuck Knob, and many others.
The evolution of Wright’s architecture was briefly summarized by Donald Hoffman in “Understanding Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architecture” (Dover Publications, Inc., 1995).
The technique of compression and release are discussed in greater detail in by Grant Hildebrand in “The Wright Space. Pattern and Meaning in Frank Lloyd Wright's Houses” (University of Washington Press 1991).