Frank Lloyd Wright was a modern architect who developed an organic and distinctly American style and designed some of the most beautiful, iconic buildings of the 20th century.
Frank Lloyd Wright was born June 8, 1867, in Richland Center, Wisconsin. His mother, Anna Lloyd Jones, was a teacher from a large Welsh family who had settled in Spring Green, Wisconsin and his father, William Carey Wright, was a preacher and a musician. Wright's family moved frequently during his early years, living in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Iowa before settling in Madison, Wisconsin, when Frank Lloyd Wright was 12 years old. An outdoorsy child, Wright fell in love with the Wisconsin landscape he explored as a boy.
In 1885, Wright graduated from public high school in Madison, his parents divorced and his father moved away, never to be heard from again. That year, Wright enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Madison to study civil engineering. In order to pay his tuition and help support his family, he worked for the dean of the engineering department and assisted the acclaimed architect Joseph Silsbee with the construction of the Unity Chapel. The experience convinced Wright that he wanted to become an architect, and in 1887 he dropped out of school to go to work for Silsbee in Chicago.
A year later, Wright began an apprenticeship with the Chicago architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan, working directly under Louis Sullivan, the great American architect best known as the father of skyscrapers. Wright worked for Sullivan until 1893, when he breached their contract by accepting private commissions to design homes, and the two parted ways.
In 1889, the 22-year-old Wright married a 19-year-old woman named Catherine Tobin and they eventually had six children together. Their home in the Oak Park suburb of Chicago, now known as the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio, is considered his first architectural masterpiece. The house includes a barrel-vaulted playroom entered, for dramatic effect, through a low, dark passage. His studio was a single-storey building of Japanese inspiration, which he built around a tree - an early example of how he incorporated nature into his work.
Wright established his own architectural practice upon leaving Adler and Sullivan in 1893. That same year, he designed the Winslow House in River Forest, which with its horizontal emphasis and expansive, open interior spaces is the first example of Wright's revolutionary style, later dubbed "organic architecture."
Over the next several years, Wright designed a series of residences and public buildings that became known as the leading examples of the "Prairie School" of architecture. These were single-story homes with low, pitched roofs and long rows of casement windows, employing only locally available materials and wood that was always unstained and unpainted, emphasising its natural beauty. Wright's most celebrated "Prairie School" buildings include the Robie House in Chicago and the Unity Temple in Oak Park. While such works made Wright a celebrity and his work became the subject of much acclaim in Europe, he remained relatively unknown outside of architectural circles in the United States.
In 1909, after 20 years of marriage, Wright suddenly abandoned his wife, children and practice and moved to Germany with a woman named Mamah Borthwick Cheney - the wife of a client. Working with the acclaimed publisher Ernst Wasmuth, while in Germany, Wright put together two portfolios of his work that further raised his international profile as one of the leading living architects. In 1913, Wright and Cheney returned to the United States, and Wright designed them a home on the land of his maternal ancestors in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Named Taliesin, Welsh for "shining brow," it was one of the most acclaimed works of his life. The free-flowing house embraces courtyards and gardens, and hunkers down against the hills of his childhood. However, tragedy struck in 1914 when a deranged servant set fire to the house, burning it to the ground and killing Cheney and six others. Although Wright was devastated by the loss of his lover and home, he immediately began rebuilding Taliesin in order to, in his own words, "wipe the scar from the hill."
The next year, in 1915, the Japanese Emperor commissioned Wright to design the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. He spent the next seven years on the project, a beautiful and revolutionary building that Wright claimed was "earthquake proof." Only one year after its completion, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 devastated the city and tested the architect's claim. Wright's Imperial Hotel was the city's only large structure to survive the earthquake intact.
Returning to the United States, he married a sculptor named Miriam Noel in 1923, they stayed together for four years before divorcing in 1927. In 1925 another fire, this one caused by an electrical problem, destroyed Taliesin, forcing him to rebuild it once again. In 1928, Wright married his third wife Olga Lazovich Milanov.
With architectural commissions grinding to a halt in the early 1930s due to the Great Depression, Wright dedicated himself to writing and teaching. In 1932, he published An Autobiography and The Disappearing City, both of which have become cornerstones of architectural literature. That same year he founded the Taliesin Fellowship, an immersive architectural school based out of his own home and studio. Five years later, he and his apprentices began work on "Taliesin West," a residence and studio in Arizona that housed the Taliesin Fellowship during the winter months.
Approaching 70 years of age, Wright appeared to have peacefully retired to running his Taliesin Fellowship. Then, in 1935, Wright announced his return to the profession in dramatic fashion in 1935 with Fallingwater, a residence for Pittsburgh's Kaufmann family. Original and astonishingly beautiful Fallingwater sits low in the valley over a waterfall which can be heard throughout the house. The house has large terraces which stick straight out and hang over the waterfall. Most of the house is made of stone and it resembles the horizontal and vertical lines of the rock formations and natural environment around it. In 1990, members of the American Institute of Architects named Fallingwater house the “best all time work of American architecture”.
During his later years, Wright also turned increasingly to designing public buildings in addition to private homes. He designed the famous SC Johnson Wax Administration Building that opened in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1939. In 1943, Wright began a project that consumed the last 16 years of his life—designing the Guggenheim Museum of modern and contemporary art in New York City. An enormous white cylindrical building spiraling upward into a Plexiglass dome, the museum consists of a single gallery along a ramp that coils up from the ground floor – rather like a shell. Wright’s design was highly controversial at the time and is now revered as one of New York City's finest buildings.
Frank Lloyd Wright passed away on April 9, 1959, at the age 91, six months before the Guggenheim opened its doors. He fathered seven children and adopted his third wife’s daughter.
So, why is he a #Houseproud hero?
Wright is widely considered the greatest architect of the 20th century, and the greatest American architect of all time. He perfected a distinctly American style of architecture that emphasized simplicity and natural beauty in contrast to the elaborate and ornate architecture that had prevailed in Europe. With seemingly superhuman energy and persistence, Wright designed more than 1,100 buildings and completed 532 works during his lifetime, nearly one third of which he designed during his last decade.
“The good building is not one that hurts the landscape, but one which makes the landscape more beautiful than it was before the building was built”