Frank Lloyd Wright, an American architect, is celebrated for his unique “organic architecture” philosophy. This approach underscored the significance of incorporating the natural environment, human needs, and a building’s purpose into the design process. Fallingwater, one of Wright’s most iconic creations, exemplifies this philosophy. Located atop a Pennsylvania waterfall, it seamlessly harmonizes with its surroundings, serving as a testament to Wright’s commitment to aligning architecture with humanity and nature.
Frank Lloyd Wright in 1954
Wright started his career at the Chicago architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan, mentored by Louis Sullivan, known as “the father of skyscrapers.” Sullivan’s rejection of ornate European styles in favor of a minimalist aesthetic, encapsulated in his maxim “form follows function,” greatly influenced Wright, who later fulfilled Sullivan’s vision for a unique American architectural style.
Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania, 1937
At the age of 22, Wright married Catherine Tobin, and together, they had six children. Their Oak Park residence, now known as the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, marked his first architectural masterpiece. It was here that Wright established his independent architectural practice after departing from Adler and Sullivan.
As he honed his architectural vision, Wright became known for designing a series of homes and public structures that exemplified the Prairie School of architecture. These single-story residences featured low-pitched roofs and extensive casement windows, highlighting the use of locally available, unstained, and unpainted wood to emphasize its natural beauty. Notable examples of his Prairie School creations include the Robie House in Chicago and the Unity Temple in Oak Park.
The Robie House on the University of Chicago campus, Illinois, 1909
Twenty years into his marriage, Wright abruptly left his wife, children, and practice, relocating to Germany with Martha Borthwick, his client. Wright designed a home for them in Spring Green, Wisconsin, called Taliesin, meaning “shining brow” in Welsh. It stood as one of the defining achievements of his career.
Taliesin III, Spring Green, Wisconsin
However, a few years later, tragedy struck when an enraged Taliesin employee intentionally started a fire, claiming the lives of Borthwick, her two children, and four others. Although devastated, Wright immediately embarked on rebuilding Taliesin to “erase the scar from the hill.” Nearly a decade later, a second fire, caused by faulty wiring, necessitated yet another reconstruction.
Wright’s reputation reached international heights when he was commissioned by the Japanese Emperor to design the earthquake-resistant Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. After seven years of dedicated work, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 tested the building’s resilience, and it stood as the only large structure in the city to survive unscathed.
Hotel Imperial, 1930s
In response to the 1929 financial crisis and the ensuing Great Depression, Wright designed around 60 middle-income homes known as Usonian houses. These modest yet elegant structures introduced innovative design elements such as solar heating, natural cooling, and carports for automobile storage, prefiguring the modern “ranch house.”
Charles Weltzheimer Residence, Oberlin, Ohio, 1948
In his later years, Wright expanded his portfolio to encompass public buildings alongside private residences. Notable projects included the SC Johnson Wax Administration Building in Racine, Wisconsin, and a visionary design for the Monona Terrace civic center in Madison, Wisconsin, although due to a lack of public funding it was constructed nearly sixty years later.
An open office area in Wright's Johnson Wax Headquarters complex, Racine, Wisconsin, 1939
Wright’s final 16 years were consumed by his most ambitious project: the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. This vast white cylindrical structure, crowned with a Plexiglass dome, features a unique gallery space spiraling along a ramp from the ground up. Although initially met with controversy, the Guggenheim Museum now stands as one of New York City’s architectural gems.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, 1959
On April 9, 1959, at the age of 91, Wright passed away, just six months before the Guggenheim opened its doors. He is widely regarded as the greatest architect of the 20th century and the finest American architect of all time. Wright’s legacy endures through over 1,100 designed buildings, with 532 of them realized.
Words of wisdom
“I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.” —Frank Lloyd Wright
“A professional is one who does his best work when he feels the least like working.” —Frank Lloyd Wright
“There is nothing more uncommon than common sense.” —Frank Lloyd Wright
“An idea is salvation by imagination” —Frank Lloyd Wright