Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959) was one of the most prominent architects of the first half of the 20th century.
He was born in the agricultural town of Richland Center, Wisconsin and brought up with strong Unitarian and transcendental principles, eventually designing the Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois. As a child he used to spend a lot of time playing with the Kindergarten educational blocks by Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel (popularly known as Froebel's blocks) given by his mother. These consisted of various geometrically shaped blocks that could be assembled in various combinations to form three dimensional compostions. Wright in his autobiography talks about the influence of these exercises on his approach to design. Many of his buildings are notable for the geometrical clarity they exhibit.
Wright commenced his formal education in 1885 at the University of Wisconsin School for Engineering, where he was a member of a fraternity, Phi Delta Theta. He took classes part time for two years while apprenticing under Allen Conover , a local builder and professor of civil engineering. In 1887, Wright left the university without taking a degree (although he was granted an honorary doctorate of fine arts from the university in 1955) and moved to Chicago, where he joined the architectural firm of Joseph Lyman Silsbee . Within the year, he had left Silsbee to work for the firm of Adler and Sullivan. Beginning in 1890, he was assigned all residential design work for the firm. In 1893, after a falling out that probably concerned the work he had taken on outside the office, Wright left Adler and Sullivan to establish his own practice and home in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, IL. He had completed around fifty projects by 1901 including many houses in his hometown.
Between 1901 and 1911, his residential designs were "Prairie Houses" (extended low buildings with shallow sloping roofs, clean sky lines, suppressed chimneys, overhangs and terraces, using unadorned natural materials), so called because the design is considered to complement the land around Chicago. Wright also played a significant role in "open plan " ideas for residential interiors and he came to regard interior space as a more significant part of his designs. He believed that humanity should be central to all design. Many examples of this work can be found in Buffalo, New York, resulting from a friendship between Wright and an executive from the Larkin Soap Company , Darwin D. Martin . In 1902 the Larkin Company decided to build a new administration building. Wright came to Buffalo and designed not only the first sketches for the Larkin Administration Building , but also three homes for the company's executives:
In 1910, the Wasmuth Portfolio was published, and created the first major exposure of Wright's work in Europe.
He designed his own home-studio complex, called Taliesin (after the 6th century Welsh poet, whose name means literally 'shining brow'), which was built near Spring Green, Wisconsin in 1911. The complex was a distinctive low one-story U-shaped structure with views over a pond on one side and Wright's studio on the opposite side. Taliesin was twice destroyed by fire; the current building there is called Taliesin III. The first time it burned, seven people were killed, including Wright's mistress, Mamah Borthwick, and her two children (by her husband Edwin Cheney).
He visited Japan, first in 1905, and Europe (1909), opening a Tokyo office in 1915. In the 1930s Wright designed his winter retreat in Arizona, called Taliesin West; the retreat, like much of Wright's architecture, blends organically with the surrounding landscape. In Tokyo, Wright designed his famous Imperial Hotel, completed in 1922 after beginning construction in 1916. On September 1, 1923, one of the worst earthquakes in modern times hit Tokyo and its surrounding area. The Great Kanto Earthquake completely leveled Tokyo and effects from the earthquake caused a large tsunami, destructive tornados, and fires in the city. A legend grew out of this disaster that Wright's Imperial Hotel was the only large structure to survive the destruction, but in fact this was far from true.
Wright is responsible for a concept or a series of extremely original concepts of suburban development united under the term Broadacre City. He proposed the idea in his book The Disappearing City in 1932, and unveiled a very large (about 12 by 12 feet) model of this community of the future, showing it in several venues in the following years. He went on developing the idea until his death.
It was also in the 1930s that Wright designed many of his "Usonian" houses—essentially designs for working-class people that were based on a simple geometry, yet elegantly done and practical. He would later use such designs in his First Unitarian Meeting House built in Madison, Wisconsin between 1947-1950.
His most famous house was constructed from 1935 to 1939—Fallingwater for E.J. Kaufmann at Bear Run, Pennsylvania , which was designed according to Wright's desire to place the occupants close to the natural surroundings, with a stream running under part of the building. The construction is a series of cantilevered balconies and terraces, using stone for all verticals and concrete for the horizontals. The house cost $155,000, including the architect's fee of $80,000. Kaufmann's own engineers argued that the design was not sound. They were overruled, but they were later proven to be correct—the cantilevered floors began to sag shortly afterwards. In the late 1990s, steel supports were added under the lowest cantilever, until a detailed structural analysis could be done. In March of 2002, post-tensioning of the lowest terrace was completed.
Wright practiced what is known as organic architecture, an architecture that evolves naturally out of the context, most importantly for him the relationship between the site and the building. In this, he was heavily influenced by American furniture maker and architect Gustav Stickley.
One of his projects, Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin, was completed in 1997 on the original proposed site, using Wright's original design for the exterior with an interior design by his apprentice Tony Puttnam . Monona Terrace was accompanied by controversy reminiscent of Wright's own life, partly involving the authenticity of the combined interior and exterior designs, and partly due to the covering-up of a locally-venerated roadside mural.
Wright's personal life was a colorful one that frequently made news headlines. He married three times: Catherine Lee Tobin in 1889, Miriam Noel in 1922, and Olga Milanov Hinzenberg (Olgivanna) in 1928. Olgivanna had been living as a disciple of Armenian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff, and her experiences with Gurdjieff influenced the formation and structure of Wright's Taliesin Fellowship in 1934. The meeting of Gurdjieff and Wright is explored in Robert Lepage's The Geometry Of Miracles. Olgivanna continued to run the Fellowship after Wright's death, until her own death in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1985.
Wright died on April 9, 1959, having designed an enormous number of significant projects including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, a building which occupied him for 16 years (1943–1959) and is probably his most recognized masterpiece. The building rises as a white spiral from its site on Fifth Avenue; its interior is similar to the inside of a seashell. Its unique central geometry was meant to allow visitors to experience temporary exhibits with ease by taking an elevator to the top level and then viewing artworks by walking down the slowly-descending central spiral ramp. Unfortunately, when the museum was completed, a number of important details of Wright's design were ignored, including his desire for the interior to be painted off white. Furthermore, the Museum currently designs exhibits to be viewed by walking up the curved walkway, rather than walking down from the top level.
Wright built 362 houses. About 300 survived in 2005. Only one was lost to forces of nature, a waterfront home in Mississippi destroyed by a hurricane in the 1960s; although, the Ennis-Brown House in California had been damaged by earthquake and rain-induced ground movement. While a number of the houses are preserved as museum pieces and millions of dollars are spent on their upkeep, other houses have trouble selling on the open market due to their unique designs, generally small size and outdated features.
Many speculate that the character of Howard Roark, an architect in Ayn Rand's book The Fountainhead, is based, at least in part, on Frank Lloyd Wright. Rand herself, however, denied this.
One of Wright's sons, Frank Lloyd Wright Jr., known as Lloyd Wright, was also a notable architect.
- Arthur Heurtley House, near Oak park , Illinois 1902
- William H. Winslow House, near River Forest, IL, 1894
- Ward W. Willits House, Highland Park, IL, 1901
- Susan Lawrence Dana House, The Dana-Thomas House Springfield, IL, 1902 - 1904
- George Barton House, Buffalo NY, 1903
- Darwin D. Martin House and Gardener's Cottage , Buffalo NY, 1904, 1905
- Burton & Orpha Westcott House, Springfield, Ohio, 1904
- William Heath House , Buffalo NY, 1905
- The Larkin Administration Building , Buffalo NY, 1906
Unity Temple, Oak Park, IL, 1906
- Avery Coonley House, Riverside, IL, 1907
- Walter V. Davidson House , Buffalo NY, 1908
- Frederick C. Robie House, Chicago, IL, 1909
Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Japan, 1915-1922; demolished, 1968, lobby and pool reconstructed in 1976 in at Meiji Village, near Nagoya, Japan
- Aline Barnsdall House ("Hollyhock House "), Los Angeles, CA, 1917
- Charles Ennis House , Los Angeles, CA, 1923
- Darwin D. Martin Residence, ("Graycliff Estate "), Buffalo NY (Derby, NY), 1927
Johnson Wax Headquarters, Racine, Wisconsin, 1936
- Paul R. Hanna House ("Honeycomb House"), Stanford, CA, begun 1936
- Herbert F. Johnson House ("Wingspread"), Wind Point, WI, 1937
- V.C. Morris Gift Shop , San Francisco, CA, 1948
Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, 1952
- Marin County Civic Center , San Rafael, CA, 1957-1966 (featured in the movie Gattaca)
- Blue Sky Mausoleum , Buffalo NY, 2004
Last updated: 08-25-2005 16:40:22