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1867 - 1959
Believing that “the space within that building is the reality of that building” The Robie House
Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the most prolific and influential architects
of the 20th century. From his early Prairie Style homes, to the sculptural curves
of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, he defined a North American style of
architecture which was rich in emotion and sensitive to its surroundings.
Introduction The Prairie Style
Early Life During the next 16 years Wright developed the Prairie
Born in 1867, Wright was the eldest child of William Style of architecture in a large number of commissions for
Russell Cary Wright, a Unitarian minister and music private homes in Chicago, in particular, in Oak Park. It is to
teacher, and Anna Lloyd Jones Wright. His father gave him his credit that most of his clients were extremely pleased
a love of music, but it was his mother who encouraged with the homes Wright built. One of his less published
him to become an architect. As well as hanging prints of achievements was his mastery of the internal environment,
cathedrals on his bedroom wall, she bought him a Frederick with great attention paid to lighting, heating and climate
Froebel Kindergarten system on a visit to the Philadelphia control. The Prairie Style aimed to create a truly North
Centennial in 1876. This system consisted of a set of American architecture, but Wright also drew inspiration
from Europe: from the French rationalist writings of Eugene Floor Plans of the Robie House
coloured strips of paper, two dimensional geometric grids
and a set of wooden bricks comprising cubes, spheres and Viollet-le-Duc and the British Arts and Crafts movement.
He also had great knowledge of the art and architecture of The 1906 Robie House in Chicago was Wright’s most mature balcony or porch to break the division between inside and
pyramids. Later Wright wrote “the maple wood blocks….
Japan and the culture of pre-Columbian America. Although expression of the Prairie Style of architecture. Frederick outside. All internal details including the furnishings, light
all are in my fingers to this day.” An infinite and playful
radical, Wright can be viewed within the context of a Robie, an engineer and industrialist, wanted a house full of fittings, rugs and the essential art glass were also designed
combination of these geometric shapes gave Wright the
group of US architects and designers, who included Gustav light with views of the street, but without his neighbours by Wright.
core forms of his architecture.
Stickley and the brothers Charles and Henry Greene. They looking in. Using brick, concrete, steel and glass, Wright
had similar external influences, yet also looked to their constructed a massive cantilever on the west side of the
native US culture and climate to create confident work house that gave the living room privacy and shelter from
with a sense of national identity. the sun. It also opened out the house by moving away from
the tight box shape of traditional homes.

Window design inspired by the Froebel blocks

Wright used as a child
Career Beginnings
At 18, Wright enrolled to study engineering at the University
of Wisconsin, Madison but, desperate to pursue a career in
William Martin House in Oak Park, IL designed by
architecture, he dropped out and moved to Chicago where Frank Lloyd Wright
West side of the Robie House
he quickly found work with the architectural firm of Joseph
Lyman Silsbee. Wright’s ambition, however, soon took him
to Adler and Sullivan, Chicago’s most progressive architects.
“The maple wood The low, horizontal form is exaggerated with the use of

blocks… all are in my

ribbons of cream stone for the base plinth and copingstones
Louis Sullivan was an important influence on Wright and
and red brick for the walls. A central fireplace open above
put him in charge of the firm’s residential building work.
the mantel gave greater unity of space to the large living
He also gave him a loan in 1889 to purchase land to build a
home for himself and his new wife, Catherine Lee Tobin, in fingers to this day.” and dining rooms, which Wright saw as the centre of family
life. Although there was no external garden, the use of
the Oak Park district of Chicago. In 1893 Wright was asked
massive planters and urns softened the hard edges of
to leave the firm for pursuing too much private work and
at the age of 26 he started his own practice.
-Frank Lloyd Wright the building and at each level Wright designed a terrace, Living Room of the Robie House

Frank Lloyd Wright Page 18 Frank Lloyd Wright Page 19

Unity Temple hotel’s owner had chosen a western architect to bridge More Tragedy
Wright was also asked to build the 1905 Unity Temple, a the cultural divide for the western visitors to Tokyo and Another fire, this time accidental, destroyed much of
place of worship for the Universalist Church in Oak Park. Wright rose to this challenge. The main feature of the Taliesin in 1925 and threw Wright into debt. His unhappy
Coming from a long tradition of Universalists, he accepted 100-roomed hotel was the grand three-storey lobby and marriage to Miriam Noel ended in 1927 and he married
the commission on a very slim budget of $45,000. Due to two-storey dining room, ballroom and auditorium. The the dancer Olgivanna Hinzenburg. Their first years
these financial constraints Wright built for the first time use of soft lava block or Oya stone enabled Wright to use together were dogged by Wright’s financial difficulties.
with poured concrete. A square two-storey space housed extensive carving and decoration. When the Great Kanto The combination of his prolonged absence from the
the temple of worship and behind it was a rectangular earthquake struck Tokyo in 1923, the floating foundations country, infamous reputation and the economic depression
parish meeting house for socialising. The temple of worship and reinforced steel construction ensured that the Imperial that followed the Wall Street crash of 1929 ensured that
had to seat 400 people yet Wright still managed to create was one of the few buildings to survive, although most of it commissions were scarce until the mid-1930s. During
an intimate space. To enhance the visual drama, these was demolished in 1968. this period he worked on a range of experimental and
two structures were connected by a modest entrance with While in Japan, Wright received a commission from the oil speculative designs few of which were executed, which
low ceiling. The roof of the building was supported by the heiress and theatrical producer, Aline Barnsdall to build a led to a shift away from the domestic to larger projects.
four square masses in the room, the poured concrete walls house, shops and theatre complex for her in Los Angeles. Wright also used his fallow period to open an architectural
therefore became as screens with glass windows above. Only the main house, the 1917 Hollyhock House, and resi- school, the Taliesin Fellowship, which taught its students Usonian House Project drawings
dences A and B were constructed. Inspired by his experi- through doing by balancing academic achievement with The word Usonian came from United States. Wright
Personal Troubles
ences in Japan, Wright had a new sense of freedom with working the land and sustaining the community. reworded his mentor Louis Sullivan’s famous phrase
Wright was now a popular and established architect, but
decoration and applied the abstracted motif of a holly- “form follows function” as “form and functions are one”
he entered a phase of emotional turmoil in 1909 after Return to Prestige
hock, a favourite flower of the client, in cast concrete to to describe the reduced nature of these homes. Of the
falling in love with the wife of a client and neighbour, With the help of his students, Wright was able to work
parapets, pinnacles and planters. In form the Hollyhock dozens of residential commissions received by Wright in
Mamah Borthwich Cheney. Leaving Wright’s wife and six on larger experimental projects such as 1934’s Broadacre
House is the link between Wright’s early Prairie Style and the late 1930s and 1940s the majority were for Usonian
children and closing his studio, the couple fled to Berlin. City, his blueprint for an ideal way of living composed of
his later textile block concrete houses. It also reflected his homes.
During this time Wright worked on a book of his work for a continuous grid of low-rise regional settlements with
the Germany publisher Ernst Wasmuth as well as travelling newfound interest in Mayan temple design. By the time the 1936 Herbert Jacobs House was built in
an acre for each living plot. A model was made by the
to Austria, Italy and France. He returned to the US in 1911
and managed to secure enough money to build a home for Wright had a new students which toured throughout the US.
Madison, Wisconsin the Usonian template had been fully
developed. Forming an L-shape the floorplan consisted of
himself, Manah Cheney and her two children on land given the living room on one side and the bedrooms in the other
to him by his mother at Spring Green in Wisconsin. He
called the house Taliesin, a Welsh word meaning “shining
sense of freedom... with a workspace and dining area in the centre. To save
on plumbing costs the workspace and bathroom were lo-
brow” and the name of a Welsh bard. However, tragedy Returning to the US in 1922, Wright took up residence cated close together, and a small basement was excavated
struck at Taliesin when in 1914 a chef, Julian Carleton, in Los Angeles and established a practice there. The below the kitchen for a furnace. The L-shape form also
murdered Mamah Borthwick Cheney, her two children and following year he married Miriam Noel, with whom he had allowed the house to be placed at the corner of the lot
four others and then set fire to the house. lived since Mamah Cheney’s murder. While working on the thereby creating more garden space accessed by French
Hollyhock House, he began to build four other houses in doors. Structurally the supporting elements of the house
This period of turbulence in Wright’s private life overlapped were brick with the non-supporting walls made of a ply-
the Los Angeles area. In these projects he refined the new
with the commission for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, wood core, covered with building paper for insulation and
architectural language he had experimented with on the
which consumed him from 1916 to 1922 when he spent waterproofing. Bookshelves and cabinets were built-in to
Hollyhock and which he believed to be more appropriate
a great deal of time in Japan overseeing the work. The add stability. The rest of the furniture was usually made of
to southern California than the neo-
Spanish or colonial style houses plywood by the client or a local contractor. The budget for
being built around him. Wright was the Jacobs house was $5000 for construction and $500 for
inspired by the concrete block and the architect’s fee.
the creative possibilities of this cheap
and, generally, neglected, material.
He designed a block that could be
moulded on site, with its size and
weight determined by what could
easily handled by a single person.
Very little skilled labour was needed
and the blocks could be laid with a Broadacre City blueprint from Taliesin
mason’s mortar course with steel rods
inserted for structural stability. After Closely related to the principles behind the Broadacre City
completing his block houses in LA, was the Usonian House project developed from the early
Wright believed there was no future 1930s as a series of small suburban homes designed to be
for himself in the West and returned affordable to middle-income families with no servants’
The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan quarters and a single living room. The Herbert Jacobs House, built according to
to Taliesin.
the Usonian template

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Most of Wright’s residential commissions in this period “The good building makes the
Later Years
The Guggenheim Museum
From the early 1940s to his death in 1959, Wright was
back to give the effect of a painting on an easel. Like some
small object from nature, a leaf or egg, the Guggenheim
design is complex yet simple as if Wright had brought a
extraordinarily prolific and designed almost 500 projects,
were for middle-income professionals such as teachers and
journalists, with a few from self-made businessmen like landscape more beautiful than almost half of his total output. By far the most famous
little slice of nature to a corner of New York City.
Frederick Robie. The 1935 commission for Fallingwater
at Mill Run, Pennsylvania from Edgar J. Kaufmann was
it was before the building was is the 1956 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York
commissioned by the eponymous art collector and his
Marin County Civic Centre
One of Wright’s last projects was his first government
an exception and resulted in Wright’s most imaginative built.” curator Hilla Rebay. As the narrow Manhattan plot required
the design to be vertical and not horizontal, from the
building, the 1957 Marin County Civic Centre at San Rafael,
California. He was asked to build a centralised home for
solution for a residential commission which is among his The design consisted of reinforced concrete cantilevered
most famous buildings. The son of a successful Pittsburgh slabs, anchored to the cliff that formed terraces hanging beginning Wright envisaged a continuous ramp circling 13 thirteen county departments with an administration
department store owner Kaufmann was one of the over the waterfall. Between the horizontal slabs were around the centre of the interior. Yet it took an immense building, a hall of justice and preliminary plans for a
Fellowship apprentices who participated in the Broadacre stone walls that echoed the cliff side below the waterfall. struggle to see the building he wanted accepted and theatre, auditorium, fairground pavilion and lagoon on a
City project. Each of the three levels had its own terrace and an outside constructed. Guggenheim accepted the design but after hilltop and valley site spread over three hills. Contrasting
He even persuaded his father his death in 1949 Wright had to persuade a dubious board forms distinguished the various functions of the buildings.
stairway leading to other terraces and balconies. The lines
to fund the construction of of trustees that the building was viable. Several changes The central features were a huge flattened dome and
of the building were rounded and gentle in contrast to
the model for a nationwide were made as more land was acquired and seven complete adjacent high tower, a long thin administration building
the angular finish of Wright’s earlier structures. The stone
exhibition tour. The Kaufmanns sets of drawings were made before construction began and hall of justice. Constructed in pre-cast pre-stressed
work was built up in layers with some stones raised proud
became close friends with the in August 1956. The building was completed in 1959, six concrete and steel this group of buildings revealed Wright’s
to create a rough surface as if just hewn from the quarry.
Wrights and, by the end of the months after Wright’s own death. mastery of a complex set of buildings with a heavy list of
year, were discussing a project As ever Wright was concerned with creating an interior
to design a country house to living space that was practical and comfortable. Gravity
replace a basic cottage. Wright heat was installed by placing coils of pipes under the
wrote to Kaufmann: “The visit concrete slab floor. “When organic architecture is properly
to the waterfall in the woods carried out no landscape is ever outraged by it but is
stays with me, and a domicile always developed by it,” said Wright. “The good building
has taken vague shape in makes the landscape more beautiful than it was before
my mind to the music of the the building was built.” This was Wright’s achievement at
Edgar J. Kaufmann,
Fallingwater commissioner stream.” Fallingwater.

Exterior and interior of the Guggenheim Museum

Moulded concrete reinforced by steel created the plastic requirements. The County Board had expected Wright to
curvilinear forms. What Wright described as “the box” flatten the hill tops to create an easier plot for building
with its use of post and beam construction was completely but he was inspired by the awkward site and produced a
overturned at the Guggenheim where one floor flows gently set of buildings that are bold and almost futuristic in their
into another. The walls of the building were slightly sloped design and setting.

It was as if Wright had brought a little slice of

Fallingwater in Mill Run,
nature to a corner of New York City.
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Wright’s Legacy
Frank Lloyd Wright died in 1959 at the age of 92. Despite the lulls and even
great dips in his career he had continued designing and building for 70 years
and at his death he left a thriving practice. Unlike many architects who perhaps
are remembered for a distinct decade of work Wright was able to adapt as his
architecture moved with the changing requirements of a fast- moving century.
He used the newest materials and technologies from poured concrete to under
floor heating and was happy to design for all incomes. Yet Wright was not a
mainstream modernist – his deep love of nature and sense of place were stronger
than his desire for the new. He was also a romantic who wanted to charge his
work with emotional qualities. A house as a home for a family was an almost
sacred place with the heat of a fire at its heart. Indeed it is his romantic and
emotional response to architecture and its environment that makes Wright’s work
seem particularly relevant today.

1867 Frank Lloyd Wright is born in Richland Center, 1914 Mamah Cheney, her 2 children and 4 others
Wisconsin as the first child of William Russell are murdered by a servant Julian Charleton at
Cary Wright and Anna Lloyd Jones Wright Taliesin who then sets fire to the property
1886 Enters the School of Civil Engineering at 1915 Wright rebuilds Taliesin and Miriam Noel moves
University of Wisconsin at Madison in

1887 Abandons his studies in Madison for Chicago 1917 Returns to Taliesin. Designs the Hollyhock House
and finds employment at the architectural for Aline Barnsdall in Los Angeles
office of Joseph Lyman Silsbee
1889 After marrying Catherine Lee Tobin, Wright Death of Anna Lloyd Jones Wright. The Great
starts building work on their home at Oak Park,
1923 Kanto Earthquake demolishes most of Tokyo but
Illinois the Imperial Hotel survives with minor damage.
Wright marries Miriam Noel and completes the
1893 Opens his own architectural practice
design of the Charles Ennis House in Los Angeles

Moves his office to Steinway Hall, Chicago and

1897 1924 Moves to Minnesota. Miriam Noel leaves Wright
builds drafting studio connected to his Oak Park and he meets Olgivanna Lazovich Hinzenberg
1900 Designs the Hillside Home School in Spring 1926 Moves to Minnesota. Wright and Oligivanna
arrested under the Mann Act charges. Wright
Green, Wisconsin for his two aunts
starts to write his autobiography
1902 Completes the design of the Susan Lawrence 1928 Wright marries Olgivanna Lazovich Hinzenberg
Dana House in Springfield, Illinois and Larking
at Rancho Sante Fe, California
Company headquarters in Buffalo, New York
Publication of Wright’s An Autobiography. He
1905 Travels to Japan with his wife, Catherine and 1932
clients Mr and Mrs Ward W Willits. Designs the and Olgivanna found the Taliesin Fellowship
Unity Temple in Oak Park architectural schools

1908 Construction begins on Frederick C Robie House 1935 Builds the Fallingwater Bear Run house in
in Chicago Illinois Pennsylvania

1909 Wright travels to Europe with Mamag Borthwich 1943 Commissioned to design the Solomon R
after signing his architectural practice over to Guggenheim Museum and a Research Tower for
Herman von Holst the SC Johnson & Son Company
1911 Returns to US and draws plans for a cottage 1953 Completes the design of the Beth Sholom
for his mother near Spring Green, WI. Wright Synagogue at Elkins Park, PA
renames it Taliesin
1913 Sails for Japan with Mamah Cheney in pursuit of 1959 Designs the Norman Lykes House in Phoenix, AR.
the Imperial Hotel commission Frank Lloyd Wright dies in Phoenix

Frank Lloyd Wright Page 24