Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright

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Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Richland, Wisconsin on 8th June, 1867. His father, William Cary Wright, was a preacher and musician. His mother, Anna Lloyd Jones, a teacher, was the daughter of Welsh immigrants. Wright studied civil engineering at Wisconsin University and while there developed an interest in architecture.

Wright moved to Chicago in 1889 and found work with the architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan. He was greatly influenced by one of the partners, Louis Sullivan, who believed in a architecture that was "based on American themes and not on tradition or European styles".

Wright's mother joined him in Chicago and she became a volunteer worker at the Hull House Settlement. His uncle, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, a Unitarian minister, was also very involved in this community project and encouraged Wright to give free lectures at Hull House. Although Wright supported the social reform activities of Jane Addams and her followers, he was critical of the emphasis the movement placed on preserving past art and handicrafts.

In 1894 Wright established his own architectural firm in Oak Farm and began to build low-built prairie-style bungalows designed to fit into the landscape. Made of native stones and woods, Wright houses were examples of what he called organic architecture: buildings that attempted to "reflect the individual needs of the client, the nature of the site, and the native materials available."

Wright later produced more daring and controversial designs that exploited modern technology. This included the Unity Temple, America's first important architectural work in poured concrete and the Larkin Building in Buffalo, with its innovative use of metal furniture.

In 1913 Wright began work on designing the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Acclaimed for its earthquake resistant supporting structure, the hotel was one of the few buildings that survived the Kanto earthquake that destroyed much of Tokyo in 1923.

After the Wall Street Crash Wright received few commissions and so he concentrated on writing. This included An Autobiography (1932) and the highly influential, The Disappearing City (1932). These books renewed interest in Wright's work and this led to him producing a series of important buildings including the Johnson Wax Administration Building (1936), the Jacobs House (1937), Fallingwater (1936), Wingspread (1937), the Winckler-Goetsch House (1939) and the Florida Southern College (1940).

In his eighties Wright went into semi-retirement and wrote two more important books on architecture: The Natural House (1954) and The Living City (1959). His final work, the Guggenheim Museum, was finished shortly before his death in Phoenix, Arizona, on 9th April, 1959.

Though he does not know it, the artist is now free to work his rational will with freedom unknown to structural tradition. Units of construction have enlarged, rhythms have been simplified and etherealized, space is more spacious and the sense of it may enter into every building, great or small. The architect is no longer hampered by the stone arch of the Romans or by the stone beam of the Greeks. Why then does he cling to the grammatical phrases of those ancient methods of construction when such phrases are in the modern work empty lies, and himself an inevitable liar as well.

Already, as we stand today, the machine has weakened the artist to the point of destruction and antiquated the craftsman together. Earlier forms of art are by abuse all but destroyed. The whole matter has been reduced to mere pose. Instead of joyful creation we have all around about us poisonous tastes - foolish attitudes. With some little of the flame of the old love, and creditable but pitiful enthusiasm, the young artist still keeps on working, making miserable mischief with lofty motives: perhaps, because his heart has not kept in touch or in sympathy with his scientific brother's head, being out of step with the forward marching of his own time.

The new American Liberty is of the sort that declares man free only when he has found his work and effective means to achieve a life of his own. The means once found, he will find his due place. The man of our country will thus make his own way, and grow to the natural place thus due him, promised - yes, promised by our charter, the Declaration of Independence. But this place of his is not to be made over to fit him by reform, nor shall it be brought down to him by concession, but will become his by his own use of the means at hand. He must himself build a new world.

The day of the individual is not over - instead, it is just about to begin. The machine does not write the doom of liberty, but is waiting by man's hand as a peerless tool, for him to use to put foundations beneath a genuine democracy. Then the machine may conquer human drudgery to some purpose, taking it upon itself to broaden, lengthen, strengthen and deepen the life of the simplest man. Although the power is now murderous, chained to botch-work and bunglers' ambitions, the creative artist will take it surely into his hand and, in the name of liberty, swiftly undo the deadly mischief it has created.

© John Simkin, April 2013

The Triumph of Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright's most iconic building was also one of his last. The reinforced-concrete spiral known as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum opened in New York City 50 years ago, on October 21, 1959 six months before, Wright died at the age of 92. He had devoted 16 years to the project, facing down opposition from a budget-conscious client, building-code sticklers and, most significantly, artists who doubted that paintings could be displayed properly on a slanting spiral ramp. "No, it is not to subjugate the paintings to the building that I conceived this plan," Wright wrote to Harry Guggenheim, a Thoroughbred horse breeder and founder of Newsday who, as the benefactor's nephew, took over the project after Solomon's death. "On the contrary, it was to make the building and the painting a beautiful symphony such as never existed in the world of Art before."

From This Story

Video: Constructing the Guggenheim

The grandiloquent tone and unwavering self-assurance are as much Wright trademarks as the building's unbroken and open space. Time has indeed shown the Guggenheim's tilted walls and continuous ramp to be an awkward place to hang paintings, yet the years have also confirmed that in designing a building that bestowed brand-name recognition on a museum, Wright was prophetic. Four decades later, Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao—the curvaceous, titanium-clad affiliated museum in northern Spain—would launch a wave of cutting-edge architectural schemes for art institutions across the globe. But Wright was there first. A retrospective exhibition at the original Guggenheim (until August 23) reveals how often Wright pioneered trends that other architects would later embrace. Passive solar heating, open-plan offices, multi-storied hotel atriums—all are now common, but at the time Wright designed them they were revolutionary.

When Solomon Guggenheim, the heir to a mining fortune, and his art adviser, Hilla Rebay, decided to construct a museum for abstract painting (which they called "non-objective art"), Wright was a natural choice as architect. In Rebay's words, the two were seeking "a temple of spirit, a monument" and Wright, through his long career, was a builder of temples and monuments. These included actual places of worship, such as Unity Temple (1905-8) for a Unitarian congregation in Oak Park, Illinois, one of the early masterpieces that proclaimed Wright's genius, and Beth Sholom Synagogue (1953-59) in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, which, like the Guggenheim, he supervised at the end of his life. But in everything he undertook, the goal of enhancing and elevating the human experience was always on Wright's mind. In his religious buildings, he used many of the same devices—bold geometric forms, uninterrupted public spaces and oblique-angled seating—as in his secular ones. The large communal room with overhead lighting that is the centerpiece of Unity Temple was an idea he had introduced in the Larkin Company Administration Building (1902-6), a mail-order house in Buffalo, New York. And before it reappeared in Beth Sholom, what he called "reflex-angle seating"—in which the audience fanned out at 30-degree angles around a projecting stage—was an organizing principle in his theater plans, starting in the early 1930s. To Wright's way of thinking, any building, if properly designed, could be a temple.

In his unshakable optimism, messianic zeal and pragmatic resilience, Wright was quintessentially American. A central theme that pervades his architecture is a recurrent question in American culture: How do you balance the need for individual privacy with the attraction of community activity? Everyone craves periods of solitude, but in Wright's view, a human being develops fully only as a social creature. In that context, angled seating allowed audience members to concentrate on the stage and simultaneously function as part of the larger group. Similarly, a Wright house contained, along with private bedrooms and baths, an emphasis on unbroken communal spaces—a living room that flowed into a kitchen, for example—unknown in domestic residences when he began his practice in the Victorian era. As early as 1903, given the opportunity to lay out a neighborhood (in Oak Park, which was never built), Wright proposed a "quadruple block plan" that placed an identical brick house on each corner of a block he shielded the inhabitants from the public street with a low wall and oriented them inward toward connected gardens that encouraged exchanges with their neighbors. Good architecture, Wright wrote in a 1908 essay, should promote the democratic ideal of "the highest possible expression of the individual as a unit not inconsistent with a harmonious whole."

That vision animates the Guggenheim Museum. In the course of descending the building's spiral ramp, a visitor can focus on works of art without losing awareness of other museumgoers above and below. To that bifocal consciousness, the Guggenheim adds a novel element: a sense of passing time. "The strange thing about the ramp—I always feel I am in a space-time continuum, because I see where I've been and where I'm going," says Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives in Scottsdale, Arizona. As Wright approached the end of his life, that perception of continuity—recalling where he had been while advancing into the future—must have appealed to him. And, looking back, he would have seen telling examples in his personal history of the tension between the individual and the community, between private desires and social expectations.

Wright's father, William, was a restless, chronically dissatisfied Protestant minister and organist who moved the family, which included Wright's two younger sisters, from town to town until he obtained a divorce in 1885 and took off for good. Wright, who was 17 at the time, never saw his father again. His mother's family, the combative Lloyd Joneses, were Welsh immigrants who became prominent citizens of an agricultural valley near the village of Hillside, Wisconsin. Wright himself might have written the family motto: "Truth Against the World." Encouraged by his maternal relatives, Wright showed an early aptitude for architecture he made his initial forays into building design by working on a chapel, a school and two houses in Hillside, before apprenticing in Chicago with the celebrated architect Louis H. Sullivan. Sullivan's specialty was office buildings, including classic skyscrapers, such as the Carson Pirie Scott & Company building, which were transforming the Chicago skyline.

But Wright devoted himself primarily to private residences, developing what he called "Prairie Style" houses, mostly in Oak Park, the Chicago suburb in which he established his own home. Low-slung, earth-hugging buildings with strong horizontal lines and open circulation through the public rooms, they were stripped clean of unnecessary decoration and used machine-made components. The Prairie Style revolutionized home design by responding to the domestic needs and tastes of modern families. Wright had firsthand knowledge of their requirements: in 1889, at 21, he had married Catherine Lee Tobin, 18, the daughter of a Chicago businessman, and, in short order, fathered six children.

Like his own father, however, Wright exhibited a deep ambivalence toward family life. "I hated the sound of the word papa," he wrote in his 1932 autobiography. Dissatisfaction with domesticity predisposed him toward a similarly discontented Oak Park neighbor: Mamah Cheney, a client's wife, whose career as head librarian in Port Huron, Michigan, had been thwarted by marriage and who found the duties of wife and mother a poor substitute. The Wrights and Cheneys socialized as a foursome, until, as Wright later described it, "the thing happened that has happened to men and women since time began—the inevitable." In June 1909, Mamah Cheney told her husband that she was leaving him she joined Wright in Germany, where he was preparing a book on his work. The scandal titillated newspapers—the Chicago Tribune quoted Catherine as saying she had been the victim of a "vampire" seductress. Wright was painfully conflicted about walking out on his wife and children. He attempted a reconciliation with Catherine in 1910, but then resolved to live with Cheney, whose own work—a translation of the writings of Swedish feminist Ellen Key—provided intellectual support for this convention-defying step. Leaving the Oak Park gossipmongers behind, the couple retreated to the Wisconsin valley of the Lloyd Joneses to start anew.

Just below the crest of a hill in Spring Green, Wright designed a secluded house he called "Taliesin," or "shining brow," after a Welsh bard of that name. A rambling dwelling made of local limestone, Taliesin was the culmination of the Prairie Style, a big house with long roofs extending over the walls. By all accounts, Wright and Cheney lived there happily for three years, slowly winning over neighbors who had been prejudiced by the publicity that preceded them—until Taliesin became the setting for the greatest tragedy of the architect's long and eventful life. On August 15, 1914, while Wright was in Chicago on business, a deranged young cook locked the dining room and set it ablaze, standing with a hatchet at the only exit to bar all inside from leaving. Cheney and her two visiting children were among the seven who died. On the anguished journey to Wisconsin, a devastated Wright and his son John shared a train car with Cheney's former husband. Wright immediately vowed to rebuild the house, which was mostly in ruins. But he never fully recovered emotionally. "Something in him died with her, something loveable and gentle," his son later wrote in a memoir. (In April 1925, as the result of defective wiring, the second Taliesin also suffered a calamitous fire it would be replaced by a third.)

Wright's domestic life took another turn when a condolence letter from a wealthy divorcée, the determinedly artistic Miriam Noel, led to a meeting and—less than six months after Cheney's death—to an invitation for Noel to come live with Wright at Taliesin. With her financial help, he reconstructed the damaged house. But Taliesin II did not become the sanctuary he sought. Wright was a theatrical personality, with a penchant for flowing hair, Norfolk jackets and low-hanging neckties. Yet even by his standards, the needy Noel was flamboyantly attention-seeking. Jealous of his devotion to Cheney's memory, she staged noisy altercations, leading to an angry separation only nine months after they met. Although the split appeared to be final, in November 1922, Wright obtained a divorce from Catherine and married Noel a year later. But wedlock only exacerbated their problems. Five months after the wedding, Noel left him, opening an exchange of ugly accusations and countercharges in a divorce proceeding that would drag on for years.

During this tempestuous period, Wright had worked on just a few major projects: the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, the Midway Gardens pleasure park in Chicago, and Taliesin. All three were expansions and refinements of work he had done previously rather than new directions. From 1915 to 1925, Wright executed only 29 commissions, a drastic drop-off from the output of his youth when, between 1901 and 1909, he built 90 of 135 commissions. In 1932, in their influential Museum of Modern Art exhibition on the "International Style" in architecture, Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock listed Wright among the "older generation" of architects. Indeed, by this time Wright had been a force in American architecture for more than three decades and was devoting most of his time to giving lectures and publishing essays it was easy to believe that his best years were behind him. But in fact, many of his most heralded works were still to come.

On November 30, 1924, attending a ballet in Chicago, Wright had noticed a young woman seated next to him. "I secretly observed her aristocratic bearing, no hat, her dark hair parted in the middle and smoothed over her ears, a light small shawl over her shoulders, little or no makeup, very simply dressed," he wrote in his autobiography. Wright "instantly liked her looks." For her part, 26-year-old Olgivanna Lazovich Hinzenberg, a Montenegrin educated in Russia, had come to Chicago to try to salvage her marriage to a Russian architect, with whom she had had a daughter, Svetlana. Even before taking her seat, she would recall in an unpublished memoir, she had noticed "a strikingly handsome, noble head with a crown of wavy grey hair." Upon discovering that the ticket she had purchased at the last minute seated her next to this poetic-looking man, her "heart beat fast." During the performance, he turned to her and said, "Don't you think that these dancers and the dances are dead?" She nodded in agreement. "And he smiled, looking at me with unconcealed admiration," she recalled. "I knew then that this was to be." In February 1925, Hinzenberg moved into Taliesin II, where they both waited for their divorces to become final. On the very night in 1925 that Taliesin II burned, she told him that she was pregnant with their child, a daughter they would name Iovanna. They wed on August 25, 1928, and lived together for the rest of Wright's life. The rebuilt Taliesin III would be home to Svetlana and Iovanna—and, in a broader sense, to a community of students and young architects that, beginning in 1932, the Wrights invited to come live and work with them as the Taliesin Fellowship. After Wright suffered a spell of pneumonia in 1936, the community expanded to a wintertime settlement he designed in Scottsdale, Arizona, on the outskirts of Phoenix. He dubbed it Taliesin West.

In the last quarter-century of his life, Wright pushed his ideas as far as he could. The cantilevering that he had employed for the exaggeratedly horizontal roofs of the Prairie Style houses assumed a new grandeur in Fallingwater (1934-37), the country house for Pittsburgh department-store owner Edgar Kaufmann Sr., which Wright composed of broad planes of concrete terraces and flat roofs, and—in a stroke of panache—he perched over a waterfall in western Pennsylvania. (Like many Wright buildings, Fallingwater has better stood the test of time aesthetically than physically. It required an $11.5 million renovation, completed in 2003, to correct its sagging cantilevers, leaking roofs and terraces, and interior mildew infestation.) While designing Fallingwater, Wright also transformed the skylit open clerical space of the early Larkin Building into the Great Workroom of the Johnson Wax Company Administration Building (1936) in Racine, Wisconsin, with its graceful columns that, modeled on lily pads, spread to support disks with overhead skylights of Pyrex glass tubing.

Wright's ambition to elevate American society through architecture grew exponentially from the quadruple block plan in Oak Park to the scheme for Broadacre City—a proposal in the 1930s for a sprawling, low-rise development that would roll out a patchwork of houses, farms and businesses, connected by highways and monorails, across the American landscape. His desire to provide affordable, individualized homes that met the needs of middle-class Americans found its ultimate expression in the "Usonian" houses he introduced in 1937 and continued to develop afterward: customizable homes that were positioned on their sites to capture winter sun for passive solar heating and outfitted with eaves to provide summer shade constructed with glass, brick and wood that made surface decoration such as paint or wallpaper superfluous lit by clerestory windows beneath the roofline and by built-in electric fixtures shielded from the street to afford privacy and supplemented with an open carport, in deference to the means of transportation that could ultimately decentralize cities. "I don't build a house without predicting the end of the present social order," Wright said in 1938. "Every building is a missionary."

His use of "missionary" was revealing. Wright said that his architecture always aimed to serve the client's needs. But he relied on his own assessment of those needs. Speaking of residential clients, he once said, "It's their duty to understand, to appreciate, and conform insofar as possible to the idea of the house." Toward the end of his life, he constructed his second and last skyscraper, the 19-story H. C. Price Company Office Tower (1952-56) in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. After it was completed, Wright appeared with his client at a convocation in town. "A person in the audience asked the question, ‘What's your first prerequisite?'" archivist Pfeiffer recalled. "Mr. Wright said, ‘Well, to fulfill a client's wishes.' To which Price said, ‘I wanted a three-story building.' Mr. Wright said, ‘You didn't know what you wanted.'"

In developing the Guggenheim Museum, Wright exercised his usual latitude in interpreting the client's wishes as well as his equally typical flair for high-flown comparisons. He described the form he came up with as an "inverted ziggurat," which nicely linked it to the temples in the Mesopotamian Cradle of Civilization. In fact, the Guggenheim traced its immediate lineage to an unbuilt Wright project that the architect based on the typology of a parking garage—a spiral ramp he designed in 1924 for the mountaintop Gordon Strong Automobile Objective and Planetarium. Wright envisioned visitors driving their cars up an exterior ramp and handing them over to valets for conveyance to the bottom. They could then walk down a pedestrian ramp, admiring the landscape before reaching the planetarium at ground level. "I have found it hard to look a snail in the face since I stole the idea of his house—from his back," Wright wrote to Strong, after the Chicago businessman expressed dissatisfaction with the plans. "The spiral is so natural and organic a form for whatever would ascend that I did not see why it should not be played upon and made equally available for descent at one and the same time." Yet Wright also admitted admiration for the industrial designs of Albert Kahn—a Detroit-based architect whose reinforced-concrete, ramped parking garages foreshadowed both the Strong Automobile Objective and the Guggenheim.

In the long negotiations over costs and safety-code stipulations that protracted the construction of the museum, Wright was forced to compromise. "Architecture, may it please the court, is the welding of imagination and common sense into a restraint upon specialists, codes and fools," he wrote in a draft cover letter for an application to the Board of Standards and Appeals. (At the urging of Harry Guggenheim, he omitted the word "fools.") One sacrificed feature was an unconventional glass elevator that would have whisked visitors to the summit, from which they would then descend on foot. Instead, the museum has had to get by with a prosaic elevator far too small to cope with the attending crowds as a result, most visitors survey an exhibition while ascending the ramp. Curators typically arrange their shows with that in mind. "You cannot get enough people into that tiny elevator," says David van der Leer, an assistant curator of architecture and design, who worked on the Wright exhibition. "The building is so much more heavily trafficked these days that you would need an elevator in the central void to do that."

Installation of the Wright retrospective brought into high relief the discrepancies between the building's symbolic power and its functional capabilities. For instance, to display Wright's drawings—an unparalleled assortment, which for conservation reasons will not be on view again for at least a decade—the curators placed a mesh fabric "shower cap" on the overhead dome to weaken the light, which otherwise would cause the colors on the paper drawings to fade. "On the one hand, you want to display the building as well as possible, and on the other, you need to show the drawings," van der Leer explains.

The Guggenheim emerged last year from a $28 mil­lion, four-year restoration, during which cracks and water damage in the concrete were patched, and the peeling exterior paint (10 to 12 layers' worth) was removed and replaced. Wright buildings are notorious for their maintenance difficulties. During Wright's lifetime, the problems were aggravated by the architect's expressed indifference. One famous story recounts an outraged phone call made by Herbert Johnson, an important Wright client, to report that at a dinner party in his new house, water from a leaky roof was dripping on his head. Wright suggested he move his chair.

Still, when you consider that in many projects the architect designed every element, down to the furniture and light fixtures, his bloopers are understandable. Proudly describing the Larkin Building, Wright said, many years after it opened, "I was a real Leonardo da Vinci when I built that building, everything in it was my invention." Because he was constantly pushing the latest technologies to their utmost, Wright probably resigned himself to the inevitable shortfalls that accompany experimentation. "Wright remained throughout his life the romantic he had been since childhood," historian William Cronon wrote in 1994. "As such, he brought a romantic's vision and a romantic's scale of values to the practical challenges of his life." If the architect seemed not to take the glitches in his built projects too seriously, it may be that his mind was elsewhere. "Every time I go into that building, it is such an uplifting of the human spirit," says Pfeiffer, who probably is the best living guide to Wright's thinking about the Guggenheim. The museum is often said by architectural critics to constitute the apotheosis of Wright's lifelong desire to make space fluid and continuous. But it represents something else as well. By inverting the ziggurat so that the top keeps getting wider, Wright said he was inventing a form of "pure optimism." Even in his 90s, he kept his mind open to expanding possibilities.

Arthur Lubow wrote about the 17th-century Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the October 2008 issue.


A Look at the Women Whose Work Shaped the Wright Legacy

For the upcoming issue of the Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly magazine, we spoke with architecture curator Ashley Mendelsohn, on her recent experience guest curating our 2021 spring edition titled “‘Hers is a Good Spirit Here’: Women Working with Frank Lloyd Wright.”

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation | May 28, 2021

Frank Lloyd Wright Inspired Textile Blocks & 3D Cement Tiles Now Available

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation has partnered with Southern California building materials company Eso Surfaces to create iconic textile blocks and 3D cement tiles from the Frank Lloyd Wright archive.

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation | May 18, 2021

Sandra Day O’Connor Institute Presents “Frank Lloyd Wright, Democracy, and the American Landscape”

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation President & CEO Stuart Graff speaks to the O’Connor Institute about Frank Lloyd Wright’s relationship with Democracy and the American landscape.

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation | May 12, 2021

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Liberty Magazine Covers

In 1927, Frank Lloyd Wright designed a series of twelve monthly covers based on seasonal themes for Liberty magazine. While they were never published on the magazines, the designs endure as a lasting part of the Wright legacy.

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation | May 6, 2021

Adding a Wright to the Collection: The Huntington Hartford Play Resort and Sports Club

Explore another Frank Lloyd Wright design that never came to be, through its history and the incomparable “photorealistic renderings” of David Romero. Here we visit a sports center and resort commissioned by a wealthy eccentric businessman, Huntington Hartford, and learn why this incredible design, destined for the Hollywood Hills, was never built.

Jeff Goodman | Apr 28, 2021

Frank Lloyd Wright-Designed Wyoming Valley School Receives Grant for Preservation

Our friends at the Wyoming Valley School Cultural Arts Center and Town of Wyoming (Wisconsin) received a $90,200 community development investment grant to complete vital preservation work.

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation | Apr 27, 2021

The Art & Craft of the Machine

This essay excerpt has been taken from one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s earliest and most seminal lectures where he seized upon the ways in which industry, education, and architecture could foster more inclusive and equal communities.

Frank Lloyd Wright | Apr 7, 2021

A Springtime Celebration: Easter at Taliesin West

Each year, the Wrights and the Taliesin Fellowship would host a colorful, lively Easter celebration on the grounds of Taliesin West. Guests traveled to enjoy this annual tradition full of music, food, and fun that helped mark the end of spring.

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation | Apr 2, 2021

Remembering John Rattenbury

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is saddened to announce the passing of Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice and Taliesin Architects cofounder, John Rattenbury. Rattenbury passed away on March 28, 2021 at the age of 93. Please join us in celebrating his life and accomplishments.

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation | Mar 29, 2021

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An American architect, designer, writer, and educator, Frank Lloyd Wright promoted organic architecture, which was best exemplified in his most famous work—Fallingwater. During his seventy-year career, Wright designed over 1,100 buildings (seeing over 500 of them realized), authored twenty books and numerous articles, and was a popular lecturer in the United States and in Europe until his death. Already renowned during his lifetime, Wright is now considered the “greatest American architect of all time."

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)

Frank Lincoln Wright was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin, on June 8, 1867, to William Carey Wright, an itinerant music teacher, composer, and Baptist minister, and Anna Lloyd Jones Wright, a school teacher. Following his parents’ divorce in 1885, Frank changed his middle name to Lloyd to honor his mother’s family.

Though his ambitious and strong-minded mother decorated the walls of his nursery with pictures of European cathedrals, it was not man-made beauty that initially captivated Wright. Growing up in rural Wisconsin on a plot of land originally settled by his mother’s Welsh ancestors, Wright spent his days surrounded by—and indeed a part of—the changing natural landscape. A patchwork of open fields, lush green valleys and rock-edged streams fed by the Wisconsin River all proved influential in the formation of his later organic design philosophy.

Wright’s family lived on a farm and, as a boy, his experiences taking care of animals and harvesting a life out of the earth made an indelible impression on him that influenced him consciously and, even more importantly, unconsciously, throughout his life. During his youth, he spent many hours purposefully observing the subtle behavior of sunlight, the shifting shadows of dusk and the changing of the seasons. Enthralled, he later sought out great thinkers whose beliefs affirmed and ultimately refined his, such as Thoreau, Emerson and Whitman.

Wright’s reverence for the natural world became the cornerstone of his pioneering theories of “organic architecture” and would shape, define and enhance every project he approached for the rest of his life. Generations would hail Frank Lloyd Wright as a genius…one of the greatest architects who ever lived. But like the sunny fields where he played as a child, his life would also have its shadows.

It has been noted that Wright’s career ran concurrently with the birth and evolution of modern architecture. He began his career in 1887 in Chicago, first in the office of Joseph Lyman Silsbee and then at the firm of Adler & Sullivan, under the supervision of the famed architect Louis Sullivan.

When it was discovered he was soliciting his own commissions, he then set up a private practice in his Oak Park home, adding a drafting studio and visitor reception room in 1895. There he perfected his signature Prairie Style, emphasizing open spaces and shallow, sloping rooflines. The Prairie Style, especially houses like that for Frederick C. Robie, was extremely influential in the Midwest especially, and is considered a milestone in the history of modern architecture.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, Frank Lloyd Wright’s productivity was matched in intensity by the public’s fascination with his personal life. A high-profile affair with a client, the resulting well-publicized separation from his wife, and a year-long sojourn through Europe culminated in his return to the United States in 1911 and his purchase of a plot of ancestral land in Wisconsin, where he would build his renowned retreat and studio, Taliesin.

The valley surrounding Taliesin was originally settled by Wright’s maternal family, the Lloyd Joneses, during the Civil War. Welsh immigrants, Wright’s maternal grandfather and uncle were Unitarian ministers, and his two aunts had founded the Hillside Home School, a co-educational boarding school. The Lloyd Jones family, their ideas, religion, and ideals, greatly influenced the young Wright, who chose the Welsh word Taliesin, meaning “shining brow” for his sanctuary positioned on the “brow” of a favored hill.

Subsequent sensational events at Taliesin included the murder of seven people, including Wright’s mistress at the time, by arson in 1914. Coinciding with the collapse of his second marriage in the 1920s, a second devastating fire at Taliesin in 1925, and the onset of the Great Depression, Wright’s career faced a loss of commissions. What was designed as a refuge from public scrutiny soon flourished to become an experimental architectural apprenticeship program as Taliesin slowly grew to encompass the former Hillside Home School buildings when Wright formed the Taliesin Fellowship with his third wife, Olgivanna, in 1932.

Wright used the Fellowship as a way to explore and enact his ideas of organic architecture. Taliesin was riddled with misfortunes, but it was also there that the genesis of Fallingwater took shape. With its extraordinary Wisconsin landscape and romantic relationship with nature, Taliesin signaled a maturity that would fully blossom—only a few years later—among the rhododendron in rural southwestern Pennsylvania.

In 1934, having just returned to the United States from a long stay in Europe, Edgar Kaufmann jr. was introduced to the unique concepts of Frank Lloyd Wright quite by chance. A friend had suggested he read An Autobiography, Wright’s 1932 accounting of his life in which the 65-year-old architect opined on his upbringing, his buildings, and the somewhat radical ideas that led to his reputation as a colorful genius and innovator of the “organic” approach to modern architectural design and construction. Instantly captivated by Wright’s belief that art has a humane and noble task to serve man in harmony with his natural surroundings, the Kaufmann felt the architect’s words “flowed into my mind like the first trickle of irrigation in a desert land.” He visited Wright at Taliesin in September 1934, and by October had taken his place among the apprentices there.

Though he had no plans to become an architect, the young Kaufmann also began to enthusiastically discuss Wright’s ideas with his parents. Following a visit to Taliesin in 1934, Edgar Kaufmann, Sr., began a casual correspondence with the architect regarding several potential civic projects in Pittsburgh. Kaufmann quickly recognized their mutual passion for new ideas, aesthetic beauty and the relationship between man and the natural world and Wright found a patron that would change the course of his life, his career and, indeed, modern architecture itself.

Taliesin Fellowship

In 1909, after 20 years of marriage, Wright suddenly abandoned his wife, children and practice and moved to Germany with a woman named Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of a client. Working with the acclaimed publisher Ernst Wasmuth, Wright put together two portfolios of his work while in Germany that further raised his international profile as one of the top living architects. 

In 1913, Wright and Cheney returned to the United States, and Wright designed them a home on the land of his maternal ancestors in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Named Taliesin, Welsh for "shining brow," it was one of the most acclaimed works of his life. However, tragedy struck in 1914 when a deranged servant set fire to the house, burning it to the ground and killing Cheney and six others. Although Wright was devastated by the loss of his lover and home, he immediately began rebuilding Taliesin to, in his own words, "wipe the scar from the hill."

The Rookery

The Rookery building in the heart of Chicago’s financial district stands testimony to the resilience and creative spirit of late-nineteenth century Chicago. The rebirth of the city in the wake of the Great Fire of 1871 gave rise to the multi-storied office building that would transform the landscape of America’s cities. Amidst the atmosphere of experimentation and innovation that defined post-fire Chicago, the architectural firm of Burnham and Root rose to prominence. Daniel H. Burnham (1846-1912) and John Wellborn Root (1850-1891) formed their partnership in 1873. By the time they received the commission for The Rookery, in 1885, the firm had already established a strong reputation in tall commercial structures.

Completed in 1888, Burnham and Root’s eleven-story Rookery was one of the tallest buildings in the world at the time. Following the Chicago Fire, a temporary city hall and water tower were erected at the corner LaSalle and Adams streets. These buildings were known popularly as “the rookery” because of the many birds that roosted there and the likelihood of being “rooked” by the politicians in residence. Evoking the historical origins of the building’s name, Root playfully incorporated a pair of carved rooks into the Romanesque archway of the main entrance on LaSalle Street.

The Rookery is a transitional structure in the history of American architecture, incorporating both masonry and metal construction methods. Masonry piers support the outer walls, while the inner frame is built of steel and iron. In order to erect such a massive structure on Chicago’s soft clay soil, Root devised an innovative “floating foundation,” a network of iron rails and structural beams encased in concrete, that supports the building's immense weight. In addition to this innovative method of construction, the building incorporates many other features that heralded the arrival of the modern age including, passenger elevators, fireproof construction, and electric lighting.

With electricity in its infancy, Root designed the building to deliver as much natural light to the interior as possible. A hollow square in plan, The Rookery’s offices open to either the exterior, or face inward to a central light well at the core of the building and open to the sky above. At the heart of The Rookery is the light court, a two-story space of wrought iron and glass. Illuminated by natural light from the well above and sheltered from the elements, the light court inspired one contemporary critic to proclaim, “There is nothing bolder, more original, or more inspiring in modern civic architecture than [the Rookery’s] glass-covered court.”

In 1905, seeking to modernize the interior public spaces of The Rookery, Edward C. Waller, the building’s manager, hired Frank Lloyd Wright. While Wright had retained office space at The Rookery from 1898 to 1899, his connection to the building and its architects ran deeper. Waller was a friend and patron to Wright, commissioning numerous residential and public buildings during the architect’s early career. In 1893, following Wright’s departure from Sullivan’s office, Waller engineered a meeting between Wright and Burnham. Burnham recognized the young architect’s potential. He came to the meeting with a unique offer that Wright would later recount in his autobiography, “[Burnham] would take care of my wife and children if I would go to Paris—four years of the Beaux Arts. Then Rome—two years. Expenses all paid. A job with him when I came back.” Despite the generosity of Burnham’s proposal, Wright felt that immersion in European classicism would arrest his own development of an American-style of architecture. To Waller’s dismay, Wright turned Burnham down.

The Rookery commission resulted in one of the most luxurious interiors of Wright’s career. The renovation retained the grandeur of Root’s plan, but simplified its decorative scheme. Wright removed much of Root’s ironwork, replacing it with white Carrara marble, incised and gilded with ornament derived from Persian design. The arabesque patterns in the marble honor the nineteenth century design sources of Root’s exterior ornament for the building. Wright’s highly successful renovation transformed The Rookery into a gleaming white and gold center of commerce, possibly an oblique reference to the achievement of Burnham’s 1893 White City, which still lingered in the popular imagination.

In The Rookery light court, Wright demonstrated an ability to skillfully integrate his own design into an existing design by Root, without diminishing the original. Burham and Root were leading Chicago architects when Wright was beginning to claim his own place of distinction. His respect for their achievement is clear in his grand and exquisite renovation of The Rookery light court.

In 1931, The Rookery underwent an additional renovation by William Drummond, a former employee in Wright’s Oak Park Studio, and in 1992, the building was meticulously restored to its 1905 appearance. The Rookery is a cornerstone of Chicago’s rich architectural history, bringing together the work of two of the city's great design architects, John Wellborn Root and Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Trust Organization

Today the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust has 50 employees and 650 volunteers who serve an audience of 150,000 site visitors and 1 million virtual visitors from around the world each year. Trust activities include tours, workshops, teacher training, student internships, school outreach, family activities, multi-media programs, a restoration resource center, library/archive, a membership program, a travel program, and multi-channel merchandising operated by the Trust and the Trust in alliance with its Chicago area partner organizations. The Trust is governed by a Board of Directors to whom the President and CEO reports. The Trust receives donations and grants from local, national and international individuals, foundations and corporations.

Constant search for form

Always distinctive and independent, Wright's style changed often. For about ten years after 1915 he drew upon Mayan (an ancient Indian tribe in Mexico) ornament (Barndall House, Hollywood, California, 1920). Even then Wright avoided the barrenness and abstraction of his designs, he insisted upon having the multiple form of buildings reflect the movement of unique sites: the Kaufmann House, ⋺lling Water," at Bear Run, Pennsylvania (1936�), where interlocked, reinforced-concrete terraces are poised over the waterfall the low-cost houses (Herbert Jacobs House, Madison, 1937) and the "prairie houses" (Lloyd Lewis House, Libertyville, Illinois, 1940). No architect was more skillful in fitting form to its terrain: the Pauson House in Phoenix, Arizona (1940) rose from the desert, like a Mayan pyramid, its battered wooden walls reflecting the mountains and desert.

Those brilliant rural houses did not reveal how Wright would respond to an urban setting or to the program of a corporate client. But in the Administration Building for the Johnson Wax Company, Racine, Wisconsin (1936�, with a research tower added in 1950), he astonished architects with his second great commercial building (after the Larkin Building). A continuous, windowless red-brick wall encloses a high, window-lighted interior space that space, which contains tall columns, is one of the most peaceful and graceful interior spaces in the world. At Florida Southern College he set side-by-side circle and fragmented rhombus (a four-sided plane), recalling Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli, Italy he set a helix (spiral form structure) inside the Morris Gift Shop in San Francisco, California (1948�). Ultimately, he conceived of having the helix surround a tall central space: the six-story Guggenheim Museum in New York City (1946�), which paid in significant functional defects to gain a memorable experience in viewing art, especially where the helix affords views into a side gallery below.

The architectural drawings Wright left behind are magical and lyrical. No one might ever build accordingly, but Wright was never content with the commonplace or ordinary to the conventional or the practical. He imagined the wonderful where others were content with the probable. Wright's drawings suggest how far his talent surpassed any client's capacity fully to realize his dream: a world of sanctuaries and gardens, of earth and machines, of rivers, seas, mountains, and prairies, where grand architecture enables men to dwell nobly.

Wright died at Taliesin West on April 9, 1959. His widow, Olgivanna, directed the Taliesin Fellowship.

Midlife problems [ edit | edit source ]

Family abandonment [ edit | edit source ]

Local gossips noticed Wright's flirtations, and he developed a reputation in Oak Park as a man-about-town. His family had grown to six children, but Wright was not parental and he relied on his wife Catherine to care for them. In 1903, Wright designed a house for Edwin Cheney, a neighbor in Oak Park, and immediately took a liking to Cheney's wife, Mamah. Mamah Cheney was a modern woman with interests outside the home. She was an early feminist, and Wright viewed her as his intellectual equal. The two fell in love, and they became the talk of the town, as they often could be seen taking rides in Wright's automobile through Oak Park. Wright's wife, Kitty, sure that this attachment would fade as the others had, refused to grant him a divorce. Mamah had to live in Europe for two years to obtain a divorce from Edwin on the grounds of desertion. ⎜]

In 1909, even before the Robie House was completed, Wright and Mamah Cheney met up in Europe, leaving their spouses and children behind. Wright had begun to reject the upper-middle-class Prairie Style single-family house model, intending to work on more democratic architecture. ⎝] He was also frustrated by not getting larger commissions for commercial or public buildings.

What drew Wright to Europe was the chance to publish a portfolio of his work with Berlin publisher Ernst Wasmuth. ⎞] The resulting two volumes, titled Studies and Executed Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright, were published in 1911 in two editions, creating the first major exposure of Wright's work in Europe. The work contained more than 100 lithographs of Wright's designs, and was commonly known as the Wasmuth Portfolio.

Wright remained in Europe for almost a year and set up home first in Florence, Italy—where he lived with his eldest son Lloyd—and later in Fiesole, Italy, where he lived with Mamah. During this time, Edwin Cheney granted Mamah a divorce, though Kitty still refused to grant one to her husband. After Wright returned to the United States in October 1910, he persuaded his mother to buy land for him in Spring Green, Wisconsin. The land, bought on April 10, 1911, was adjacent to land held by his mother's family, the Lloyd-Joneses. Wright began to build himself a new home, which he called Taliesin, by May 1911. The recurring theme of Taliesin also came from his mother's side: Taliesin in Welsh mythology was a poet, magician, and priest. The family motto, "'Y Gwir yn Erbyn y Byd'" ("The Truth Against the World"), was taken from the Welsh poet Iolo Morganwg, who also had a son named Taliesin. The motto is still used today as the cry of the druids and chief bard of the Eisteddfod in Wales. ⎟]

Catastrophe at Taliesin studio [ edit | edit source ]

On August 15, 1914, while Wright was working in Chicago, Julian Carlton, a male servant from Barbados, who had been hired several months earlier, set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin and murdered seven people with an axe as the fire burned. The dead included Mamah her two children, John and Martha Cheney a gardener (David Lindblom) a draftsman (Emil Brodelle) a workman (Thomas Brunker) and another workman's son (Ernest Weston). Two people survived the mayhem, one of whom, William Weston, helped to put out the fire that almost completely consumed the residential wing of the house. Carlton swallowed hydrochloric acid immediately following the attack in an attempt to kill himself. He was nearly lynched on the spot, but was taken to the Dodgeville jail. Carlton died from starvation seven weeks after the attack, despite medical attention.

Divorce and further troubles [ edit | edit source ]

In 1922, Kitty Wright finally granted Wright a divorce. Under the terms of the divorce, Wright was required to wait one year before he could marry his then-mistress, Maude "Miriam" Noel. In 1923, Wright's mother, Anna (Lloyd Jones) Wright, died. Wright wed Miriam Noel in November 1923, but her addiction to morphine led to the failure of the marriage in less than one year. In 1924, after the separation, but while still married, Wright met Olga (Olgivanna) Lazovich Hinzenburg at a Petrograd Ballet performance in Chicago. They moved in together at Taliesin in 1925, and soon Olgivanna was pregnant with their daughter, Iovanna, born on December 2, 1925.

On April 20, 1925, another fire destroyed the bungalow at Taliesin. Crossed wires from a newly installed telephone system were deemed to be responsible for the blaze, which destroyed a collection of Japanese prints that Wright estimated to be worth $250,000 to $500,000. ⎠] Wright rebuilt the living quarters, naming the home "Taliesin III".

In 1926, Olga's ex-husband, Vlademar Hinzenburg, sought custody of his daughter, Svetlana. In October 1926, Wright and Olgivanna were accused of violating the Mann Act and arrested in Tonka Bay, Minnesota. ⎡] The charges were later dropped.

Wright and Miriam Noel's divorce was finalized in 1927, and once again, Wright was required to wait for one year before remarrying. Wright and Olgivanna married in 1928.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Cloquet: A historic connection

Frank Lloyd Wright, born June 1867, spent over 70 years designing nationally recognized structures that have continued to impact architecture. He spent his life traveling the world — learning, teaching and designing.

So, what led the celebrated architect to select Cloquet as the home for not one, but two of his designs? The answer is simpler than people might think, and it all started with two college students.

In the early 1950s, Cloquet resident and business owner Ray Lindholm was seeking his ideal home somewhere in the local area. Lindholm founded Lindholm Oil Company in 1939 and set his eyes on a new goal of constructing a home for himself and his wife, Emmy.

It was then that his college-aged daughter, Joyce Mckinney, and her husband, Daryl Mckinney, encouraged him to hire Wright for the project. They had admired Wright’s work while studying at the University of Minnesota and thought he would be a good fit.

The family soon traveled to Wright’s home in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and commissioned his help.

Joyce Mckinney told the Pine Journal in a 2008 interview that Wright was willing to design the house plan immediately.

“He was very accessible, and I don’t think terribly busy either,” she said.

Wright often took on smaller-scale projects and designed over 400 homes in the U.S. during his life.

“Regard it just as desirable to build a chicken-house as to build a cathedral,” he once told studying architects.

Upon its completion in 1952, the Lindholm House spread approximately 2,300 square feet in what was once a heavily wooded area of Cloquet.

The house dawned the name Mäntylä — Finnish for “house among the pines” — and remained in Cloquet until 2016, when it was donated by then-owners Peter and Julene Mckinney to the Usonian Preservation in Acme, Pennsylvania.

But, the relationship did not end with the completion of the house. While Ray Lindholm was dreaming of a home, Wright was dreaming of a service station.

Wright had been working on designs for service stations since the 1920s and believed they were a crucial piece in his utopia urban plan known as “Broadacre City.”

“The roadside service station may be, in embryo, the future city distribution center,” Wright wrote in his biography.

Unfortunately, none of his designs for the stations had come to fruition, and Wright was nearing the end of his career.

So, when he learned the Lindholm family owned an oil company, he jumped at the opportunity to see one of his station designs come to life.

“Basically, Wright convinced my grandfather to let him do the project,” Lindholm's grandson Mike Mckinney told the Pine Journal in 2009.

Wright based the design on some of his previous plans, with some minor modifications made in light of local fire codes.

He wanted it to be a step up from other service stations, and equipped it with a 32-foot copper canopy and a lounge for guests to wait while their vehicles were repaired.

It cost around $75,000 to design and build, as compared to the usual $25,000, but Joyce Mckinney told the Duluth News Tribune that her father didn’t flinch at the price.

In the end, the design was unique and attention-grabbing, but not practical, according to former manager Donald Lynch.

“It’s unfortunate that Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t know anything about service stations when he designed it,” Lynch told the Duluth News Tribune in 1982, citing a cramped sales office and inaccessible bathrooms.

Wright designed both the Lindholm house and service station without ever visiting the area. He used topographic maps to chart out his plans, and sent his apprentice Robert Pond to oversee the service station's construction.

Even though Wright never stepped foot in Cloquet, it appears the Lindholm and Mckinney families had ongoing communication with the architect.

In addition to visiting his Wisconsin home, the family also traveled to Arizona to see Wright, who designed a second home for the family, but it was never constructed.

While many described Wright as an egomaniac, Joyce Mckinney told the Duluth News Tribune that he was “sweet." The family kept a photograph of Wright taken by Daryl Mckinney, in which he is pictured holding his glasses in one hand, looking to the side.

Joyce Mckinney told the News Tribune that Wright hated the photograph and had torn up the original, saying that it made him look old. Fortunately, she had made another copy, which the family still has today.

The R.W. Lindholm Station held its grand opening in 1958. Wright died five months later, having completed his final career goal.

While it is no longer owned by the original family, the station has come to be known as the Frank Lloyd Wright Gas Station and was registered through the National Register of Historical Places in 1985.

In 2008, then-mayor Bruce Ahlgren declared Aug. 7 as Frank Lloyd Wright Day in Cloquet.

Watch the video: ΤΟ ΕΡΓΟ του Φρανκ Λόιντ Ράιτ