Frank Lloyd Wright, who emerged as an architect during the turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts movement, gave birth to the first distinctly American brand of architecture. Throughout his seven-decade career, Wright insisted that buildings complement their natural settings: With unfinished materials, simple lines, and open spaces, his structures seem to grow organically out of the landscape. Influenced by sparse Japanese design, Wright rejected the boxy, labyrinthine layouts and excessive ornamentation of Victorian Europe in favor of a style he felt reflected American principles of democracy and self-determination.
Wright is perhaps best known for his striking and innovative dwellings such as the Robie House near Chicago, Fallingwater in rural Pennsylvania, and his longtime home, Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin. He also invented the influential “Prairie Houses,” which he designed regularly between 1900 and 1917. These long, low-to-the-ground buildings with sloping roofs and clean lines were meant to mimic the flatness of the surrounding prairies. The concept eventually led to a proliferation of one-story ranch-style houses around the United States. In addition to his architecture and design, Wright was an educator, philosopher, and prolific writer, publishing 20 books and a myriad of articles.
In addition to the 532 architectural structures he erected worldwide (409 of which are still standing), Wright also designed furniture, textiles, art glass, lamps, dinnerware, silver, and graphic arts. He began creating his own furnishings in the 1890s, as he felt most commercially made objects did not live up to his high aesthetic standards. They were pretty high standards, indeed, because at the time he was employing brothers Leopold and John George Stickley of Fayetteville, New York, to produce many of his furnishings.
Wright believed the interior design of a home could influence the spiritual and emotional well-being of his clients. This philosophy became known as the House Beautiful movement and it applied not just to the spaces he conceived but the furniture within them. Take, for example, the wooden spindle-backed side chairs he designed for his Oak Park home in 1895. The chairs have such high backs that when positioned at the dining table, they create an intimate room-within-a-room effect.
Often Wright made his furniture compact and multi-functional to give living areas an open feeling. In fact, much of his furniture was built into the structure of his homes. Wright also believed that repeating uncomplicated geometric patterns created an atmosphere of order and simplicity. His stained-glass pieces, such as the “Tree of Life” window, echoed these motifs. Even the lines and circles in his textile and carpet patterns, such as his Taliesin Line, played on this theme of geometric harmony.
Wright, who was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin, on June 8, 1867, to a Unitarian pastor and a schoolteacher, spent his formative years, ages 11-20, in Madison. He never went to college to study architecture; he only took two semesters worth of civil engineering classes at the University of Wisconsin. Instead, he learned the ropes first by helping architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee draft and supervise the construction of Unity Chapel in Madison, and then by taking a drafting job at age 20 for the Adler and Sullivan firm in Chicago.
For six years, Wright reported directly to famous architect Louis Sullivan, the only influence Wright would acknowledge in his life, as his “Lieber Meister,” or “beloved master.”...
In 1889, when Wright was 22, he married Catherine Tobin and built a home in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, which eventually became the headquarters of his practice and is now known as the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. His first acknowledged masterpiece, the Winslow House, was built in 1893 in River Forest, Illinois.
It was during this period that he started producing his Prairie Houses. He built the Martin House, which first incorporated his trademark horizontal-band windows; Robie House, one of his most celebrated Prairie Houses; the Unity Temple in Oak Park, one of the first U.S. buildings to feature exposed concrete; and the Larkin Company Administration Building in Buffalo, New York, which boasted innovations like the first wall-hung toilets, steel office furniture, glass doors, and extensive use of ventilation.
Around this time, Wright also began to give lectures on architecture. He famously parted ways with the one of the basic principles of the Arts and Crafts movement—that craftsmanship is always superior to machine-made products—in a 1901 lecture at the Hull House in Chicago. In his talk, “The Art and Craft of the Machine,” he asserted that machines can be used to bring out the simplicity and beauty of wood, establishing himself as the first U.S. architect to declare his acceptance of industrialization.
It was a prolific time for him in other ways, too. He had six children with Catherine before he left her in 1910 to run off to Europe with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, a client’s wife, where he put together two portfolios, published by Ernest Wasmuth, “Ausgefuhtre Bauten und Entwurfe” and “Ausgefuhrte Bauten,” also known as the Wasmuth Portfolios. These publications brought him international acclaim and also influenced architects worldwide.
In 1911, Wright returned to Wisconsin to build a home on the land his mother’s Welsh ancestors had settled. He named this new home Taliesin, which is Welsh for “shining brow.” When Wright was working on Midway Gardens entertainment center in Chicago and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (a structure heralded for its earthquake-proof support system) in 1914, a mentally-ill servant set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin, killing Mamah, two of her children, and four others.
Wright started resurrecting Taliesin right away, and soon married sculptor Miriam Noel. Concurrently, Wright developed California properties like Hollyhock House and Millard House, for which he created the “textile block” technique, weaving together pre-cast concrete blocks with steel rods and cement. A second fire destroyed the Taliesin living quarters in 1925, when a lightning strike ignited faulty electrical wiring. As with the last fire, Wright rebuilt his home as quickly as possible. In 1928, Wright married again, this time to Olga Lazovich, the daughter of the Chief Justice of Montenegro.
In the 1930s, Wright focused on spreading his philosophies by hosting Taliesin Fellowships at his home, where scholars would study architecture, construction, farming, gardening, cooking, nature, and the arts. He promoted his ideas through books such as his autobiography and “The Disappearing City,” in which he proposed the concept of the Broadacre City, wherein each U.S. family is given a one acre-plot, a concept that helped give birth to modern suburbia.
Taking these ideas one step further, he invented prefab housing, which he named “Usonian” homes—from USONA or the United States of North America. These low-cost one-story houses for families of humble means featured innovations like carports, radiant heating using hot-water pipes under concrete-slab floors, and prefabricated walls made of boards and tar paper. His first functional Usonian home was named Jacobs I.
In 1936, Wright erected one of his most famous houses, Fallingwater, which stretches over a waterfall in rural Pennsylvania. The home, built with cantilevered balconies, doesn’t even appear to touch the ground. His other important later buildings include the SC Johnson Wax Administration Building and the Wingspread house in Racine, Wisconsin; the circular Guggenheim Museum in New York City, whose interior was inspired by the spiral of a conch shell; the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma; and the Marin County Civic Center in California.
Eventually, Wright created two other homes for himself. Taliesin West was his winter residence, built on a sprawling several-hundred-acre property in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, Arizona. Then, in 1955, he rented an apartment at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, which he dubbed “Taliesin East” and redecorated it with black and red lacquered furniture and thick peach carpeting.
Many people have speculated that Wright, with his iconoclast reputation and adamant rejection of traditionalist architecture, inspired the architect character Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s book “The Fountainhead.” But in a letter to a fan, Rand herself denied that Roark’s personality and life had any connection to Wright, insisting that the only thing the two have in common is their disdain for cluttered old-world design.
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Our SF: Frank Lloyd Wright had the right ideaSFGate, May 23rd
But if we do need a bridge in the near future, I'd suggest resurrecting Frank Lloyd Wright's discarded Butterfly Bridge plans. First let's set the scene: It was 1953, and the architect, in his 80s, was nearing the end of his career, with nothing to...Read more
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright's legacy enriches visit to Phoenix areaAlbuquerque Journal, May 16th
Hotel Valley Ho: Designed by Edward L. Varney, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, this circa 1956 property has more groovy orange-and-aqua details than Zsa Zsa Gabor had husbands. (Gabor was a regular visitor here, by the way.) Take the 90-minute ...Read more
Wright fans will be right at home on this tourDetroit Free Press, May 16th
Fans of the work of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright will have a rare chance to tour the only three houses he designed in the Detroit area on June 7, the day before the architect's birthday. Lawrence Technological University' College of Architecture...Read more
Bedroom Wing of Frank Lloyd Wright's Coonley Estate SellsCurbed Chicago, May 15th
After a few years of listings and re-listings, nearly six years of vacancy, and decades of weather damage and disrepair, the south wing, or "bedroom wing," of Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic Coonley House in Riverside has sold for $355,000 to a buyer...Read more
Score Frank Lloyd Wright's F.B. Henderson House for Under $1MCurbed Chicago, May 6th
Just days after Frank Lloyd Wright's William Winslow House in River Forest and the George Madison Millard House in Highland Park reentered the market, the F.B. Henderson House in suburban Elmhurst has relisted with a price cut, continuing the...Read more
Get Frank Lloyd Wright's Winslow House at Its Lowest Ask YetCurbed Chicago, May 4th
It's only been a few weeks since Frank Lloyd Wright's William Winslow House in River Forest returned to the market, however its asking price has just been chopped by $200,000, bringing the new ask down to $1.55 million—the lowest price yet for this ...Read more
A Debate Arises Over Frank Lloyd Wright House in PhoenixNew York Times, April 30th
The 1952 house in Phoenix that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for his son, David, and daughter-in-law, Gladys, continues to create controversy. First, the property faced demolition by its owners, who planned to replace it with new homes. Then it was sold...Read more
Frank Lloyd Wright's Millard House Returns With New Photos, Same $799K AskCurbed Chicago, April 28th
Frank Lloyd Wright's George Madison Millard House in Highland Park has returned to market yet again, except this time it reenters the market with a set of new photos. While the previous listing photos weren't terrible, they weren't exactly flattering...Read more