Born in 1867 in Richland Center, Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright grew up in an America still very much influenced by the Jeffersonian ideal of an agrarian society. In many ways, he remained throughout his life a nineteenth-century man, for, like Emerson and Whitman, he had a great love for nature. His abiding feeling for the land and his belief in man’s need for a direct relationship with nature were essential to his concept of an “organic architecture”—what Wright envisioned as an American architecture distinct from the classical and Renaissance traditions. His antipathy toward European design was matched by a love for non-Western art, particularly that of Japan.
Wright acquired his architectural education during the five years he spent with Louis Sullivan (1856–1924), whose office he joined as a draftsman in 1888. He opened an independent practice in 1893 and over the succeeding seventeen years was known as a rising young architect in Chicago.
In 1909, Wright left for a sojourn in Europe, and it was during this period that the two famous Wasmuth portfolios were issued. The first, printed in 1910, consisted of 100 beautiful lithographs; the second, which appeared in the following year, was illustrated with photographs of Wright’s executed projects. Their publication and an accompanying exhibition in Berlin brought Wright’s work to the attention of a younger generation of European designers and established his place at the forefront of the modern movement.
On his return to the United States in 1911, Wright was an international figure; but his real importance was little recognized in this country. His controversial personal life—the breakup of his first marriage; the sensational murder of Mamah Borthwick, the woman for whom he left his family; and his later relationships—made his position untenable in conservative Midwestern society, and the ensuing two decades were perhaps the most difficult years in Wright’s life. Part of this time was spent on the West Coast and in Tokyo with the construction of the Imperial Hotel (ca. 1916–22). At home, the economic constraints of the Depression compounded his professional problems, and few of Wright’s projects were realized during this period.
By the 1930s, however, Wright—then in his sixties—reemerged with a series of remarkable buildings and was once again an accepted leader in modern architecture. For the next quarter century until his death in 1959 at the age of ninety-two, he would build on an unprecedented scale. Although he enjoyed immense fame in his later years, Wright had few distinguished followers. His was a highly individual genius that provided a unique solution for each client and site.
The American Wing, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Architecture, the practice of building design and its resulting products, customary usage refers only to those designs and structures that are culturally significant. Today the architecture must satisfy its intended uses, must be technically sound, and must convey beautiful meaning. But the best buildings are often so well constructed that they outlast their original use. They then survive not only as beautiful objects, but as documents of history of cultures, achievements in architecture that testify to the nature of the society that produced them. These achievements are never wholly the work of individuals. Architecture is a social art, yet Frank Lloyd Wright single handily changed the history of architecture. How did Frank Lloyd Wright change architecture?
Frank Lloyd Wright, American architect, who was a pioneer in the modern style, is considered one of the greatest figures in 20th-century architecture. Wright was born June 8, 1867, in Richland Center, Wisconsin. When he entered the University of Wisconsin in 1884 his interest in architecture had already acknowledged itself. The university offered no courses in his chosen field; however, he enrolled in civil engineering and gained some practical experience by working part time on a construction project at the university. In 1887 he left school and went to Chicago where he became a designer for the firm of Adler and Sullivan with a pay of twenty-five dollars a week. Soon Wright became Louis Sullivan s chief assistant. Louis Sullivan, Chicago based architect, one of America s advanced designers. Louis had a profound influence on Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright was assigned most of the firm s home projects, but to pay his many debts he designed Bootlegged Houses for private clients in his spare time. Sullivan disapproved, resulting in Wright leaving the firm in 1893 to establish his own office in Chicago.
In the spring of 1893 Wright decided to build his own house in Oak Park, Illinois. Taking six years to build, Wright was free to experiment with his objectives in residential architecture over the next twenty-year period. Designing and re-constructing his buildings was a continuous process. He always changed his designs. For twenty years this home served as an independent labatory for Wright. This too went under constant changes. Rooms were enlarged or added, ceilings heightened, the arrangement of the windows changed, and the entry route into the house was modified. Wright even allowed the growth of a willow tree to be uninterrupted by placing a hold in the roof of the studio.
Wright created the philosophy of organic architecture, the central principal of which maintains that the building should develop out of its natural surroundings. From the outset he exhibited bold originality in his designs for both private and public structures, which rebelled against the complex neoclassic and Victorian styles favored by conventional architects. Wright was opposed to the mechanical imposition of defined styles. He believed that the architectural form must ultimately be determined in each case by the particular function of the building, its environment, and the type of materials employed in the structure. Among his fundamental contributions were the use of various building materials for their natural colors and textures, as well as for their structural characteristics. His interiors emphasize the sense of spaciousness, which derived from open planning with one room flowing into another. This concept was particularly evident in his early single family houses, thee so-called prairie houses, among the Martin House in Buffalo, New York; the Coonley House in Riverside, Illinois; and the Robie House in Chicago.
Wright s Frederick C. Robie House, designed in 1906 for a bicycle and motorcycle manufacturer, is one of the world s most famous buildings. Magnificently corresponding, it is the essence of Wright s Prairie School style and the limit of his search for a new architecture. It is also among the last of the Prairie houses. During construction Wright abandoned both his Oak Park practice and his family to initiate a new phase of his long practice to come.
Wright gave a lecture called The Art and Craft at Chicago s Hull House of the Machine, in which he spoke of the important role new technology should play in any architecture for America. His Prairie home ideas were unlike any typical American house, which was seen by Wright as essentially one big box with little boxes inside.
Before World War I, Wright set new directions with the development of his Prairie homes, suburban dwellings mainly in the area of Chicago. He experimented freely with the organization of plans to develop a distinctful yet unified spaces. Space was made to flow between interior and exterior, and long horizontal lines further served to unify the design and to suggest the wide Prairie expanses of the Midwest.
Wright initiated many new techniques, such as the use of precast concrete blocks reinforced by steel rods. He also introduced numerous innovations, including: air conditioning, indirect lighting, and panel heating. The Larkin Building in Buffalo, New York, which he designed in 1904, was the first office building to utilize air conditioning, double-glass windows, all-glass doors, and metal furniture. Among his remarkable engineering feats was the design of the huge Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, constructed to withstand earthquakes. To obtain the required flexibility, he employed cantilever construction with a foundation floating on a bed of soft mud. The building was completed in 1922 and suffered no damage in the disastrous earthquake that occurred in the following year.
In June of 1905, Oak Park s Universalists asked Wright to design a new building for four hundred members following the previous burning of the church. Wright had a rather small budget of $45,000, but understood the principals of the Universalist faith, in which stimulated Wright s creativity . Wright chose reinforced concrete blocks, which was covered with another material then to resemble stone. Unity Temple , was used for social functions and each door way had an inscription of For the Worship of God and the Service of Man.
Throughout Wright s career, architects who were more conventional than Wright opposed his unorthodox methods. Distressed with personal difficulties and professional antagonisms, he passed a year of self-imposed exile (1909-1910) in Europe. Upon his return, he established a new home and school for himself in Spring Green, Wisconsin, named Taliesin (after a sixth century Welsh poet). This became a spark of a new career of ever-widening achievements. Among his later works was the Millard House (1923) in Pasadena, California; the Kaufman House (1937), called Fallingwater, at Bear Run, Pennsylvania (now maintained by the state and open to the public); the Johnson Wax Company Administration Building (1939) in Racine, Wisconsin; the First Unitarian Church (1947) in Madison, Wisconsin; the V.C. Morris gift shop (1950) in San Francisco; and the Price Tower (1955), a skyscraper Bartlesville, Oklahoma. In 1959 he completed the curvilinear Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
Wright spent much time is writing, lecturing, and teaching. By 1908 he had originated most of the principles that are today the struggle against discrimination won him the hostility of the American scholars, nevertheless his work profoundly influenced the development of contemporary architecture in the United States as well as in Europe. At Taliesin West (begun 1938), his winter home in Scottsdale, Arizona, Wright established a studio-workshop for apprentice who assisted him on his projects. He also founded the Taliesin Fellowship to support such efforts. His writings include An Autobiography (1932; revised 1943), An Organic Architecture (1939), Genius and the Mobocracy (1949), and Natural House (1954). Wright died in Phoenix, Arizona, on April 9, 1959.
In conclusion, Wright was an architectural genius and innovator. His designs will inspire many for years to come. His work will always be remembered as that of intellect and quality. He is truly a historical legend of architecture, of Chicago and America.