Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright

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What led Frank Lloyd Wright to become recognized as the greatest American Architect of the twentieth century?

Born in 1867 in Richland Center, Wisconsin of Welsh heritage his idealistic mother Anna Lloyd Jones Wright and her family were committed Unitarians. They had the greatest influence on his early life. It is said that Anna Lloyd Jones placed pictures of great buildings in young Frank’s nursery as part of training him from the earliest possible moment as an architect. His father, William Carey Wright, was a musician and a preacher. In his mothers honor he changed his middle name to hers. When Frank was twelve his family settled in Madison Wisconsin where he attended Madison High School. During summers spent on his Uncle James Lloyd Jones’ farm in Spring Green, Wisconsin. It was there that Wright first began to realize his dream of becoming an architect.




In 1885, he left Madison without graduating high school to work for Allan Conover, the Dean of the University of Wisconsin’s Engineering Department. Wright spent two semesters studying civil engineering before moving to Chicago in 1887.

In Chicago, he worked for architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee; Wright drafted the construction of his first building, the Lloyd Jones family chapel, also known as Unity Chapel. One year later, he was hired on as a draftsman in the firm of Adler and Sullivan, directly under Louis Sullivan. At the time the firm was designing Chicago’s Auditorium Building. Wright eventually became the chief draftsman, and also the man in charge of the firms’ residential designs. Under Sullivan whom Wright called “Lieber Meister” (beloved master), Wright began to develop his own architectural ideas. Wright adapted

Sullivan’s idea “Form follows function” to his own revised theory of “Form and Function are one.” It was Sullivan’s belief that American architecture should be based on American function, not European traditions, a theory which Wright later developed further. Throughout his life, Wright acknowledged very few influences on his career but credits Sullivan as a primary influence. He also designed on his own while working for Sullivan, homes Wright called “bootlegged” which were done against Adler and Sullivan’s policies concerning such moonlighting. When Louis Sullivan found out about these homes, Wright was fired from the firm.

While working for Sullivan, Wright met and fell in love with Catherine Tobin. The two moved to Oak Park, Illinois (an affluent suburb of Chicago which is located just to the west of the center of the city) and built a home where they eventually raised their five children. In 18, Sullivan and Wright ended their business relationship. Wright opened his own firm in Chicago, for which he operated there for five years before moving the practice to his home in Oak Park.

Wright’s early designs revealed a unique talent in the young aspiring architect. They had a style all their own, mimicking that of a horizontal plane, with no basements or attics. They were all built with natural materials and never painted; Wright utilized low pitched rooflines with deep overhangs and uninterrupted walls of windows to merge the horizontal homes into their environments. Wright became known for simplicity of design that broke with the more ornamental style of the Victorian Age. His distinctive houses often had a long horizontal profile that espoused the flat land, upon which they were built, a characteristic that gave rise to the popular name “prairie style” to describe them.

Leaded glass windows were used in these houses as patterned “light screens” to link interior and exterior space. Throughout his career, Wright conceived of buildings as integrated ensembles, and whenever possible he designed all of the furnishings.

It is said that Frank Lloyd Wright was a very good intuitive engineer. He would envision how the load in his buildings was to be supported and have a very good concept of how to explain this to his engineers but he very seldom did the actual calculations himself.

His simplistic houses served as an inspiration to the prairie school, a name given to a group of architects whose style was indigenous of Midwestern architecture. Later he became one of its chief practitioners; some of his most notable creations include the Robie House in Chicago, IL and the Martin House in Buffalo, N.Y.


In 1910 after eighteen years in Oak Park, Wright left his home to move to Germany with a woman named Maude Borthwick Cheney (the wife of a client). The trip allowed Wright to see first hand the work of avant garde architects, particularly the Secessionists in Vienna. When they returned in 1911, they moved to Spring Green, Wisconsin where his mother had given him a portion of his ancestor’s land, it was the same farm where he had spent much time as a young boy.

Back in America, Wright produced work which showed the influence of what he had observed abroad. In Spring Green he constructed Talesin. The Wright’s lived there until 1914 when tragedy struck. An insane servant tragically murdered Cheney and six others then set fire to Taleisn. Many people thought this horrific event would be the end of Wright’s career. He proved them wrong however, with his decision to rebuild Taleisn.

Over the next twenty years Wright’s influence continued to grown in popularity in the U.S. and Europe. Eventually his innovative building style spread overseas. In 1915, Wright was commissioned to design the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. It was there he used unique earthquake resistant combination of concrete supports, cantilevered floor, and a foundation floating on a cushion of soft mud. The design was tested in 1 by an actual earthquake and passed. It was during this time that he began to develop and refine his architectural and sociological philosophies.

The “needs of clients” can mean not only “how much room does the family need,” or “where do they like to gather,” but “how is the structure going to enhance these activities and elevate daily living into an art. “Bring out the nature of materials; always let their nature intimately into your scheme. Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings are known for their beauty, artistry, and sensitivity to their surroundings.

Throughout his life, Wright made and lost from commissions and the same of his extensive Asian art collection, in today’s figures, worth millions of dollars.

The 1900’s and 1910’s were turbulent for Frank Lloyd Wright personally. His second marriage ended and he remarried once again. During these times, needless to say, there were few clients and precious little income.

In 1916, Wright and his third wife Olgivanna founded the Taleisn Fellowship, a school based on a program of apprenticeship that was located in Spring Green, Wisconsin. His most famous work Falling Water was designed in 1916. In 1917, he began work on Taleisn West. Every year thereafter the whole school packed up and traveled to Scottsdale, Arizona where they would spend the winter months. Taleisn was intended as a seminal laboratory and model for the larger community. Wright and his apprentices constructed the model of Broadacre City to reveal how the congested cities of the past could be replaced by a decentralized, rural form of life that would integrate homes with small farms and factories. The Utopian model was presented at Rockefeller Center in New York in 1915. Taleisn continues to function today as its founder intended.

Frank Lloyd Wright buildings were produced during the war years, but the G.I. Bill brought many new apprentices when the war ended. The post war period to the end of Wrights life was the most productive. The Guggenheim Museum of Fifth Avenue in New York was one of Wright’s last and boldest works. Begun in the late 1940’s the museum has remained as a monument to its creator.

Wright never retired; on April , 1965 at age ninety two Wright died at his home in Phoenix Arizona. By the time of his death, he had become internationally recognized for his innovative building style and contemporary designs. He had created 1,141 designs, of which 5 were completed. When he died he had achieved the pinnacle of fame in his lifetime.

In 1985 Olgivanna Wright passed away, and one of her wishes was to have Frank Lloyd Wright’s remains cremated and the ashes placed next to hers at Taleisn West. Amid much controversy this was done. The epitaph at his Wisconsin grave site reads “Love of an idea, is the love of God.” In the end, he showed not just what to live in, but more importantly he influenced the very nature of how we lived.



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