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Frank Lloyd Wright
1869 - 1959

The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed dramatically innovative buildings during a career of almost 70 years. His work established the imagery for much of the contemporary architectural environment.


The most famous, although never the most popular or successful, among American architects, Frank Lloyd Wright set himself the task, as no previous architect had, of designing distinctive and varied architecture for the diverse terrains of a nation that stretched over the valleys, deserts, woods, and mountains, spanning an entire continent. Herald of thesis that architecture should express its time, its site, its builders, and its materials, Wright argued from that romantic, specifically Hegelian thesis that the United States, as a new nation with a new society on a new frontier with a new technology, should express those unique conditions and should build its special aspirations into buildings that would be distinctively and wholly its own - a new style that would speak of the American environment, "Usonian," he once called it, an architecture of democracy.

Wright's art was so original, his imagination was so endlessly fertile, and his sense of form was so appropriate to the site and so bold and uninhibited that even the most recent students, although they are more than a generation removed from Wright and nurtured in urban premises and technical resources alien to his, still see in his drawings and his buildings that virtuosity in planning, that command over form, that grace in shaping space which have been the talent of only a few, the greatest masters of architecture.

Wright was born on June 8, 1869, in Richland Center, Wis. When he was 12 years old his family settled in Madison, and Wright worked on his uncle's farm at Spring Green during the summers. He developed a passion for the land that never left him. He attended Madison High School and left in 1885, apparently without graduating. He went to work as a draftsman and the following year, while still working, took a few courses in civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin.

In 1887 Wright went to Chicago, worked briefly for an architect, and then joined the firm of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. Wright was very much influenced by Sullivan, and, although their relationship ended in a rupture when Sullivan found out that Wright was designing houses on his own, he always acknowledged his indebtedness to Sullivan and referred to him as "lieber Meister." In 1893 Wright opened his own office.

Master of Domestic Architecture

The houses Wright built in Buffalo and in Chicago and its suburbs before World War I gained international fame wherever there were avant-garde movements in the arts, especially in those countries where industrialization had brought new institutional and urban problems and had developed clients or patrons with the courage to eschew traditional design and the means to essay modernism, as in Germany (the Wasmuth publications of Wright's work in 1910 and 1911), the Netherlands (H. T. Wijdeveld, ed., The Life Work of the American Architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1925), and, later, Japan, where Wright designed the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo (1916-1922). Similarly, in the United States, Wright's clients were exceptional individuals and small, adventurous institutions, not governments or national corporations. A small progressive private school (Hillside Home School, Spring Green, 1902) and an occasional private, commercial firm (Larkin Company in Buffalo) came to him, but, chiefly, his clients were midwestern businessmen, practical, unscholarly, independent, and moderately successful, such as the Chicago building contractor Frederick C. Robie, for whom Wright designed houses.

Commissions to design a bank, an office building, or a factory were rare; Wright never received any large corporate or governmental commission. These were awarded to the classicists and the Gothicists of the early 20th century; at mid-century, after the case for modernism was won, the corporate commissions continued to go to large, dependable firms who worked in a rectilinear, contemporary idiom. Wright was left for nearly 70 years to exercise his art, always brilliantly and often resentfully, chiefly in domestic architecture, where, indeed, Americans, unlike many other peoples, have long lavished enormous, probably inordinate attention, assigning to their spacious, freestanding, single-family dwellings the inventiveness that some other nations have reserved for public architecture.

Early, Wright insisted upon declaring the presence of pure cubic mass, the colour and texture of raw stone and brick and copper, and the sharp-etched punctures made by unornamented windows and doors in sheer walls (Charnley House, Chicago, 1891). He made of the house a compact block, which might be enclosed handsomely by a hipped roof (Winslow House, River Forest, Ill., 1893). Soon, the restrained delight in the simplicity of a single mass gave way to his passion for passages of continuous, flowing spaces; he burst the enclosed, separated spaces of classical architecture, removed the containment, the sense of walls and ceilings, and created single, continuously modified spaces, which he shaped by screens, piers, and intermittent planes and masses that were disposed in asymmetric compositions. By suggesting spaces, but not enclosing them, then by connecting them, Wright achieved extended, interweaving, horizontal compositions of space, and his roofs, windows, walls, and chimneys struck dynamic balances and rhythms. Vertical elements rise through horizontal planes (Husser House, Chicago, 1899); interior spaces flare from a central chimney mass (Willitts House, Highland Park, Ill., 1900-1902); low spaces rise into a high space that is carved into a second story (Roberts House, River Forest, 1908). Unexpectedly, light is captured from a clerestory or a room beyond, and a space flows in vistas seen beyond a structural pier, beneath low roofs and cantilevered eaves, over terraces and courts, and through trellises and foliage into gardens and landscape (Martin House, Buffalo, 1904). All his genius with weaving space, with creating a tension between compact alcove and generous vista, with variegated light, with occult balances of intermittent masses, with cantilevers that soared while piers and chimneys anchored, came to unrivaled harmony in the Robie House, Chicago (1909; now the Adlai Stevenson Institute, University of Chicago).

The Robie House has few antecedents. Perhaps its composition recalls the 19th-century rambling, picturesque houses of Bruce Price and Stanford White; its spaces owe something to Japanese architecture, and something is owed, too, to the master of dramatic balance of bold masses, Henry Hobson Richardson; but the Robie House is Wright's own, a uniquely personal organization of space. While wholly original, the Robie House stands within the principles of Chicago's special theory of architecture, as developed by Sullivan. That the Robie House also reflects an international movement, cubism, which had begun to fascinate pioneering artists in France, the Netherlands, and Germany, shows that Wright, while sensitive to his contemporaries' innovation, subsumed many traditions without any subservience.

Philosophy of Architecture

Wright's philosophy of architecture was compounded of several radical and traditional ideas. There was, first, the romantic idea of honest expression: that a building should be faithful in revealing its materials and structure, as Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc had argued, without any classical ornament or counterfeit surface or structure, which John Ruskin abhorred. There was, second, the idea that a building's form should reflect its plan, its functional arrangement of interior spaces, as Henry Latrobe and Horatio Greenough had proposed. There was, third, the conviction that each building should express something new and distinctive in the times (G. W. F. Hegel, Gottfried Semper) and specifically the new technical resources, such as steel skeletons and electric light and elevators, which suggested skyscrapers and new forms of building (John Wellborn Root). There was, fourth, the ambition, even pride, to achieve an art appropriate to a new nation, an American art (Emerson, Hawthorne, Whitman), without Continental or English or colonial dependencies. Finally, there was the theory derived by Sullivan from Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer that a building should be analogous to a biological organism, a unified work of art, rooted to its soil, organized to serve specified functions, and, as a form, evolved as an organism evolves, fitted to its landscape, adapted to its environment, expressive of its purpose.

Those diverse currents of thought were not readily united. The Unitarianism of Wright's family prepared him to design the humanist Unity Church in Oak Park, Ill. (1906), a cubistic, light-filled meetinghouse, constructed, quite extraordinarily, in concrete. His introduction in kindergarten to F. W. A. Froebel's system of education through construction with blocks prepared Wright to design the playhouse and school of the beautiful Avery Coonley House, Riverside, Ill. (1908); there, significantly, in the progressive architecture of a house and school, John Dewey and his students were educational advisers. Form breaking and function making, the ferment of ideas in late-19th-century Chicago encouraged new thinking about institutions for religion, education, and urban settlement; Wright led a revolt from precedent in form and a celebration of necessity in new functions. His essay "The Art and Craft of the Machine" announced his leadership at Hull House in 1901; and he continued to state his dissatisfaction with America's failure to build institutions and environment adequate to the social problems and opportunities. His theory of an "organic architecture: the architecture of democracy" was broadcast in his Princeton lectures of 1930 and London lectures of 1939, as well as in his Autobiography (1932), which also offers some insight into his life and his family, including the apprentices who lived with him and for whom he established the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932 at Taliesin East, the house Wright built over many years (beginning in 1938) at Spring Green.

His Idea and Imagery for Modern Design

If the handsome Taliesin East, whose roofs are rhythmical accents on the brow of a bluff overlooking the confluence of two valleys, were all that Wright left, he would be remembered as the finest architect who worked in the 19th-century tradition of romantic domestic design. But, early, he prepared an idea and an imagery for modern design. He achieved in the Larkin Building, Buffalo (1904; destroyed) an unprecedented integration of circulation, structure, ventilation, plumbing, furniture, office equipment, and lighting; that building, an early example of modern commercial architecture, was emulated by Peter Behrens and Walter Gropius in Germany and Hendrik Petrus Berlage in Holland. Wright's plans for Midway Gardens, Chicago (1914; demolished) and the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo (1916-1922), organized complex modern institutions into new architectural compositions, and they showed inventiveness in structural technique, such as the structure of the Imperial Hotel, which was intended to resist earthquakes, which it did, even though it could not resist the wrecker in 1967. Wright tended to enjoy and to glorify nature and the rural condition, but he attacked various urban problems. Beginning with inexpensive row apartments in 1895, he designed buildings for cities, culminating in his drawing for a high-rise tower whose floors were to be cantilevered from a central shaft, the St. Mark's Tower project for New York City (1929); that project is reflected in the Price Tower at Bartlesville, Okla. (1953). Like many of his projects, the tower was a fundamental element in the Broadacre City project, the coherent, self-sufficient agricultural and industrial community Wright designed in 1931-1935.

Constant Search for Form

Significantly, Wright's concern for 20th-century problems, including urban form, did not lead him to the mechanistic rectilinear forms and finishes admired by Gropius or the sculptural purism of Le Corbusier. Always distinctive and independent, Wright's style changed often. For about 10 years after 1915 he drew upon Mayan massing and ornament (Barndall House, Hollywood, 1920). He cast ornament in concrete blocks (Millard House, Pasadena, 1923), and he did not achieve his several versions of a decisively modern style until various European architects, including Le Corbusier and others, notably Richard Neutra (who came to the United States in the late 1920s), had dramatized a sheer, stripped geometry. Even then Wright avoided the barrenness and abstraction of the isolated, single parallelepiped; he insisted upon having the multiple form of buildings reflect the movement of unique sites: the Kaufmann House, "Falling Water," at Bear Run, Pa. (1936-1937), where cantilevered, interlocked, reinforced-concrete terraces are poised over the waterfall; the low-cost houses (Herbert Jacobs House, Madison, Wis., 1937); and the "prairie houses" (Lloyd Lewis House, Libertyville, Ill., 1940). No architect was more skillful in fitting form to its terrain: the Pauson House in Phoenix, Ariz. (1940; destroyed) rose from the desert, like a Mayan pyramid, its battered ashlar and shiplapped, wooden walls reflecting the mountains and desert. There is a compatibility, an organic adaptation in stone walls, wooden frames, and canvas that marries Wright's western home, Taliesin West (1938-1959), to Maricopa Mesa, near Phoenix.

Those brilliant rural houses did not reveal how Wright would respond to an urban setting or to the program of a corporate client. But in the Administration Building for the Johnson Wax Company, Racine, Wis. (1936-1939, with a research tower added in 1950), he astonished architects with his second great commercial building (after the Larkin Building). A continuous, windowless red-brick wall encloses a high, clerestory-lighted interior space; that space, which contains tall dendriform columns, is one of the most serene and graceful interior spaces in the world. Thereafter, a college, Florida Southern at Lakeland, Fla., was encouraged to retain Wright to design its campus (1938-1959); unfortunately, it suffers from an obsession with multifaceted form and oblique and acute angles (as does the Unitarian Church in Madison, Wis., 1947). But after those probings toward a new geometry Wright succeeded with complex pyramids (as suggested earlier by his Lake Tahoe project of the 1920s) when he built the Beth Sholom Synagogue at Elkins Park, Pa. (1959), a Mycenaean sacred mountain. Such a temple, a sanctuary of light approached by a continuous spiral, fascinated the elderly Wright. At Florida Southern College he juxtaposed circle and fragmented rhombus, recalling Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli, Italy; he set a helix inside the Morris Gift Shop in San Francisco (1948-1949). Ultimately, he conceived of having the helix surround a tall central space: the six-story Guggenheim Museum in New York City (1946-1959), which paid in significant functional defects to gain a memorable experience in viewing art, especially where the helix affords views into a side gallery below.

Of Wright's colossal helix that he proposed for the Golden Triangle in Pittsburgh (1947), nothing was built. He envisioned ramps for automobiles that would lead to stores and galleries and auditoriums. His drawings, which are in ink and crayon on huge sheets of rice paper, stand among the greatest and most inspiring displays of architectural imagination; what was built in Pittsburgh by other hands is expedient and vulgar. His drawings are magical and lyrical. No one might ever build accordingly, but Wright was never content with the commonplace or servile to the conventional or the practical. He imagined the wonderful where others were content with the probable. Avoidance of the vulgar or probable excited him to ecstatic design: the hyper-bole of the Grand Opera and Civic Auditorium for Baghdad, Iraq (1957). The drawings of helix, domes, and finals suggest how far Wright's talent transcended any client's capacity fully to realize his dream: a world of sanctuaries and gardens, of earth and machines, of rivers, seas, mountains, and prairies, where grand architecture enables men to dwell nobly.

Wright died at Taliesin West on April 9, 1959. His widow, Olgivanna, directs the Taliesin Fellowship.


American architect, some say the greatest of C20. He learned the rudiments of his art from Joseph Lyman Silsbee (1845–1913), whose essays in the Queen Anne and Shingle styles were competent. He later (1888) became assistant to Louis H. Sullivan, and remained with the firm of Adler & Sullivan until 1893. While revering Sullivan, Wright was also influenced by Owen Jones, the English Arts-and-Crafts movement, Ruskin, and Viollet-le-Duc (or rather by what Viollet was said to have written), interlocking forms (perhaps suggested by the Froebel blocks with which he played when a child), and Japanese architecture (prompted by the Japanese pavilion at the Chicago Exposition of 1893). In 1889 he designed his first independent building, his own house and studio at Oak Park, Chicago, IL, an eclectic work, with a shingled exterior (altered and extended 1889–1911), and in 1894 became a founder-member of the Arts-and-Crafts Society in Chicago. At this time he began to evolve his Prairie House type, with volumes developing from a central core, long, low roofs that appeared to float over the structure, corners treated as voids, and enclosing walls that were treated more as independent screens (techniques he called ‘breaking the box’). Furthermore, the main axes within the houses were continued into the gardens and terraces, suggested in the schemes Wright published in the Ladies' Home Journal (1901), and developed in the series of houses he designed from that time until just before the 1914–18 war. Yet Lutyens had also been moving in this direction, as with the Deanery, Sonning, Berks. (1899–1902), while Schinkel had also brought gardens, water, and terraces within his profoundly ordered geometries, as at the Court Gardener's House and Roman Baths complex, Potsdam (1820s). Wright's finest essays in the Prairie House style were the Willitts House, Highland Park, IL (1902), Robie House, Chicago (1908), and Coonley House, Riverside, IL (1908–12).

With the Unity Temple (Unitarian Church), Oak Park (1906), and the Larkin Building, Buffalo, NY (1904—demolished), a severe, monumental architecture evolved, in which a powerful grid-like geometry was well to the fore, while the architectural language seemed to owe something to a stripped Classicism reminiscent of aspects of the work of Schinkel, Otto Wagner, and others (especially the rows of square columns at Unity Temple which recall the Berlin Schauspielhaus (Play House) by Schinkel and some of the Vienna Metropolitan Railway Stations by Wagner).

Wright's work had been widely publicized, and in 1910 Wasmuth of Berlin published Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (Realized Buildings and Projects of Frank Lloyd Wright) as a handsome pair of portfolios, followed in 1911 by a paperback volume of illustrations and plans. The introduction was by C. R. Ashbee, the prominent English Arts-and-Craftsman, and these publications helped to promote Wright's work. His designs seem to have enjoyed considerable favour in Germany (Gropius and Mies van der Rohe were two architects affected) and in The Netherlands, in particular, where Robert van't Hoff, Dudok, and some members of De Stijl were undoubtedly influenced by his work, and it shows. In 1911 he moved to the Wisconsin countryside, where he built his Prairie House-based home and studios at Taliesin (burnt down 1914, but rebuilt and extended during the 1920s). There he was the Master with his pupils, a pose he developed further at Taliesin West, mentioned below.

In spite of a scandalous private life he gained two important major commissions: the Midway Gardens, Chicago (1913—demolished); and the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Japan (1915–22—with Antonin Raymond—also demolished). Both had highly organized plans in which axes featured prominently, and both were lavishly decorated with polygonal, triangular, and other sharp-angled forms, including chevrons, that had already begun to appear on the lead cames of some of the Chicago houses, and that anticipated Art Deco ornament. With the Hollyhock (or Barnsdall) House (1916–21), Los Angeles, Calif., he experimented with repetitive stylized motifs (abstractions of hollyhock forms) cast in moulds (the whole house was cement-rendered), and created a building faintly reminiscent of pre-Columbian American architecture, a theme more pronounced in the Ennis House, Los Angeles (1923–4), constructed of decorated concrete blocks, and featuring battered walls set on terraces. He again used concrete blocks in e.g. the Millard House, Pasadena, CA (1923), and Freeman House, Los Angeles (1923–4), but for the rest of the decade his work did not attract the attention his earlier designs had enjoyed. In the 1930s, however, Wright's buildings were once more widely publicized.

At the Kaufmann House (1935–48), ‘Falling Water’, Connelsville, PA (1935–48), he gave full expression to horizontals and verticals in a tour-de-force constructed over a stream called Bear Run, a design that had superficial resemblances to the International Modernism of the time, but, with its coursed rubble walls and hand-crafted detail, owed more, perhaps, to the Arts-and-Crafts tradition, while the disposition of elements derived from his Prairie House type. In 1936–9 he designed and built the Johnson Wax Factory, Racine, WI, with a tall interior the roof of which was supported by tapered mushroom-shaped columns, the walls being of brick with glass tubes forming the light-sources. At the same time he developed his low-cost Usonian houses, based on vernacular American buildings, that explored the possibilities of prefabrication. The prototype was the Jacobs House, Madison, WI (1936–7), and Wright publicized his ideas in Architectural Forum of 1938. He also evolved proposals for Broadacre City, a low-density plan in which the Usonian house would feature large. In 1937 he designed Taliesin West, winter quarters for himself and his disciples, which he built at Scottsdale, AZ From 1942 he prepared designs for the Guggenheim Museum, NYC (completed 1960), a spiral ramp that proved to be an inappropriate form for viewing works of art, but as an exercise in formal geometry was remarkable for its time. At Bartlesville, OK, he designed the Price Tower (1953–6), a tall block rather more elegant than the slabs so prevalent during that period, demonstrating Wright's interest in the acute angles he had also employed at Taliesin West. Among his last works the Marin County Civic Center, San Rafael, Calif. (1957–66), and the Beth Sholom Synagogue, Elkins Park, PA (1958–9), deserve note.

Wright has been seen as an exponent of organic architecture, by which he seems to have meant design that proceeds from the nature of Mankind and his circumstances as they both change. Although his writings suffer from rather obvious conceit, prolixity, and dense obfuscation (e.g. An Autobiography (1943), An Organic Architecture (1939), and When Democracy Builds (1945)), they were collected and published as Frank Lloyd Wright on Architecture: Selected Writings 1894–1940 (1941) and In the Cause of Architecture: Essays by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Architectural Review 1908–1952 (1975).


Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8 1867 – April 9 1959) was one of the world's most prominent and influential architects.

He developed a series of highly individual styles over his extraordinarily long architectural career (spanning the years 1887–1959) and he influenced the entire course of architecture and building internationally. To this day, he remains America's most famous architect.

Wright was also well known in his lifetime. His colorful personal life frequently made headlines, most notably for the failure of his first two marriages and for the 1914 fire and murders at his Taliesin studio.

Early years

Frank Lloyd Wright was born in the agricultural town of Richland Center, Wisconsin, United States, on June 8, 1867, just two years after the end of the American Civil War. His father, William Russell Cary Wright was a locally admired orator, music teacher, occasional lawyer and itinerant minster. He had met and married Anna Lloyd Jones, a county school teacher, the previous year when he was employed as the superintendent of schools for Richland County. Originally from Massachusetts, William Wright had been a Baptist minister but he later joined his wife's family in the Unitarian faith. Anna Lloyd Jones was a member of the large, prosperous and well-known Lloyd Jones family of Unitarians, who had emigrated from Wales to southwestern Wisconsin. Both of Wright's parents were strong-willed individuals with idiosyncratic interests that they passed on to Frank. His mother declared when she was expecting her first child that he would grow up to build beautiful buildings. She decorated his nursery with engravings of English Cathedrals torn from a periodical to encourage the infant's ambition. The family moved to Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1870 where William had been called as a minister to a small congregation. During this period in the East, Anna visited the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition and viewed an exhibit of educational blocks created by Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel. The blocks, known as Froebel Gifts, were the foundation of his innovative kindergarten curriculum. A trained teacher, Anna was excited by the program and purchased a set for her family. As a child, Frank spent a great deal of time playing with the kindergarten educational blocks. These consisted of various geometrically shaped blocks that could be assembled in various combinations to form three-dimensional compositions. 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.

The family struggled financially in Weymouth and the journey east proved unsuccessful. The Reverend Wright could not provide for his family from the pastorate's small congregation. The Wrights returned to Spring Green, Wisconsin, where the supportive Lloyd Jones clan could help William find employment. They settled in Madison, where William taught music lessons and served as the secretary to the newly-formed Unitarian society. Although William was a distant parent, he shared his love of music, especially the works of Bach, with his children. Soon after he turned 14 in 1881 Wright's parents separated. Anna had been unhappy for sometime with William's inability to provide for his family and asked him to leave. The divorce was finalized in 1885 after William sued Anna for lack of physical affection. William left Wisconsin after the divorce and never saw the family again. At this time Frank's middle name was changed from Lincoln to Lloyd. As the only male left in the family, Frank assumed financial responsibility for his mother and two sisters.

Wright never attended high school and was admitted to the University of Wisconsin as a special student in 1885. He took classes part-time for two semesters, while apprenticing under 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, Illinois, still rebuilding from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, where he joined the architectural firm of Joseph Lyman Silsbee. Within the year, he had left Silsbee to work for the firm of Adler & Sullivan.

In 1889, he married his first wife, Catherine Lee "Kitty" Tobin, purchased land in Oak Park, Illinois, and built his first home, and eventually his studio there. His mother, Anna, soon followed Wright to the city, where he purchased a home adjacent to his newly-built residence for her. His marriage to Kitty Tobin, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, raised his social status, and he became more well-known. [1]

Beginning in 1890, he was assigned all residential design work for the firm. In 1893, Louis Sullivan discovered that Wright had been accepting private commissions. Sullivan felt betrayed that his favored employee had designed houses "behind his back", and he asked Wright to leave the firm. Constantly in need of funds to support his growing family, Wright designed the homes to supplement his meager income. Wright referred to these houses as his "bootleg" designs and the homes are located near the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, on Chicago Avenue in Oak Park. After leaving Sullivan, Wright established his own practice at his home. By 1901, Wright's completed projects numbered approximately fifty, including many houses in Oak Park.

Between 1900 and 1917, his residential designs were "Prairie Houses" (extended low buildings with shallow, sloping roofs, clean sky lines, suppressed chimneys, overhangs and terraces, using unfinished materials), so-called because the design is considered to complement the land around Chicago. These houses are credited with being the first examples of the "open plan."

In fact, the manipulation of interior space in residential and public buildings, such as Unity Temple, the home of the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Oak Park, are hallmarks of his style. A lifelong Unitarian and member of Unity temple, Wright offered his services to the congregation after their church burned in 1904. The community agreed to hire him and he worked on the building between 1905 through 1908. 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 (completed in 1904, demolished in 1950), but also homes for three of the company's executives:

The Westcott House [1] was built between (1907 and 1908), in Springfield, Ohio. It not only embodies Frank Lloyd Wright’s innovative Prairie Style design but also reflects his passion for Japanese art and culture as the Westcott House displays unique design traits characteristic of traditional Japanese design. The Westcott House is the only Prairie house to be built in Ohio, and it represents an important evolution of Wright’s Prairie concept. The Westcott House includes an extensive ninety-eight foot pergola, capped with an intricate wooden trellis, that connects a detached carriage house and garage to the main house -- features that are included in only a few of Wright’s later Prairie Style houses designs.

It is not known exactly when Wright designed The Westcott House; scholars speculate that it may have been several months prior to more than a year after the architect returned from his first trip to Japan in 1905. Wright created two separate designs for the Westcott House; both are included in Studies and Executed Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright, published by the distinguished Ernst Wasmuth (Germany, 1910-1911). This two-volume work contains more than one hundred lithographs of Wright’s designs and is commonly known as the Wasmuth Portfolio.

Other Frank Lloyd Wright houses considered to be masterpieces of the late Prairie Period (1907–1909) are the Frederick Robie House in Chicago and the Avery and Queene Coonley House in Riverside. The Robie House, with its soaring, cantilevered roof lines, supported by a foot ( m)-long channel of steel, is the most dramatic. Its living and dining areas form virtually one uninterrupted space. This building had a profound influence on young European architects after World War I and is sometimes called the "cornerstone of modernism." Wright's work, however, was not known to European architects until the publication of the Wasmuth Portfolio 1910-1911.

Europe and personal troubles

Local gossips noticed Wright's flirtations and he developed a reputation in Oak Park as a man-about-town. His large family had grown to six children and the brood required most of Catherine's attention. In 1904, Wright designed a house for Edwin Cheney, a neighbor in Oak Park, and immediately took a liking to Cheney's wife, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Mamah Cheney was a modern woman with interests outside the home. She was an early feminist and Wright viewed her as his intellectual equal. The two fell in love, even though Wright had been married for almost 20 years. Often the two could be seen taking rides in Wright's automobile through Oak Park, and they became the talk of the town. Wright's wife, Kitty,sure that this attachment would fade as the others had, refused to grant him a divorce. Neither would Edwin Cheney grant one to Mamah. In 1909, even before the Robie House was actually completed, Wright and Mamah Cheney eloped to Europe; abandoning their own spouses and children. The scandal that erupted virtually destroyed Wright's ability to practice architecture in the United States.

Architectural historians have speculated on why Wright decided to turn his life upside-down. Scholars argue that he felt by 1907-8 that he had done every thing he could do with the Prairie Style, particularly from the standpoint of the one-family house. Wright was not getting larger commissions for commercial or public buildings, which frustrated him as it would any highly skilled architect.

Wright and Mamah Cheney traveled extensively throughout Europe. In 1910, during a stop in Berlin, Wright, with virtually all of his drawings, visited the publishing house of Ernst Wasmuth, who had agreed to publish his work there. In two volumes, the Wasmuth Portfolio was thus published, and created the first major exposure of Wright's work in Europe. The later Bauhaus movement's founders claimed to have been inspired by these books.

Wright remained in Europe for one year (though Mamah Cheney returned to the United States a few times) and set up home in Fiesole, Italy. During this time, Edwin Cheney granted her a divorce, though Kitty again refused to grant one to her husband. After Wright's return to the United States in late 1910, Wright persuaded his mother to purchase land for him in Spring Green, Wisconsin. The land, purchased on April 10, 1911, was adjacent to land held by his mother's family, the Lloyd-Joneses. Wright began to build himself a new home, which he called Taliesin, by May of 1911.

More personal turmoil

On August 15, 1914, while Wright was in Chicago completing a large project, Midway Gardens, Julian Carlton, a male servant whom he had hired several months earlier, set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin and murdered seven people with an axe as the fire burned. The dead were: Mamah; her two children, John and Martha; a gardener; a draftsman; a workman; and the workman’s son. Two people survived the mayhem, one of whom helped to put out the fire that almost completely consumed the residential wing of the house.

In 1922, Wright's first wife granted him a divorce, and the architect was required to wait for one year until he married his then-partner, Maude "Miriam" Noel. In 1923, Wright's mother, Anna (Lloyd Jones) Wright, died. Wright wed Miriam Noel in November 1923, but her addiction to morphine led to the failure of the marriage in less than one year. In 1924, after the separation, but while still married, Wright met Olga (Olgivanna) Lazovich Hinzenburg, at a Petrograd Ballet performance in Chicago. They moved in together at Taliesin in 1925, followed soon after by Olgivanna's pregnancy with their daughter, Iovanna (born December 2, 1925).

On April 22, 1925, another fire destroyed the living quarters of Taliesin. This appears to have been the result of a faulty electrical system.[1] Wright rebuilt the living quarters again, naming the home "Taliesin III".

In 1926, Olga's ex-husband, Vlademar Hinzenburg, sought custody of his daughter, Svetlana. In Minnetonka, Minnesota, Wright and Olgivanna were accused of violating the Mann Act and arrested in October 1926 (the charges were later dropped).

Wright and Miriam Noel's divorce was finalized in 1927, and once again, Wright was required to wait for one year until marrying again. Wright and Olgivanna married in 1928.

Notable projects after the Prairie Period

During the turbulent 1920's, Wright designed Graycliff, one of his most innovative residences of the period, and a precursor to Fallingwater. The Graycliff estate was constructed from 1926 to 1929 for Isabelle and Darwin Martin on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie, just south of Buffalo, NY. A complex of three buildings and extensive grounds all designed by Wright, Graycliff incorporates cantilevered balconies and terraces, "ribbons" of windows, and a transparent "screen" of windows allowing views of the lake through the Isabelle R. Martin House, Graycliff's largest building. Constructed of limestone from the beach below, warm ochre-colored stucco and striking red-stained roofs, Graycliff's light-filled buildings were designed in Wright's "organic" style. Wright's designs for Graycliff's grounds incorporate water features that echo the lake beyond...a pond, a fountain, sunken gardens and stone walls in a "waterfall" pattern that surround the property. On the summer solstice, Graycliff is aligned with the setting sun on Lake Erie,as Wright intended.

One of his most famous private residences was constructed from 1935 to 1939—Fallingwater—for Mr. and Mrs. E.J. Kaufmann Sr., at Bear Run, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. It was designed according to Wright's desire to place the occupants close to the natural surroundings, with a stream and waterfall running under part of the building. The construction is a series of cantilevered balconies and terraces, using limestone for all verticals and concrete for the horizontals. The house cost $155,000, including the architect's fee of $8,000. Kaufmann's own engineers argued that the design was not sound. They were overruled by Wright, but the contractor secretly added extra steel to the horizontal concrete elements. In 1994, Robert Silman and Associates examined the building and developed a plan to restore the structure. In the late 1990s, steel supports were added under the lowest cantilever until a detailed structural analysis could be done. In March 2002, post-tensioning of the lowest terrace was completed.

It was also in the 1930s that Wright first designed "Usonian" houses. Intended to be highly practical houses for middle-class clients, the designs were based on a simple, yet elegant geometry. He would later use similar elementary forms in his First Unitarian Meeting House built in Madison, Wisconsin, between 1946 and 1951.

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 (12 by 12 ft) 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.

His 'Usonian' homes set a new style for suburban design that was followed by countless developers. Many features of modern American homes date back to Wright; open plans, slab-on-grade foundations, and simplified construction techniques that allowed more mechanization or at least efficiency in building are amongst his innovations.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City is a building that occupied Wright for 16 years (1943 - 59) [3] and is probably his most recognized masterpiece. The building rises as a warm beige 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 Guggenheim's collection of nonobjective geometric paintings with ease by taking an elevator to the top level and then viewing artworks by walking down the slowly descending, central spiral ramp, which features a floor embedded with circular shapes and triangular light fixtures, in order to complement the geometric nature of the structure. 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.

Other Projects

Wright built 363 houses. About 300 survive as of 2005. Three have been lost to forces of nature: the waterfront house for W. L. Fuller in Pass Christian, Mississippi, which was destroyed by Hurricane Camille in August 1969, the Louis Sullivan Bungalow and the James Charnley Bungalow of Ocean Springs, Mississippi were both destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Ennis House in California has also been damaged by earthquake and rain-induced ground movement. In January, 2006, the Wynant House in Gary, Indiana was destroyed by fire. [4]

One of his projects, Monona Terrace, originally designed in 1937 as City and County Offices for Madison, Wisconsin, was completed in 1997 on the original site, using a variation of Wright's final design for the exterior with the interior design altered by its new purpose as a convention center. The "as-built" design was carried out by Wright's apprentice Tony Puttnam. Monona Terrace was accompanied by controversy throughout the sixty years between the original design and the completion of the structure.

A lesser known project that never came to fruition was Wright's plan for Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe [5]. Few Tahoe locals are even aware of the iconic American architect's plan for their natural treasure.

Wright also built several houses in the Los Angeles area, currently open to the public are the Hollyhock House (Aline Barnsdall Residence) in Hollywood and the shops at Anderton Court in Beverly Hills.

Following the Hollyhock House, Wright used an innovative building process in 1923 and 1924, which he called "textile block system" where buildings were constructed with precast concrete blocks with a patterned, squarish exterior surface: The Alice Millard House (Pasadena), the John Storer House (West Hollywood), the Samuel Freeman House (Hollywood) and the Ennis House in the Griffith Park area of Los Angeles. During the past two decades the Ennis House has become popular as an exotic, nearby shooting location to Hollywood TV and movie makers. He also designed a fifth textile block house for Aline Barnsdall, the Community Playhouse ("Little Dipper"), which was never constructed. Frank Lloyd Wright's son, Lloyd Wright, supervised construction for the Storer, Freeman and Ennis House.

Most of these houses are private residences and/or are closed to the public because of renovation, including the Sturgis House (Brentwood) and the Arch Oboler Gatehouse & Studio (Malibu).

Oak Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, has the largest collection of Wright houses, as well as Wright's home and studio, which are open for public tours. Tours of certain homes occur during the year. The Unity Temple is located on Lake Street in Oak Park. The Cheney House, Edwin and Mamah Cheney's residence, has been a bed and breakfast for many years. Beside the home's beauty, it contains a stunning in-law suite on the lower level.

Florida Southern College, located in Lakeland, Florida constructed 12 (out of 18 planned) Frank Lloyd Wright buildings between 1941 and 1958.

Death and legacy

Turmoil followed Wright even many years after his death on April 9, 1959. His third wife Olgivanna continued to run the Fellowship after Wright's death, until her own death in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1985. In 1985, following the death of Olgivanna, it was learned that her dying wish had been that Wright, her daughter by a first marriage and herself all be cremated and relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona. During the nearly 30-year period prior to Olgivanna's death, Wright's body had lain interred in the Lloyd-Jones cemetery, next to the Unity Chapel, near Taliesin, Wright's later-life home in Spring Green, Wisconsin. (The Unity Chapel, designed by Joseph Silsbee, should not be confused with the much larger and vastly more famous Unity Temple, designed by Wright and located in Oak Park, IL. Wright was the draughtsman for the design of the Unity Chapel.) Olgivanna's plan to exhume her late-husband and cremate him, her daughter and herself called for a memorial garden, already in the works, to be finished and prepared for their remains. Despite the fact that the garden had yet to be finished, his remains were prepared and sent to Scottsdale where they waited in storage for an unidentified amount of time before being interred in the memorial area. Today, anyone who visits the small cemetery south of Spring Green, Wisconsin and a long stone's throw from Taliesin to look upon a gravestone marked with Wright's name will be visiting an empty grave.[2]

Personal style and concepts

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 and the needs of the client. Houses in wooded regions, for instance, made heavy use of wood, desert houses had rambling floor plans and heavy use of stone, and houses in rocky areas such as Los Angeles were built mainly of cinder block. Wright's creations took his concern with organic architecture down to the smallest details. From his largest commercial commissions to the relatively modest Usonian houses, Wright conceived virtually every detail of both the external design and the internal fixtures, including furniture, carpets, windows, doors, tables and chairs, light fittings and decorative elements. He was one of the first architects to design and supply custom-made, purpose-built furniture and fittings that functioned as integrated parts of the whole design, and he often returned to earlier commissions to redesign internal fittings. His Prairie houses use themed, coordinated design elements (often based on plant forms) that are repeated in windows, carpets and other fittings. He made innovative use of new building materials such as precast concrete blocks, glass bricks and zinc cames (instead of the traditional lead) for his leadlight windows, and he famously used Pyrex glass tubing as a major element in the Johnson Wax Headquarters. Wright was also one of the first architects to design and install custom-made electric light fittings, including some of the very first electric floor lamps, and his very early use of the then-novel spherical glass lampshade (a design previously not possible due to the physical restrictions of gas lighting).

As Wright's career progressed, so as well did the mechanization of the glass industry. Wright fully embraced glass in his designs and found that it fit well into his philosophy of organic architecture. Glass allowed for interaction and viewing of the outdoors while still protecting from the elements. In 1928, Wright wrote an essay on glass in which he compared it to the mirrors of nature: lakes, rivers and ponds. One of Wright's earliest uses of glass in his works was to string panes of glass along whole walls in an attempt to create light screens to join together solid walls. By utilizing this large amount of glass, Wright sought to achieve a balance between the lightness and airiness of the glass and the solid, hard walls. Arguably, Wright's most well-known art glass is that of the Prairie style. The simple geometric shapes that yield to very ornate and intricate windows represent some of the most integral ornamentation of his career.[3]

Often, Wright designed not only the buildings, but the furniture as well. Some of the built-in furniture remains, while other restorations have included replacement pieces created using his plans.

Wright responded to the transformation of domestic life that occurred at the turn of the twentieth century, when servants became a less prominent or completely absent feature of most American households, by developing homes with progressively more open plans. This allowed the woman of the house to work in her 'workplace', as he often called the kitchen, yet keep track of and be available for the children and/or guests in the dining room. Much of modern architecture, including the early work of Mies van der Rohe, can be traced back to Wright's innovative work.

Wright also designed his own clothing. His fashion sense was unique and he usually wore expensive suits, flowing neckties, and capes as well as driving a custom yellow raceabout in the Prairie years, a red Cord convertible in the 1930s, a famous customized 1940 Lincoln for many years, each of which earned him many speeding tickets.

Colleagues and Influences

Wright would rarely credit any influences on his designs, but most architects, historians and scholars agree he had five major influences: 1. Louis Sullivan, whom he considered to be his 'Lieber Meister' (dear master), 2. Nature, particularly shapes/forms and colors/patterns of plant life, 3. Music (his favorite composer was Ludwig van Beethoven), 4. Japan (as in art, prints, buildings), 5. Froebel Gifts.

He also routinely claimed his employees' work as his own design [citation needed], but as with any architect, Wright worked in a collaborative process and drew his ideas from the work of others. In his earlier days, Wright worked with some of the top architects of the Chicago School, including Sullivan. In his Prairie School days, Wright's office was populated by many talented architects including Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin.

Rudolf Schindler worked for Wright on the Imperial hotel. His own work is often credited as influencing Wrights Usonian houses. Schindler's friend Richard Neutra also worked briefly for Wright and became an internationally successful architect.

Later in the Taliesin days, Wright employed many architects and artists who would later become notable, such as John Lautner, E. Fay Jones, Paolo Soleri in architecture and Santiago Martinez Delgado in the arts. Actor Anthony Quinn studied at Taliesin before embarking on an acting career with Wright's assistance.

Bruce Goff never worked for Wright, but maintained correspondence with him and their works can be seen to parallel each other.


Later in his life and well-after his death in 1959, Wright received much honorary recognition for his lifetime achievements. He received Gold Medal awards from The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1941 and the American Institute of Architects (A.I.A.) in 1949. He also received honorary degrees from several universities (including his "alma mater", the University of Wisconsin) and several nations named him as an honorary board member to their national academies of art and/or architecture. In 2000, Fallingwater was named "The Building of the 20th century" in an unscientific "Top-Ten" poll taken by members attending the A.I.A. annual convention in Philadelphia. On that list, Wright was listed along with many of the U.S.A.'s other greatest architects including Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Louis I. Khan, Phillip Johnson and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and he was the only architect who had more than one building on the list. The other three buildings were the Guggenheim Museum, the Frederick C. Robie House and the Johnson Wax Building.

In 1992 The Madison Opera in Madison, Wisconsin commissioned and premiered the opera Shining Brow, by composer Daron Hagen and librettist Paul Muldoon based on events early in Wright's life. The work has since received numerous revivals. In 2000, Work Song: Three Views of Frank Lloyd Wright, a play based on the relationship between the personal and working aspects of Wright's life, debuted at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.


Frank Lloyd Wright was married three times and fathered seven children: four sons and three daughters. He also adopted Svetlana Wright Peters, the daughter of his third wife, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright.

One of Wright's sons, Frank Lloyd Wright Jr., known as Lloyd Wright, was also a notable architect in Los Angeles. Lloyd Wright's son (and Wright's grandson), Eric Lloyd Wright, is currently an architect in Malibu, California where he has a practice of mostly residences, but also civic and commercial buildings.

Another son and architect, John Lloyd Wright, invented Lincoln Logs in 1918, and practiced extensively in the San Diego area. John's daughter, Elizabeth Ingraham, is an architect in Colorado.

The Oscar-winning actress Anne Baxter was another granddaughter. Anne was the daughter of Catherine Baxter, from Wright's first marriage.










This web page was last updated on: 18 December, 2008