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Wright, Frank Lloyd - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: Frank Lloyd Wright, Social and Economic Impact

built wright’s designs taliesin

(1869-1959)
Architect

Overview

Frank Lloyd Wright is considered one of the most influential and most important twentieth century American architects. His buildings—more than 400—possess the quality and feel of genius at work. His designs, his unique ideas about homes, seem eternally futuristic, enormously functional, and have influenced every sphere of twentieth century architecture.

Personal Life

Frank Lloyd Wright was one of America’s most dramatic and eccentric geniuses. He was born on June 8, 1867, the eldest of three children born to William and Anna Lloyd Wright in the small town of Richland Center, Wisconsin, on the American prairie. Wright’s mother had immigrated from Wales with her family. Her father, who was a Unitarian minister, and brothers became skilled carpenters and built themselves houses in the Wisconsin River Valley. Wright’s relationship with his mother was very close throughout his life. When he was very young his mother, who was a school teacher, used the Froebel Kindergarten Method at home, which introduced children to pure geometric forms and their patterns on grids. Scholars have speculated that Wright’s later use of so much sophisticated geometric design in his work was an outgrowth of his early integrated exposure to geometric design as a learning tool.

His father, William Carey Wright, was a Baptist minister and musician. When Wright was three years old, his family moved to Massachusetts, where his father worked as a minister. Around 1880, the family moved back to Wisconsin. His father opened a music conservatory, and Wright went to school and worked on his uncle’s farm. When Wright was 18, his father divorced his wife, leaving him with his mother and two younger siblings. When his parents divorced, in 1885, Wright sought part-time employment in Madison, Wisconsin. He also had plans to study at the University of Wisconsin. Wright took a job with a Madison contractor as a draftsman’s apprentice, and took engineering and graphics courses for a year at the University. That was the end of his formal education. To further his architectural training, Wright left Madison in 1887 for Chicago, where he obtained employment as a draftsman with Joseph Silsbee, an architect.

While in Chicago during the late 1880s, Wright was in the midst of a great architectural boom. Architects from all over the world had come to Chicago to rebuild the city after it had been destroyed by a devastating fire less than a decade before. Wright, having learned the architectural basics from Silsbee, landed a job with Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, one of the most progressive architectural firms in the country. Wright developed a very close relationship with Sullivan, who was known for his “form follows function” ideology. By the time Wright was in his early 20s, he had worked on some of the most impressive buildings in Chicago.

In 1889, Wright married Catherine Lee Clark Tobin. Frank and Catherine had six children, two of whom became architects. To support his wife and children in a manner in which he was accustomed, Wright took on extra work designing houses. Wright “bootlegged” designs from Sullivan’s firm, adding his own ideas—Sullivan subsequently severed his contract with Wright. In 1893, Wright started his own architectural business. In 1909 Wright abandoned his wife of 20 years and children, running off to Europe with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of a former client. The couple stayed away from the United States for a year, returning in 1911 to settle in Spring Green, Wisconsin, where he built his well-known residence Taliesin—"shining brow" in Welsh. In 1914, a servant at the Taliesin residence set fire to the house and murdered Mamah, two of her children and four other occupants as they tried to escape the flames. The house was almost completely destroyed. He rebuilt Taliesin and later, traveled to Tokyo, where he was commissioned to build the Imperial Hotel.

In 1922, Wright married the sculptress Miriam Noel. In 1925, Taliesin burned down again. Wright’s career suffered because of continual scandal in his personal life. And his personal life was continually unraveling—Wright’s finances and emotions were depleted. His life was filled with lawsuits, bad publicity, bankruptcy, and bitterness. In 1928, Wright married his fourth wife, Olgivanna Milanoff, a Montenegrin aristocrat, who was at one time a student of G.I. Gurdjieff, a Russian-born esoteric thinker and mystic. This marriage lasted for the rest of his life.

Wright began to lecture and teach. Although Wright’s designs continued to be built at a steady pace for more than two decades, he was not to see fame reemerge in his life until the 1950s, when he was in his 80s—largely because he had survived into old age with good energy, and a burning passion about his beliefs in radical architecture. Wright also wrote several books about architecture. He was idolized in the 1950s as a daring, individualistic genius. The eccentricities for which he was once scorned had helped to make him popular. It had become clear before he died, that Frank Lloyd Wright had secured a position in the public imagination as a uniquely American icon; a brilliant, loner, “cowboy”-architect; a genius to architecture, as Albert Einstein was a genius to physics.

Wright’s last major project was designing a building to house the impressive modern art collection of Solomon R. Guggenheim—the Guggenheim Museum—on Fifth Avenue, in New York City. Six months before his death on April 9, 1959, Wright has standing on the scaffolding of the museum dressed in his usual attire of a long scarf around his neck and a wide-brimmed hat.

Career Details

After moving to Chicago and working with the architect, Joseph Silsbee, Wright began to undertake his own commissions and projects for private residential home design. In 1888, he joined the firm of Adler and Sullivan, where he primarily designed homes. Wright left Sullivan in 1893 and established his own business. From 1893-1910, Wright built approximately 273 houses, many of which were the “Prairie-house style”—a combination of Japanese design elements and American influences.

Wright believed that American architecture should reflect the environment in which it was built, the environment of the frontier, and of the abundance of land. Wright described his work as "organic architecture, that which proceeds, persists, creates, according to the nature of man and his circumstances as they both change. "He created homes with strong horizontal lines and shapes, the roofs were low pitched with large overhangs, and with flourishes that created a sense of the horizon and of spaciousness. The inside of his homes, influenced by Japanese designs, had large open spaces, huge central rooms, few closed corners, many large windows, and a geometric emphasis in the room’s decor. His houses were unadorned, nothing “fancy” or “fake” or unnecessary was present. His ceilings were built high—cathedral ceilings—and many of his houses were heated with radiant heat—coils built into the concrete slab floors which circulated warm water through the coils to radiate heat into the home evenly. And since automobiles had become easier to start, he stopped building garages and instead attached simple carports that would protect the car from heavy snow but retain the open feel of the total design. During this time, Wright built two of his best-known non-domestic structures. In 1904, he built the Larkin Administration Building which was the first office building in the United States to have air conditioning, metal furniture, and metal bound plate glass doors and windows. When he built he Unity Temple Church, 1905-1906, Wright used poured concrete for the building’s edifice.

In 1910, a portfolio of Wright’s work was published in Berlin and subsequently influenced the younger generation of modern architects in Europe. In 1911, Wright built his private residence, Taliesin which had burned down and rebuilt twice. In 1915, Wright was commissioned to design the Imperial hotel in Tokyo, Japan, a task that took seven years. He included many design innovations that essentially protected the building from a devastating earthquake that struck the area in 1923. He gained great esteem in Japan for this accomplishment—building a tall hotel that was earthquake proof.

During the 1920s, Wright developed a new construction method using pre-cast concrete blocks that were reinforced with metal. Several houses were built with this new method, of which the most notable is the Mallard house in Pasadena, California. Wright’s personal life was in a shambles during this decade and his professional life was greatly affected—commissions were not as numerous and many commissions that Wright did have were postponed or cancelled due to the Depression.

During the early 1930s Wright devoted his time to writing and lecturing. In 1931, Wright set up the Taliesin Fellowship, and turned his residence into a studio-workshop for apprentices who would pay to study with him and work on Wright’s commissions. As the economy in the country stabilized, building resumed, and Wright designed two well known buildings: the Kaufman House, which was cantilevered over a waterfall at Bear Run, Pennsylvania, and an administration building for the S.C. Johnson and Son Company in Racine, Wisconsin. Wright also kept himself busy designing houses and communities that he thought were the perfect answer to modern society. For example, Broadacre City was a decentralized community with no distinction between town and country, and he designed homes that would reflect and ideal, democratic America—Usonia. In 1938, he built Taliesin West, a permanent desert camp made of stone, wood and canvas, near Phoenix Arizona.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Wright continued to design and build innovative and impressive structures. During this time, his designs were perhaps more varied and radical than previous decades—college campuses, crescent-shaped houses, circular houses, and lastly, the unprecedented concrete, spiral-shaped, Guggenheim Museum. Although his work has been criticized as impractical and expensive, none of his structures have sustained damages due to faulty engineering.

Chronology: Frank Lloyd Wright

1867: Born.

1887: Became draftsman for architect Joseph Silsbee.

1888: Joined architectural firm Adler and Sullivan.

1893: Formed his own architectural firm.

1911: Built the famous home called Taliesin in Wisconsin.

1915: Designed the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo Japan.

1931: Started the Taliesin Fellowship.

1959: Designed the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

1959: Died.

Social and Economic Impact

Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs of homes and buildings have inspired generations of architects, including much of what is called “modern architecture.” His influence is international—many other countries have considered Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs as a major influence on their contemporary styles. More than 30 states in the United States possess Frank Lloyd Wright structures and most architectural critics agree that every state in the country has buildings that reflect Wright’s style. His many imitators constitute Wright’s greatest success, even if his more severe designs are changed and distorted, the general horizontal style of Wright’s prairie architecture created a distinct shape of architectural content that has influenced the way Americans see modern architecture. His brilliant designs of Taliesin West, his Arizona headquarters; the inexpensive Usonian homes; the great Kaufman House, built over a waterfall in Pennsylvania; his designs for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City are all breathtaking examples of his great success as an architect and an artist.

Wright, Irene Aloha (1879–1972) - Caribbean History [next] [back] Wright, Edward Herbert(1863–1930) - Politician, Chronology, Political Power Broker

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