Frank Lloyd Wright

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Architecture

Frank Lloyd Wright

Personal Information
Name Frank Lloyd Wright
Nationality American
Birth date 8th June 1867
Birth place Richland Centre, Wisconsin
Date of death 9th April 1959
Place of death Phoenix, Arizona
Working Life
Significant Buildings Robie House

Johnson Wax Building
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Significant Projects The Illinois

Frank Lloyd Wright ( June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959) was one of the most prominent and influential architects of the first half of 20th century. He not only developed a series of highly individual styles over his extraordinarily long architectural career (spanning the years 1887-1959), he influenced the whole course of American architecture and building. To this day he remains probably America's most famous architect.


Early years

Frank Lloyd Wright was born in the agricultural town of Richland Centre, Wisconsin, United States, on June 8, 1867, just two years after the end of the American Civil War. He was brought up with strong Unitarian and transcendental principles (eventually, in 1905, he would design the Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois). As a child he spent a great deal of time playing with the kindergarten educational blocks by Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel (known as Froebel Gifts) given to him by his mother. 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.

Wright's home in Oak Park, Illinois
Wright's home in Oak Park, Illinois

Wright began his formal education in 1885 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison 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 Allan Darst 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, Illinois, 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. Beginning in 1890, he was assigned all residential design work for the firm. In 1893, Wright was fired from Adler & Sullivan by Louis Sullivan himself, after Sullivan discovered that Wright had been accepting clients independently from the firm. Wright established 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.

Darwin D. Martin House, Buffalo, New York
Darwin D. Martin House, Buffalo, New York

Between 1900 and 1910, 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 the Unitarian Unity Temple, in Oak Park, are hallmarks of his style.

Hillside Home School, 1902, Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin
Hillside Home School, 1902, Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin

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 three homes for the company's executives:

  • George Barton House, Buffalo NY, 1903
  • Darwin D. Martin House, Buffalo NY, 1904
  • William Heath House, Buffalo NY, 1905
    • and later, the Graycliff estate, Derby, NY 1926

The houses considered the masterpieces of the late Prairie period (1907–9) are the Frederick Robie House and the Avery and Queene Coonley House, both in Chicago. The Robie House, with its soaring, cantilevered roof lines, supported by a 110-foot-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 in 1910.

Europe and personal troubles

In 1904, Wright designed a house for a neighbour in Oak Park, Edwin Cheney, and immediately took a liking to Cheney's wife, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. The two fell in love, even though Wright had been married for over a decade. 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, would not grant him a divorce however, and at first, 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. 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. It has been said that he enjoyed living on the edge. Offered as proof of this are the facts that he was always digging himself into problems. He spent money almost as soon as he received it, and almost always seemed to be in debt. This argument has been completed with speculation that Wright was himself having a professional midlife crisis (in 1907 he was already forty years old). Scholars argue that he felt by 1907-8 that he had done everything he could do with the Prairie Style, particularly from the standpoint of the one-family house. To illustrate, one can ask the question, "How many different permutations of the Prairie Style residence can you do without eventually feeling like you are going nowhere?" Wright was not getting larger commissions for commercial or public buildings, which frustrated him not only because of the desire for bigger and better work, but also because of his immense ego and desire to be recognized as the architectural genius he saw himself as.

Wright and Mamah Cheney traveled extensively throughout Europe, where Wright absorbed a great amount of architectural history. 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.

Wright remained in Europe for two years, though Mamah Cheney left for the United States a few times, and set up home in Fiesole, Italy. During this time, Edwin Cheney granted her a divorce, though Kitty Wright again refused to grant one to her husband. After Wright's return to the United States in 1911, he moved to Spring Green, Wisconsin, to land that was held by his mother's family, and began to build himself a new home, which he called Taliesin.

More personal turmoil

On August 15, 1914, while Wright was in Chicago completing a large project, Midway Gardens, Julian Carlton, a Barbadian 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 mêlée, one of whom helped to put out the fire that almost completely consumed the residential wing of the house.

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, Wright met Olga (Olgivanna) Lazovich Hinzenburg, at a Petrograd Ballet performance in Chicago. They moved in together at Taliesin in 1925, but in 1926, Olga's ex-husband, Valdemar Hinzenburg, sought custody of his daughter, Svetlana. In Minnetonka, Minnesota, Wright and Olgivanna were accused of violating the Mann Act and arrested in October 1925. The charges were dropped in 1926. During this time period, Wright designed his last residential complex for Darwin D. and Isabelle Martin in the Buffalo, NY area, the Graycliff estate. The couple married in 1928.

Enduring legacy

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 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 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 1947 and 1950.

Wright was awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 1941.

The iconic Kaufmann residence (Fallingwater) is now a museum
The iconic Kaufmann residence (Fallingwater) is now a museum
Fallingwater is one of the most famous of Frank Lloyd Wright's works
Fallingwater is one of the most famous of Frank Lloyd Wright's works

His most famous private residence was constructed from 1935 to 1939— Fallingwater—for Mr. and Mrs. E.J. Kaufmann Sr., at Bear Run, Pennsylvania. 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 workmen secretly added extra steel to the horizontal concrete elements. There is a difference of opinion as to whether Wright's original design would have withstood the test of time. 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.

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's Wax building. 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 mirror's of nature; lakes, rivers and ponds. One of Wright's earliest uses of glass in his works was to utilize strung 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.

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 centre. 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 Wrights plan for Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe . Few Tahoe Locals are even aware of the iconic american architects plan for their natural treasure.

Wright's personal life was a colorful one that frequently made 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 the Armenian-Greek mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, and her experiences with Gurdjieff influenced the formation and structure of Wright's Taliesin Fellowship in 1932. 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. Despite being a high-profile architect and almost always in demand, Wright would find himself constantly in debt thanks in part to his lavish lifestyle. In one instance Wright was over $1,000 in debt, and reportedly would borrow $1,500 from a friend only to spend more than half of it on clothes, gifts, and trips.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Upper East Side, New York
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Upper East Side, New York

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– 59) 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.

1966 U.S. postage stamp honoring Frank Lloyd Wright
1966 U.S. postage stamp honoring Frank Lloyd Wright

Wright built 362 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 of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the James Charnley Bungalow of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, which was also gutted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Ennis House in California has also 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. As buildings age their structural deficiencies are increasingly revealed, and Wright's designs have not been immune from the passage of time. Some of his most daring and innovative designs have required major structural repair, and the soaring cantilevered terraces of Fallingwater are but one example. (A common joke was once how " Fallingwater" is falling into the water.) Some of these deficiencies can be attributed to Wright's pushing of materials beyond the state of the art, others to sometimes less than rigorous engineering, and still others to the natural wear and tear of the elements over time.

Turmoil followed Wright even many years after his death in 1959. In 1985, following the death of Olgivanna, Wright's third wife and often a source of controversy, 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 near his birthplace and later-life home in Wisconsin. This place, called The Valley, was also home to one of his many unfinished projects, The Unity Temple. 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, the 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 a small cemetery attached to a corn field near Richland Centre, Wisconsin to look upon a gravestone marked with Wright's name, will be visiting an empty grave.

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.

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.

Another son and architect, John Lloyd Wright, invented Lincoln Logs in 1918.

The Oscar-winning actress Anne Baxter was his granddaughter.

Wright also designed his own clothing. His fashion sense was unique and he usually wore very expensive suits, flowing neckties, and capes as well as driving a yellow convertible, which earned him many speeding tickets.

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.

Influences on architecture

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.

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 Robie House on the University of Chicago campus
The Robie House on the University of Chicago campus
  • Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Oak Park, Illinois, 1889
  • William Herman Winslow Residence, River Forest, Illinois, 1894
  • Ward Winfield Willits Residence, and Gardener’s Cottage and Stables, Highland Park, Illinois, 1901
  • Dana-Thomas House State Historic Site, Springfield, Illinois, 1902
  • Larkin Administration Building, Buffalo, New York, 1903
  • Darwin D. Martin House, Buffalo, New York, 1903-1905
  • Unity Temple, Oak Park, Illinois, 1904
  • Frederick C. Robie Residence, Chicago, Illinois, 1906
  • Taliesin I, Spring Green, Wisconsin, 1911
  • Midway Gardens, Chicago, Illinois, 1913
  • Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Japan, 1915 demolished, 1968, lobby and pool reconstructed in 1976 in at Meiji Mura, near Nagoya, Japan
  • Hollyhock House (Aline Barnsdall Residence), Los Angeles, California, 1917
  • Ennis Residence, Los Angeles, California, 1923
Taliesin West Panorama from the "bow" looking at the "ship"
Taliesin West Panorama from the "bow" looking at the "ship"
  • Kaufmann Residence, Fallingwater, Bear Run, Pennsylvania, 1935
  • Johnson Wax Headquarters, Racine, Wisconsin, 1936
  • Herbert F. Johnson Residence ("Wingspread"), Wind Point, WI, 1937
  • Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona, 1937
  • Frank Lloyd Wright's Florida Southern College Works, 1940s
  • First Unitarian Society, Shorewood Hills, Wisconsin, 1947
  • Herman T. Mossberg Residence, South Bend, Indiana, 1948
  • Thomas Keys Residence, Rochester, Minnesota, 1950
  • Louis Penfield House, Willoughby Hills, Ohio, 1955
Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma
  • Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, 1956
  • Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, designed in 1956, completed in 1961
  • Marin County Civic Centre, San Rafael, CA, 1957–66 (featured in the movies Gattaca & THX 1138)
  • The Illinois, mile-high tower in Chicago, 1956 (unbuilt)


  • Simon and Garfunkel honored the architect in their song So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright on their album Bridge over Troubled Water (Track 5, length 3:47, released January 26, 1970, Columbia Records).

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