Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959) was an American (of Welsh descent) architect, interior designer, writer, and educator, who designed more than 1,000 projects, which resulted in more than 500 completed works.
Wright promoted organic architecture (exemplified by Fallingwater), was a leader of the Prairie School movement of architecture (exemplified by the Robie House and the Westcott House), and developed the concept of the Usonian home (exemplified by the Rosenbaum House). His work includes original and innovative examples of many different building types, including offices, churches, schools, hotels, and museums. Wright also often designed many of the interior elements of his buildings, such as the furniture and stained glass.
Wright authored twenty books and numerous articles and was a popular lecturer in the United States and in Europe. His colorful personal life frequently made headlines, most notably for the 1914 fire and murders at his Taliesin studio.
Already well-known during his lifetime, Wright was recognized in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects as "the greatest American architect of all time".
The Wright family struggled financially in Weymouth and 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 some time 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 Wright claimed he never saw his father 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 attended a Madison high school but there is no evidence he ever graduated. He was admitted to the University of Wisconsin as a special student in 1886. While attending the university, he joined Phi Delta Theta fraternity, took classes part-time for two semesters, and worked with a professor of civil engineering, Allan D. Conover. In 1887, Wright left the school without taking a degree (although he was granted an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the University in 1955) and moved to Chicago which was 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 as an apprentice to Louis Sullivan.
In 1889, he married his first wife, Catherine Lee "Kitty" Tobin (1871-1959), 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.
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.
This practice was a remarkable collection of creative architectural designers. As his son John Lloyd Wright wrote,
“William Eugene Drummond, Francis Barry Byrne, Walter Burley Griffin, Albert Chase McArthur, Marion Mahony, Isabel Roberts and George Willis were the draftsmen. Five men, two women. They wore flowing ties, and smocks suitable to the realm. The men wore their hair like Papa, all except Albert, he didn’t have enough hair. They worshiped Papa! Papa liked them! I know that each one of them was then making valuable contributions to the pioneering of the modern American architecture for which my father gets the full glory, headaches and recognition today! ”
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 down 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 are in Buffalo, New York as a result of friendship between Wright and Darwin D. Martin, an executive from the Larkin Soap Company. 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 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 in 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, connecting 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 before 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, Illinois. The Robie House, with its soaring, cantilevered roof lines, supported by a -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.
Scholars argue that he felt by 1907 that he had done everything he could do with the Prairie Style, particularly from the standpoint of the single family house. Wright was not getting larger commissions for commercial or public buildings, which frustrated him as it would any highly skilled architect.
What drew Wright to Europe was the chance to publish a portfolio of his work with Ernst Wasmuth, who had agreed in 1909 to publish his work there. This chance also allowed Wright to deepen his relationship with Mamah Cheney. Wright and Cheney left the United States separately in 1910, meeting in Berlin, where the offices of Wasmuth were located.
The resulting two volumes, known as the Wasmuth Portfolio, were published in 1910 and 1911 in two editions, creating the first major exposure of Wright's work in Europe.
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 still 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 1911. The recurring theme of 'Taliesin' also came from his mother's side, Taliesin in Welsh mythology being a poet, magician and super-hero. Their family motto was 'Y Gwir yn Erbyn y Byd' which translates to 'The Truth Against the World' was created by Iolo Morgannwg who interestingly enough also had a son called 'Taliesin', is still used today as the cry of the druids and chief bard of the Eisteddfod in Wales.
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, who years later married and divorced Wright associate Arthur Pieper).
On April 22, 1925, another fire destroyed the living quarters of Taliesin. This appears to have been the result of a faulty electrical system. 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.
During the turbulent 1920s, 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, New York. Wright designed a complex of three buildings and extensive grounds and 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 Wright's most famous private residences was constructed from 1935 to 1939—Fallingwater—for Mr. and Mrs. Edgar 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 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 square 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 a feature of 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.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City is a building that occupied Wright for 16 years (1943–1959) 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 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.
The Price Tower is a nineteen story, high tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is the only realized skyscraper by Wright, and is one of only two vertically-oriented Wright structures extant (the other is the S.C. Johnson Wax Research Tower in Racine, Wisconsin). The Price Tower was commissioned by Harold C. Price of the H. C. Price Company, a local oil pipeline and chemical firm. It opened to the public in February 1956. On March 29, 2007, Price Tower was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior, one of only twenty such properties in the state of Oklahoma.
Wright designed over 400 built structures of which about 300 survive as of 2005. Four have been lost to forces of nature: the waterfront house for W. L. Fuller in Pass Christian, Mississippi, destroyed by Hurricane Camille in August 1969; the Louis Sullivan Bungalow, and the James Charnley Bungalow of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005; and the Arinobu Fukuhara House (1918) in Hakone, Japan, destroyed in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. 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.
In addition, other buildings were intentionally demolished during and after Wright's lifetime, such as: Midway Gardens (1913, Chicago, Illinois) and the Larkin Administration Building (1903, Buffalo, New York) were destroyed in 1929 and 1950 respectively; the Francis Apartments and Francisco Terrace Apartments (both located in Chicago and designed in 1895) were destroyed in 1971 and 1974, respectively; the Geneva Inn (1911) in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin was destroyed in 1970; and the Banff National Park Pavilion (1911) in Alberta, Canada was destroyed in 1939. The Imperial Hotel, in Tokyo (1913) survived the Great Kantō earthquake but was demolished in 1968 due to urban developmental pressures.
One of his projects, Monona Terrace, originally designed in 1937 as municipal 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. 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 the 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 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.
1901 – Quadruple Block Plan – “Ladies Home Journal” February 1901, April 1901
1903 – Charles R. Roberts – 24 homes – Oak Park, IL
1909 – Bitter Root Town Plan – Town site development for new town in the Bitterroot Valley, MT
1913 – Chicago Land Development competition – Suburban Chicago quarter section
1934–1959 – Broadacre City – Theoretical decentralized city plan – exhibits of large scale model
1938 – Suntop Homes – low cost housing alternative to suburban development
1941 – Cloverleaf Housing Project – commission from Federal Works Agency Division of Defense Housing – multifamily layout
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 before 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.
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. Some of the built-in furniture remains, while other restorations have included replacement pieces created using his plans. 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.
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 'workspace', 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 some of his own clothing. His fashion sense was unique and he usually wore expensive suits, flowing neckties, and capes. He drove a custom yellow raceabout in the Prairie years, a red Cord convertible in the 1930s, a famously customized 1940 Lincoln for many years, each of which earned him many speeding tickets.
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 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 Wright's 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 later become notable, such as John Lautner, E. Fay Jones, Henry Klumb and Paolo Soleri in architecture and Santiago Martinez Delgado in the arts. As a young man, actor Anthony Quinn applied to study with Wright at Taliesin. However, Wright suggested that he first take voice lessons to help overcome a speech impediment.
Bruce Goff never worked for Wright but maintained correspondence with him. 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(AIA) 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 AIA 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 Kahn, 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 Theater.
On June 8, 2005, a Google Doodle was displayed on Google's homepage, celebrating his birthday.
Perhaps one of the most unique ways that Wright is recognized today is the fact that several properties designed by him are actually available to house overnight guests who, more than simply touring his houses, want to "live" in one, albeit for a night or two. Some of the homes include the Louis Penfield House in Ohio, the Haynes House in Indiana, the Schwartz House in Wisconsin, the Muirhead Farmhouse in Illinois, the Duncan House in Pennsylvania and the Seth Peterson Cottage in Wisconsin.
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. She is the mother of Christine, an interior designer in Connecticut, and Catherine, an architecture professor at the Pratt Institute.
The Oscar-winning actress Anne Baxter was another granddaughter. Anne was the daughter of Catherine Baxter, from Wright's first marriage. Anne's daughter, Melissa Galt, currently lives and works in Atlanta as an interior designer.
A great-grandson of Wright, S. Lloyd Natof, currently lives and works in Chicago as a master woodworker who specializes in the design and creation of custom wood furniture.