Wright, Frank Lloyd

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed more than 400 buildings during a career that lasted 70 years, was one of the most famous architects of his day. Some people believe he was the greatest U.S. architect of all time.

Wright was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin, on June 8, 1867. He became interested in architecture when he was young. His mother, a teacher, encouraged this interest by giving him blocks of various shapes, cards, and paper that could be arranged to represent furniture, buildings, and cities. At 16, Wright entered the University of Wisconsin, but left after about a year.

After working for a short time as a draftsman, Wright found a job with the architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan in Chicago. He worked there for five years under the great modern architect Louis Sullivan, whom Wright would later refer to as "Master."

In 1893, Wright opened his own office in Chicago. Later he moved to Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. He designed modern buildings following the teachings of Sullivan, including the principle that "form follows function." This meant that the design of each building should come from its uses rather than from architectural designs of the past. He believed in what he called organic architecture. By this he meant that a building should reflect nature's principles and the needs of its users.

Wright's first distinctive buildings were houses in what came to be called prairie style because of their organic harmony with the prairies of the Midwest. Typically these houses were long and low, so that they seemed to grow out of the landscape. Wright's use of wood and other natural materials emphasized this effect, as did his planning of space. Open space inside the houses seemed to flow outward onto terraces or porches. The Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago is one of the many prairie style houses that he built in the Chicago area.

One of Wright's early nonresidential buildings, the Unity Church in Oak Park, was constructed of concrete. He chose not to cover the concrete with other materials, as architects had done previously.

In the years that followed, Wright designed many fine buildings. He was always a step or two ahead of his contemporaries and always experimental in his approach to design. Eventually buildings designed by Wright were constructed in 36 states of the United States. Some of the finest are Millard House in Pasadena and the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, both in California; the Kaufmann House, called Fallingwater, near Uniontown, Pennsylvania; Wright's own house and studio, Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin; his winter home and studio, Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona; the Johnson Wax Company offices and research tower in Racine, Wisconsin; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Wright led a controversial life. His fame spread in Europe earlier than in the United States. His work was not always appreciated, especially by architects in his own country, and at times he had few clients. Many considered him overbearing and arrogant. But he was able to rise above this.

Frank Lloyd Wright contributed greatly to the establishment of modern architecture and deeply influenced the course of architectural design all over the world. By the time of his death, on April 9, 1959, he was recognized as one of the world's greatest architects.

William Dudley Hunt, Jr.
Author, Encyclopedia of American Architecture

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