Frank Loyd Wright

frank lloyd wright
By: john Dell
“…having a good start, not only do I fully intend to be the greatest architect who has yet lived, but fully intend to be the greatest architect who will ever live. Yes, I intend to be the greatest architect of all time.” – Frank Lloyd Wright 1867-1959 It appears that from the very beginning, Frank Lloyd Wright was destined by fate or determination to be one of the most celebrated architects of the twentieth century. Not only did Wright possess genius skills in the spatial cognition, his approach to architecture through geometric manipulation demonstrates one aspect of his creativeness. Forever a great businessman, Wright seemed to know how to please his clients and still produce some of the most innovative and ridiculed buildings of the early century. While the United States appeared to be caught up in the Victorian style, Frank Lloyd Wright stepped out in front to face the challenge of creating “American architecture” which would reflect the lives of the rapidly growing population of the Midwest United States. Howard Gardner in his book “Creating Minds” does not make any mention of Frank Lloyd Wright, an innovator who drastically influenced architecture of the twentieth century around the world. In 1887, at the age of twenty, Frank Lloyd Wright, broke from the comfort of his childhood in Wisconsin and moved to Chicago. Chicago during the late nineteenth century was an exciting place. The fire of 1871 destroyed most of the old city allowing for it to be rebuilt in the new industrial age. Skyscrapers were the all the rage in architecture, using steel and glass to create “shrines” piercing the sky. This complimented the trend in residential homes where Victorian influence created pointed gables, lace-like ornamentation, plaster walls, and wooden structures. With education in Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Wright found a job as a draftsman in a Chicago architectural firm. It is rumored that Uncle Jenkins (the family minister), now in Chicago guiding a growing Unitarian community, helped his nephew Frank to find the position. During his short time with Silsbee, Frank began his first project, the Hillside Home for his Aunts Nell and Jane. Maybe because he wanted to break away from the Lloyd-Jones clan’s aid, or because he was impatiently moving forward, Frank left his first job within a year and found a position with one of the best known firms in Chicago at the turn of the century, Alder ; Sullivan . Sullivan was to become Wright’s greatest mentor. With the new industrial age, came a growing suburban population, and a division between home and work. While the firm of Alder & Sullivan concentrated on the demand for downtown commercial buildings, Wright was assigned the residential contracts. His work soon expanded as he accepted jobs outside the firms assigning. Sullivan discovered this in 1893 and called Frank on a breach of contract. Wright referred to him as “Lieber Meister” and admired Louis Sullivans talent for ornamentation and his of drawing intricate plans and designs. Wright picked up on the philosophy of Sullivan and was so loyally devoted to his employer that he soon moved ahead of Alder in importance within the firm. Sullivan was extremely critical of classicism which was appearing across the USA during the 1890s in reaction to the 1893 Chicagos world fair exhibits. Wrights relationship with his employer caused great amounts of tension between Wright and fellow draftsman, as well as between Sullivan and Alder. When Wright left the company, Sullivan’s quantity of contracts declined quickly. Sullivan had reached his peak of innovation, and without a young prodigy to carry it on into the new century, many potential clients turned away. Wright would call on his “Leiber Meister” when Sullivan ran into economic and personal troubles, his international reputation had dwindled by 1920 and Wright found him rejected, ignored, penniless, and dealing with alcoholism. Sullivan died in 1924 without regaining the glory that the firm held during Wright’s early years in Chicago. Using the Lloyd-Jones’ philosophies of unity, truth, harmony, and simplicity; and Sullivan’s approach of “form follows function”, Wright quickly built up a practice in residential architecture. At one point in his career, Wright would produce 135 buildings in ten years. Patience, concentration, attention to detail, and constant revision marked Frank Lloyd Wright’s work in the studio; things that would be lacking in his personal relationships. Many stated that Wright had a great amount of nervous energy, and allowed no interference or suggestions from his clients. Wright took an integral approach to architecture by designing the interior furnishings of the building as well as the structure. He seemed to possess a skill of site memorization, and would visit the grounds sometimes only once before creating a building which blended with and complimented the site. His own houses were continuing experiments, especially the first one in Oak Park to which his studio was attached. Using nature as inspiration and geometric abstraction, both obvious influences from his childhood in Wisconsin, Wright created a unique type of architecture which would become known to the general public as the Prairie style. Marked by horizontal lines, this form would dominate his work from 1900-1913. Wright included the technology of the cities into the suburban residences of his design. Wright would continue to pass through at least two more recognizable stages in his architectural design, the textile block (1917-1924), and the Usonian (1936-1959). In 1909 Wright took off for Europe, once again walking out of a comfortable home life including a wife and six children and a well established business. His European travels brought him fame across the sea at a greater level than that he had received in his native homeland. Wright did not stay long in Europe, returning in 1910 to Chicago and Wisconsin where he began construction on his second home, Taliesin in 1911. The year 1913 brought Frank a contract for Midway Gardens in downtown Chicago, an entertainment park on the south side of Chicago which exists today only in the original plans and drawings. The Imperial Hotel project provided Wright with an engineering problem as well as an architectural challenge. Finished in 1922, the Imperial hotel was criticized for its aesthetic design, but when it survived a 1923 earthquake, which left the majority of Tokyo in rubble, it found praise. Wright had managed to design a “floating foundation” for the building which combined oriental simplicity, in modern world comfort. This was one of the few periods in Wright’s life were his financial situation was at a positive level. Returning to the United States in 1922, Wright pursued the use of a new material in residential homes, concrete. Most of these “textile block” houses were built in California with a Mayan and Japanese influence. Though some claimed that Wright had peaked in 1910, with the Prairie houses, others claimed that in 1924 Wright’s development was only just beginning. A 1932 autobiography sparked new interest in the architect and pulled Wright out of a plateau in his work with two of his most famous buildings: Fallingwater, Edgar J. Kaufmann’s home in Bear Run, Pennsylvania, and the Johnson Wax Company Administration Building in Racine,Wisconsin. Wright’s last “style”, Usonian, was caused by a shift in society in the 1930’s. Adapting architecture to the simple and economically tight lives of families in the 1930’s, Wright used down scaling to bring the house to a more appropriate human level and reflect the informal and comfortable lives of the average American family. The Wright Fellowship was opened in 1932, welcoming apprentices to live, learn, and work at Taliesin, an idea comparable to that of a medieval manorial estate, and reflective of Aunt Nell’s and Aunt Jane’s Hillside House. Wright taught principles and philosophies of architecture, not a style. Many apprentices came out of the large, caring, and often chaotic community to complete successful career’s in the world of architecture. During the thirties, Wright formed a social vision, associating the evils of society with the modern city. This was expressed through his design of Broadacre City, a section of an idealistic decentralized and restructured nation resembling not a city and not an agrarian community, but something in between. Wright continued to produce work into the forties and fifties including houses, churches, theaters, and stores. The Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan is said by some to be his last great work, as he passed away in April 1959, six months before the museum opened. By the time of his death in 1959, Frank Lloyd Wright had produced architecture for more than seventy years. What is even more remarkable is that Wright had redesigned American architecture for at least a century and created an area of the domain which America could claim as it’s own. As early as 1894, Wright was defining his philosophy of architecture. In a 1927 essay entitled “In the Cause of Architecture” Wright presented an outline stressing architectural design as truthful and obedient to purpose, site, occupants, and materials. He believed that buildings should be integral units, simple, unique, serving civilization and eliminating the “box” effect of the past. Space in Wright’s design was fluid, free, and informal. His scales were brought down to create comfort for the occupants and a feeling of oneness with the house and the natural settings. Wright used materials which would blend the house into the setting, and limited the variety of materials within a project. Stone, brick, wood, stucco, concrete, copper, and glass were all manipulated by Wright in a distinct way, that had never been done before. His exteriors and interiors of a buildings varied little, as he philosophized that one should move naturally into a shelter, feeling a certain flow rather than an abrupt transition. Wright often used the colors of autumn in the Midwest, however red was his signature especially in 1930’s. For light he relied heavily upon the sun’s power, and many of his building included skylights or subtle electrical lighting. The ornamentation should compliment all this, not distract from it . Treating the building as a integral unit, Wright often designed down to the littlest detail including all dining ware, furniture, and statues. His geometric designs were interpretations of nature. In furniture, textiles, and accessories, all designed by Wright, simplicity, respect for nature, and dignity if the individual was considered. His was an architecture of democracy for an era of political freedom. It is apparent Wright felt no constraints from the popular culture and faced harsh criticism many times for his works. REFERENCES Boulton, Alexander O. Frank Lloyd Wright: Architect: An Illustrated Biography, Rizzoli International Publications, New York, 1993. Gill, Brendan, Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1987. Heinz, Thomas A., Frank Lloyd Wright: Architectural Monographs No 18, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1992. Lind, Carla, The Wright Style, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1992. . Secrest, Meryle, Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York, 1992..