As the pioneer in developing an architectural style that strove for an “organic architecture” in building design, Frank Lloyd Wright remains a profoundly influential American architect who developed a distinctly unique style. He designed numerous iconic buildings, including the building Fallingwater which has been called “the best all-time work of American Architecture.” He was a leader of the Prairie School movement and his creative period spanned more than seventy years. Already well known during his life, he was recognized as “the greatest American architect of all time” by the American Institute of Architects in 1991, and he remains an influential figure to this day.
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT BIOGRAPHY
Frank Lloyd Wright was born June 8th, 1867 in Richland Center, Wisconsin. His father was an orator, music teacher and itinerant minister. His mother was the member of a large family of Unitarians, and both his parents were strong-willed and passed their interests and beliefs down onto the young Frank. In 1870, the family moved to Weymouth for Frank’s father to minister a small congregation.
In 1876, his mother visited the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and saw an exhibit of educational blocks created by Friedrich Fröbel, which was an integral part of his kindergarten curriculum. Frank’s mother became excited by the possibilities and bought a set of blocks, allowing the young Wright to play with them as much as he’d like. These geometrically shaped, three-dimensional blocks allowed the user to assemble them in different configurations to form compositions and Wright described the influences that these blocks had on him in his autobiography:
“For several years I sat at the little Kindergarten table-top … and played … with the cube, the sphere and the triangle—these smooth wooden maple blocks … All are in my fingers to this day…”
When Frank Lloyd Wright turned 14, his parents split up, and he took on the mantle of financial responsibility for the family.
He completed high school and joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a special student in 1886. There he joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and took part-time classes for two semesters while working with a professor of civil engineering, Allan Conover. While leaving the school without taking a degree, he found employment in Chicago after the great fires raged through the city, and found himself in the midst of a plethora of development work.
He joined the firm Adler &Sullivan in 1888 where he remained for some time, developing his skills and building concepts and also progressed to his desire to search for new and appropriate styles of Midwestern architecture. This lead to the coining of the movement “Prairie School” of architecture and by 1900, the movement was mature, with Frank Lloyd Wright, almost entirely self-taught, being its chief practitioner. The school used a radical approach to building homes, utilizing mass-produced materials and equipment, and discarded elaborate compartmentalization of rooms in favor of bold, plain walls and roomy family areas. The designs emphasized comfort, convenience and spaciousness all within affordable metrics.
Frank Lloyd Wright would repeatedly lecture during this time, and his most famous talk, The Art and Craft of the Machine was first printed in 1901. By this time, Wright’s practice dealt with everything from apartment houses to group dwellings and recreation centers.
In the late 1920s and into the 30’s, Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic style had fully matured, and can be evidenced by the works Graycliff, Fallingwater and Taliesin West.
The Graycliff estate is located near downtown Buffalo and is sometimes called, “Jewel on the Lake.” It stands as one of the most ambitious and extensive summer estates that Wright ever designed and is a complex of three buildings inside an 8.5-acre landscape. It is notable for its largest building, which incorporates a two stone veneer covered sections that frame a central pavilion-like center of transparent glass walls, allowing visitors to see through the building itself, to the lake beyond.
Fallingwater was a house designed as a weekend home for Edgar Kaufmann and is located in southwestern Pennsylvania. It is considered Wright’s most famous work, and has won numerous awards. The way it elegantly integrates itself into the landscape, almost becoming a part of the waterfall itself, is a marvel to behold, and the cantilevered engineering is a brilliant addition to home that is clearly too large for the small plot of land it was originally intended for. By stretching the house over the water, the size requirements of the buyer could be met.
Frank Lloyd Wright was “one of the original hippies, a touchstone figure who brought us out from behind the walls of closed-in rooms and back into the embrace of nature,” wrote T.C. Boyle of Wright’s love for the natural.
His buildings were notorious for maintenance difficulties, and many had, for example, leaking roofs and too-narrow doorframes that did not allow furniture to pass through. Wright remained indifferent to such complaints, deeming them inevitable in the sight of serious experimentation.
He developed concepts for the single-family home for the average citizen, and would devise ways to let families get good design on a budget.
A lover of poetry, specifically the poetry of Whitman and Emerson, Wright himself considered his buildings poetic and would obsess over incorporating his buildings harmoniously and artistically into the surroundings.
He was not a fan of New York City, or any other city because he felt they were much too cramped and crowded, lacking in cultural and social enrichment. Mostly, however, he believed them to be badly designed.
Frank Lloyd Wright received a great deal of recognition in his lifetime, and many honors for his achievements. He received Gold Medal awards from The Royal Institute of British Architects in 1941 and the American Institute of Architects in 1949. His contributions to the 20th and 21st-century architectural movements are massive, and his influence will resound for decades to come.