I was raised in Phoenix, Arizona and I remember while living in Phoenix passing by a street named Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd. At the time I didn’t even know who Frank Lloyd Wright was, but than soon after, I came across photos of some neat looking buildings and turns out he was the architect of those buildings. They were photos of Falling Water in Pennsylvania and the Robie House in Chicago. I later saw some more photos of his work and became more intrigued by his architecture.
On June 08, 1867 he was born as Frank Lincoln Wright in Richland Center, Wisconsin to William Wright, a preacher and Anna Lloyd Jones, a teacher. His mother’s Welsh family had settled the area near Spring Green, Wisconsin. During the early part of his childhood he moved around a lot because his father traveled to several states taking up ministry until the family finally settled in Madison, Wisconsin in 1878.
According to one of his biographies, before he was born his mother once said that he would grow up to build beautiful buildings. He was influenced to be an architect from an early age. In 1876 his mom visited an exhibition in Philadelphia and saw an exhibit of educational blocks called Froebel Gifts which were created by Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel, the German educationist. She bought a set of the blocks and brought them home to her young son who began building 3-Dimensional compositions with them and the blocks also influenced his approach to design.
His parents divorced in 1885 when he was 14 which caused some financial stress and so to help support the family, at age 18 he went to work for the dean of the department of engineering at the University of Wisconsin. He also changed his middle name to “Lloyd” in honor of his mother’s family name. He wanted to be an architect so two years later, in 1887, he left Madison bound for Chicago, Illinois.
When he got to Chicago he found work with a couple of firms before he got hired on by Dankmar Adler & Louis Sullivan where for six years he worked directly under Louis Sullivan despite the fact that Sullivan showed very little respect to his employees. Sullivan gave Wright great design responsibility and so as a show of respect, Wright would refer to him later as Lieber Meister which is German for “Dear Master.”
At the age of Twenty-Two in 1889 he married his first wife, Catherine Lee Tobin, just 7 days before his birthday. He met her a year earlier during activities at the All Souls Church. Sullivan helped the new couple out by granting Wright an employment contract for 5 years.
In the Oak Park suburb of Chicago he built his first house which was for his new family in a wooded corner lot. It is designed reminiscent of the East Coast shingle style with it’s prominent roof gable but has Wright’s ingenuity. He would later add to the house as necessary for his ever growing family of six kids. His children remembered it being very lively living there and it wasn’t long before the family’s expenses escalated that Wright was tempted to accept independent residential design jobs.
He did these on his own time, but in 1893 Sullivan became aware of it and charged Wright with breach of contract. Wright left the firm of Adler & Sullivan creating a rift between him and Sullivan for two decades but when one door closes, another one always opens and the closing of the door to him of Adler & Sullivan opened the door of opportunity for Wright to finally go out on his own and opened an office and began to design homes that truly belonged to the American prairie.
His first independent commission was the William H. Winslow House in River Forest, Illinois and over the next sixteen years he set the standards for what would become known as the Prairie Style home which would reflct the long and low horizontal prairie the home would sit on. The homes also had low pitched roofs, deep overhangs, deep overhangs, no basements or attics and usually long rows of casement windows that further emphasized the horizontal theme.
Some important residential works Wright designed at this time are the Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo, New York; The Avery Coonley House in Riverside, Illinois; and the Fredrick C. Robie House in Chicago, Illinois. Some important public buildings designed during this time were the Larkin Company Administration Building in Buffalo New York (which is now sadly demolished) and the Unity Temple in Oak Park.
He left his family in 1909 for a stay in Europe with Mamah Borthwick Cheney who was a client of his that he fell in love with. During this time he worked on two publications of his work: one was The Wasmuth Portfolio which were drawings and the other was of photographs called the Ausgefuhrte Bauten und Entwurfe von Frank Lloyd Wright. Both of these were published in 1911. They brought him and his work international recognition and also influenced other architects.
He returned back to the states in 1911 and began construction of Taliesin near Spring Green which would be his home with Mamah Cheney. He also earned jobs to design two more important buildings: Midway Gardens in Chichago, Illinois and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan which would sadly be demolished in 1968.
In 1914 while working on Midway Gardens, a servant murdered Mamah Cheney and set fire to the living quarters of there home. Emotionally distraught, he was only able to find solace while working and rebuilt Taliesin in Mamah’s memory.
1922 – 1934 were architecturally creative and financially catastrophic for Wright. He got an office in Los Angelas, California but had trouble finding work when he returned from Japan in 1922. He than left the west coast and went back to Taliesin. Only some of his projects would go into construction during this decade and this decade was a time of great design innovation for him. Among some of his unbuilt designs are the National Life Insurance Building in Chicago and the St. Mark’s In The Bowerie apartment towers for New York City. He also married Olga Lazovich in 1928 and turned to writing and lecturing which introduced him to a larger national audience and wrote 2 important publications in 1932: “An Autobiography” and “The Disappearing City.” He and his new wife founded an architectural school called “Taliesin Fellowship” at Taliesin at about this time as well.
He moved his new family and his new school to the warmer climate of Arizona in 1934. Wright at this time was still considered by some to be a great architect but one whose time had come and gone. He proved the critics wrong when in 1936 he staged a remarkable comeback by designing the S.C. Johnson and Son Company Administration Building in Racine, Wisconsin, and the Edgar Kaufman family house (which is also known as Falling Water) in Pennsylvania.
He decided he wanted a more permanent winter residence in Arizona so he purchased some land in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, Arizona and began construction of Taliesin West.
In 1943, even though the world was at war he received a letter that initiated the most important and challenging job of his later years if not his entire career. He was asked to design a building to house the Solomon R. Guggenheim collection of non-objective paintings. The Guggenheim Museum is in New York City on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and still stands to this day and took over sixteen years to build.
With the end of the war in 1945, business boomed. The Research Tower for the SC Johnson Company, a skyscraper in Oklahoma, and several buildings he
designed for the Florida Southern College were built and some projects that never were developed beyond the design table were a sports club for Hollywood, California; a mile high tower for Chicago and a plan for greater Baghdad.
He was still actively involved in his work up until his death, including overseeing the construction of the Guggenheim in 1959 he was stricken by an illness that hospitalized him. On April 9, 1959 he passed away just two months shy of turning 92 years old.
This is an original article I wrote on one of my favorite architects, but I found my sources elsewhere, so just have to give credit where credit is due as always.
Frank Lloyd Wright – Wikipedia. n.d. 08 December 2012 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Lloyd_Wright>.
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation: Biography. n.d. 08 December 2012 <http://www.franklloydwright.org/about/FLLWBio.html>.