His colorful personal life often made headlines, notably for leaving his first wife, Catherine Lee "Kitty" Tobin for Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the murders at his Taliesin estate in 1914, his tempestuous marriage and divorce with second wife Miriam Noel, and his relationship with Olga (Olgivanna) Lazovich Hinzenburg, whom he would marry in 1928.
Frank Lloyd Wright was born Frank Lincoln Wright in the farming town of Richland Center, Wisconsin, United States, in 1867. His father, William Cary Wright (1825–1904), was an orator, music teacher, occasional lawyer, and itinerant minister. Frank Lloyd Wright's Welsh mother was Anna Lloyd Jones (1838/39 – 1923), who met William Cary Wright as whilst working as a county school teacher, when William worked as the superintendent of schools for Richland County.
Originally from Massachusetts, William Wright had been a Baptist minister, but he later joined his wife's family in the Unitarian faith. Anna was a member of the large, prosperous and well-known Lloyd Jones family of Unitarians, who had emigrated from Wales as a small Welsh speaking community to Spring Green, Wisconsin. One of Anna's brothers was Jenkin Lloyd-Jones, who would become an important figure in the spread of the Unitarian faith in the Western United States. Both of Wright's parents were strong-willed individuals with idiosyncratic interests that they passed on to him.
According to Wright's autobiography, his mother declared when she was expecting that her first child would grow up to build beautiful buildings. She decorated his nursery with engravings of English cathedrals torn from a periodical to encourage the infant's ambition. In 1870 the family moved to Weymouth, Massachusetts, where William ministered to a small congregation.
In 1876, Anna visited the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia where she saw an exhibit of educational blocks created by Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel. The blocks, known as Froebel Gifts, were the foundation of his innovative kindergarten curriculum. Anna, a trained teacher, was excited by the program and bought a set with which young Wright spent much time playing. The blocks in the set were geometrically shaped and could be assembled in various combinations to form three-dimensional compositions. In his autobiography, Wright described the influence of these exercises on his approach to design: "For several years I sat at the little Kindergarten table-top… and played… with the cube, the sphere and the triangle—these smooth wooden maple blocks… All are in my fingers to this day… " Many of Wright's buildings are notable for their geometrical clarity.
The Wright family struggled financially in Weymouth and returned to Spring Green, Wisconsin, where the supportive Lloyd Jones clan could help William find employment. They settled in Madison, where William taught music lessons and served as the secretary to the newly formed Unitarian society. Although William was a distant parent, he shared his love of music, especially the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, with his children.
Soon after Wright turned 14, his parents separated. Anna had been unhappy for some time with William's inability to provide for his family and asked him to leave. The divorce was finalized in 1885 after William sued Anna for lack of physical affection. William left Wisconsin after the divorce and Wright claimed he never saw his father again. At this time he changed his middle name from Lincoln to Lloyd in honor of his mother's family, the Lloyd Joneses.
Wright attended Madison High School, but there is no evidence of his graduation. He was admitted to the University of Wisconsin–Madison as a special student in 1886. There he joined Phi Delta Theta fraternity, took classes part-time for two semesters, and worked with a professor of civil engineering, Allan D. Conover. Wright left the school without taking a degree, although he was granted an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the University in 1955.
In 1887, Wright arrived in Chicago in search of employment. As a result of the devastating Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and a population boom, new development was plentiful in the city. Wright later recalled that while his first impressions of Chicago were that of grimy neighborhoods, crowded streets, and disappointing architecture, he was determined to find work. Within days, and after interviews with several prominent firms, he was hired as a draftsman with the architectural firm of Joseph Lyman Silsbee. Wright previously collaborated with Silsbee—accredited as the draftsman and the construction supervisor—on the 1886 Unity Chapel for Wright's family in Spring Green, Wisconsin. While with the firm, he also worked on two other family projects: All Souls Church in Chicago for his uncle, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, and the Hillside Home School I in Spring Green for two of his aunts. Other draftsmen who worked for Silsbee in 1887 included future architects Cecil Corwin, George W. Maher, and George G. Elmslie. Wright soon befriended Corwin, with whom he lived until he found a permanent home.
Feeling that he was underpaid for the quality of his work for Silsbee (at $8 a week), the young draftsman quit and found work as a designer at the firm of Beers, Clay, and Dutton. However, Wright soon realized that he was not ready to handle building design by himself; he left his new job to return to Joseph Silsbee—this time with a raise in salary. Although Silsbee adhered mainly to Victorian and Revivalist architecture, Wright found his work to be more "gracefully picturesque" than the other "brutalities" of the period. Wright aspired for more progressive work.
Wright learned that the Chicago firm of Adler & Sullivan was "looking for someone to make the finish drawings for the interior of the Auditorium Building". Wright demonstrated that he was a competent impressionist of Louis Sullivan's ornamental designs and two short interviews later, was an official apprentice in the firm. Wright did not get along well with Sullivan's other draftsmen; he wrote that several violent altercations occurred between them during the first years of his apprenticeship. For that matter, Sullivan showed very little respect for his employees as well. In spite of this, "Sullivan took [Wright] under his wing and gave him great design responsibility." As an act of respect, Wright would later refer to Sullivan as Lieber Meister (German for "Dear Master"). He also formed a bond with office foreman Paul Mueller. Wright would later engage Mueller to build several of his public and commercial buildings between 1903 and 1923.
On June 1, 1889, Wright married his first wife, Catherine Lee "Kitty" Tobin (1871–1959). The two had met around a year earlier during activities at All Souls Church. Sullivan did his part to facilitate the financial success of the young couple by granting Wright a five-year employment contract. Wright made one more request: "Mr. Sullivan, if you want me to work for you as long as five years, couldn't you lend me enough money to build a little house?" With Sullivan's $5,000 loan, Wright purchased a lot at the corner of Chicago and Forest Avenues in the suburb of Oak Park. The existing Gothic Revival house was given to his mother, while a compact Shingle style house was built alongside for Wright and Catherine.
According to an 1890 diagram of the firm's new, 17th-floor space atop the Auditorium Building, Wright soon earned a private office next to Sullivan's own. However, that office was actually shared with friend and draftsman George Elmslie, who was hired by Sullivan at Wright's request. Wright had risen to head draftsman and handled all residential design work in the office. As a general rule, Adler & Sullivan did not design or build houses, but they obliged when asked by the clients of their important commercial projects. Wright was occupied by the firm's major commissions during office hours, so house designs were relegated to evening and weekend overtime hours at his home studio. He would later claim total responsibility for the design of these houses, but careful inspection of their architectural style and accounts from historian Robert Twombly suggest that it was Sullivan who dictated the overall form and motifs of the residential works; Wright's design duties were often reduced to detailing the projects from Sullivan's sketches. During this time, Wright worked on Sullivan's bungalow (1890) and the James A. Charnley bungalow (1890) both in Ocean Springs, Mississippi; the Berry-MacHarg House (1891) and Louis Sullivan's House (1892) both in Chicago; and the most noted 1891 James A. Charnley House also in Chicago. Of the five collaborations, only the two commissions for the Charnley family still stand.
Despite Sullivan's loan and overtime salary, Wright was constantly short on funds. Wright admitted that his poor finances were likely due to his expensive tastes in wardrobe and vehicles, and the extra luxuries he designed into his house. To supplement his income and repay his debts, Wright accepted independent commissions for at least nine houses. These "bootlegged" houses, as he later called them, were conservatively designed in variations of the fashionable Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles. Nevertheless, unlike the prevailing architecture of the period, each house emphasized simple geometric massing and contained features such as bands of horizontal windows, occasional cantilevers, and open floor plans which would become hallmarks of his later work. Eight of these early houses remain today, including the Thomas Gale, Robert P. Parker House, George Blossom, and Walter Gale houses.
As with the residential projects for Adler & Sullivan, he designed his bootleg houses on his own time. Sullivan knew nothing of the independent works until 1893, when he recognized that one of the houses was unmistakably a Frank Lloyd Wright design. This particular house, built for Allison Harlan, was only blocks away from Sullivan's townhouse in the Chicago community of Kenwood. Aside from the location, the geometric purity of the composition and balcony tracery in the same style as the Charnley House likely gave away Wright's involvement. Since Wright's five-year contract forbade any outside work, the incident led to his departure from Sullivan's firm. A variety of stories recount the break in the relationship between Sullivan and Wright; even Wright later told two different versions of the occurrence. In An Autobiography, Wright claimed that he was unaware that his side ventures were a breach of his contract. When Sullivan learned of them, he was angered and offended; he prohibited any further outside commissions and refused to issue Wright the deed to his Oak Park house until after he completed his five years. Wright could not bear the new hostility from his master and thought the situation was unjust. He "threw down [his] pencil and walked out of the Adler and Sullivan office never to return." Dankmar Adler, who was more sympathetic to Wright's actions, later sent him the deed. On the other hand, Wright told his Taliesin apprentices (as recorded by Edgar Tafel) that Sullivan fired him on the spot upon learning of the Harlan House. Tafel also accounted that Wright had Cecil Corwin sign several of the bootleg jobs, indicating that Wright was aware of their illegal nature. Regardless of the correct series of events, Wright and Sullivan did not meet or speak for twelve years.
After leaving Louis Sullivan's firm, Wright established his own practice on the top floor of the Sullivan designed Schiller Building on Randolph Street in Chicago. Wright chose to locate his office in the building because the tower location reminded him of the office of Adler & Sullivan. Although Cecil Corwin followed Wright and set up his architecture practice in the same office, the two worked independently and did not consider themselves partners.
In 1896, Wright moved out of the Schiller Building and into the nearby and newly completed Steinway Hall Building. The loft space was shared with Robert C. Spencer, Jr., Myron Hunt, and Dwight H. Perkins. These young architects, inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement and the philosophies of Louis Sullivan, formed what would become known as the Prairie School. They were joined by Perkins apprentice, Marion Mahony, who in 1895 transferred to Wright's team of drafters and took over production of his presentation drawings and watercolor renderings. Mahony, the third woman to be licensed as an architect in Illinois and one of the first licensed female architects in the U.S., also designed furniture, leaded glass windows, and light fixtures, among other features, for Wright's houses. Between 1894 and the early 1910s, several other leading Prairie School architects and many of Wright's future employees launched their careers in the offices of Steinway Hall.
Wright's projects during this period followed two basic models. His first independent commission, the Winslow House, combined Sullivanesque ornamentation with the emphasis on simple geometry and horizontal lines. The Francis Apartments (1895, demolished 1971), Heller House (1896), Rollin Furbeck House (1897), and Husser House (1899, demolished 1926) were designed in the same mode. For his more conservative clients, Wright designed more traditional dwellings. These included the Dutch Colonial Revival style Bagley House (1894), Tudor Revival style Moore House I (1895), and Queen Anne style Charles E. Roberts House (1896).While Wright could not afford to turn down clients over disagreements in taste, even his most conservative designs retained simplified massing and occasional Sullivan-inspired details.
Soon after the completion of the Winslow House in 1894, Edward Waller, a friend and former client, invited Wright to meet Chicago architect and planner Daniel Burnham. Burnham had been impressed by the Winslow House and other examples of Wright's work; he offered to finance a four-year education at the École des Beaux-Arts and two years in Rome. To top it off, Wright would have a position in Burnham's firm upon his return. In spite of guaranteed success and support of his family, Wright declined the offer. Burnham, who had directed the classical design of the World's Columbian Exposition, was a major proponent of the Beaux Arts movement, thought that Wright was making a foolish mistake. Yet for Wright, the classical education of the École lacked creativity and was altogether at odds with his vision of modern American architecture.
Wright relocated his practice to his home in 1898 in order to bring his work and family lives closer. This move made further sense as the majority of the architect's projects at that time were in Oak Park or neighboring River Forest. The birth of three more children — Catherine in 1894, David in 1895, and Frances in 1898 — prompted Wright to sacrifice his original home studio space for additional bedrooms and necessitated his design and construction of an expansive studio addition to the north of the main house. The space, which included a hanging balcony within the two-story drafting room, was one of Wright's first experiments with innovative structure. The studio was a poster for Wright's developing aesthetics and would become the laboratory from which the next ten years of architectural creations would emerge.
By 1901, Wright had completed about 50 projects, including many houses in Oak Park. As his son John Lloyd Wright wrote:
"William Eugene Drummond, Francis Barry Byrne, Walter Burley Griffin, Albert Chase McArthur, Marion Mahony, Isabel Roberts and George Willis were the draftsmen. Five men, two women. They wore flowing ties, and smocks suitable to the realm. The men wore their hair like Papa, all except Albert, he didn't have enough hair. They worshiped Papa! Papa liked them! I know that each one of them was then making valuable contributions to the pioneering of the modern American architecture for which my father gets the full glory, headaches and recognition today!"
Between 1900 and 1901, Frank Lloyd Wright completed four houses which have since been identified as the onset of the "Prairie style". Two, the Hickox and Bradley Houses, were the last transitional step between Wright's early designs and the Prairie creations. Meanwhile, the Thomas House and Willits House received recognition as the first mature examples of the new style. At the same time, Wright gave his new ideas for the American house widespread awareness through two publications in the Ladies' Home Journal. The articles were in response to an invitation from the president of Curtis Publishing Company, Edward Bok, as part of a project to improve modern house design. "A Home in a Prairie Town" and "A Small House with Lots of Room in it" appeared respectively in the February and July 1901 issues of the journal. Although neither of the affordable house plans was ever constructed, Wright received increased requests for similar designs in following years.
Wright's residential designs of this era were known as "prairie houses" because the designs complemented the land around Chicago. Prairie style houses often have a combination of these features: One or two-stories with one-story projections, an open floor plan, low-pitched roofs with broad overhanging eaves, strong horizontal lines, ribbons of windows (often casements), a prominent central chimney, built-in stylized cabinetry, and a wide use of natural materials—especially stone and wood.
Public buildings in the Prairie style include Unity Temple, the home of the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Oak Park. As a lifelong Unitarian and member of Unity Temple, Wright offered his services to the congregation after their church burned down in 1905. The community agreed to hire him and he worked on the building from 1905 to 1909. Wright later said that Unity Temple was the edifice in which he ceased to be an architect of structure, and became an architect of space. Many architects consider it the world's first modern building, because of its unique construction of only one material: reinforced concrete. This would become a hallmark of the modernists who followed Wright, such as Mies van der Rohe, and even some post-modernists, such as Frank Gehry.
Many examples of this work are in Buffalo, New York as a result of a friendship between Wright and Darwin D. Martin, an executive of the Larkin Soap Company. In 1902, the Larkin Company decided to build a new administration building. Wright came to Buffalo and designed not only the Larkin Administration Building (completed in 1904, demolished in 1950), but also homes for three of the company's executives including the Darwin D. Martin House in 1904, and later, their summer residence, the Graycliff Estate, also designed for Darwin D. Martin and his wife, Isabelle. It was also in this style that the house of Cornell's chapter of Alpha Delta Phi literary society was designed in the spring of 1900.
Other Wright houses considered to be masterpieces of the late Prairie Period (1907–1910) are the Frederick Robie House in Chicago and the Avery and Queene Coonley House in Riverside, Illinois. The Robie House, with its soaring, cantilevered roof lines, supported by a 110-foot-long (34 m) channel of steel, is the most dramatic. Its living and dining areas form virtually one uninterrupted space. With this and other buildings, included in the publication of the Wasmuth Portfolio (1910), Wright's work became known to European architects and had a profound influence on them after World War I. It is sometimes called the "cornerstone of modernism".
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 in order 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. By this point Wright "rejected" the Prairie Style single-family house model of the upper-middle class, and hoped to work on more democratic architecture. He was not getting larger commissions for commercial or public buildings, which frustrated him.
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 called Taliesin. The motto is still used today as the cry of the druids and chief bard of the Eisteddfod in Wales.
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; a gardener; a draftsman named Emil Brodelle; a workman; and another workman's son. 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.
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. During this period, Wright designed Graycliff (1926–31), the summer estate of Isabelle and Darwin D. Martin.
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.
In the 1920s, Wright designed a number of houses in California using precast "textile" concrete blocks reinforced by an internal system of bars. Wright first used his textile block system on the John Storer House in Hollywood, California, in 1923. The house is now used in films, television, and print media to represent the future. Typically Wrightian is the joining of the structure to its site by a series of terraces that reach out into and reorder the landscape, making it an integral part of the architect's vision. According to Wright's organic theory, all components of the building should appear unified, as though they belong together. Nothing should be attached to it without considering the effect on the whole. To unify the house to its site, Wright often used large expanses of glass to blur the boundary between the indoors and outdoors.
With the Ennis House and the Samuel Freeman House (both 1923), Wright had further opportunities to test the limits of the textile block system. He also designed a textile block house for Aline Barnsdall, the Community Playhouse ("Little Dipper"), which was never constructed. Wright's son, Lloyd Wright, supervised construction for the Storer, Freeman and Ennis Houses. Architectural historian Thomas Hines has suggested that Lloyd's contribution to these projects is often overlooked.
In 1932 Wright and his wife Olgivanna put out a call for students to come to Taliesin to study and work under Wright while they learned architecture. Twenty-three came to live and work that year, as did many more in the years that followed. There has been considerable controversy over the living conditions and education of the Fellows; recent books have given conflicting and often unflattering pictures of their treatment. The Fellowship has evolved into what is now the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, an accredited school.
By the 1930s Wright's Organic style, as exemplified by the designs of Graycliff, Fallingwater and Taliesin West, had fully matured.
Graycliff was a summer estate designed for his long-time patrons, Isabelle and Darwin D. Martin. Created in Wright's high Organic style, Graycliff consists of three buildings set within 8.5 acres of landscape, also designed by Wright. Its site, high on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie, inspired Wright to create a home that was transparent, with views through the building to the lake beyond. Terraces and cantilevered balconies also encourage lake views, and water features throughout the landscape were designed by Wright to echo the lake as well.
Fallingwater, one of Wright's most famous private residences (completed 1937), was built for Mr. and Mrs. Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr., at Mill Run, Pennsylvania. Constructed over a 30-foot waterfall, it was designed according to Wright's desire to place the occupants close to the natural surroundings. The house was intended to be more of a family getaway, rather than a live-in home. The construction is a series of cantilevered balconies and terraces, using limestone for all verticals and concrete for the horizontals. The house cost $155,000, including the architect's fee of $8,000. It was one of Wright's most expensive pieces. Kaufmann's own engineers argued that the design was not sound. They were overruled by Wright, but the contractor secretly added extra steel to the horizontal concrete elements. In 1994, Robert Silman and Associates examined the building and developed a plan to restore the structure. In the late 1990s, steel supports were added under the lowest cantilever until a detailed structural analysis could be done. In March 2002, post-tensioning of the lowest terrace was completed.
Taliesin West, Wright's winter home and studio complex in Scottsdale, Arizona, was a laboratory for Wright from 1937 to his death in 1959. Now the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and archives, it continues today as the site of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.
Wright is responsible for a series of concepts of suburban development united under the term Broadacre City. He proposed the idea in his book The Disappearing City in 1932, and unveiled a 12-square-foot (1.1 m2) model of this community of the future, showing it in several venues in the following years. He continued developing the idea until his death.
Concurrent with the development of Broadacre City, also referred to as Usonia, Wright conceived a new type of dwelling that came to be known as the Usonian House. Although an early version of the form can be seen in the Malcolm Willey House (1934) in Minneapolis, the Usonian ideal emerged most completely in the Herbert and Katherine Jacobs First House (1937) in Madison, Wisconsin. Designed on a gridded concrete slab that integrated the house's radiant heating system, the house featured new approaches to construction, including sandwich walls that consisted of layers of wood siding, plywood cores and building paper, a significant change from typically framed walls. Usonian houses commonly featured flat roofs and were usually constructed without basements or attics, all features that Wright had been promoting since the early 20th century.
Intended to be highly practical houses for middle-class clients and designed to be run without servants, A Usonian house often featured a small kitchen—a "workspace." This adjoined a dining area and the main living area, which was outfitted with built-in seating and tables. As in the Prairie Houses, Usonian living areas had a fireplace as a point of focus. Bedrooms, typically isolated and relatively small, encouraged the family to gather in the main living areas. The conception of spaces instead of rooms was a development of the Prairie ideal. The built-in furnishings related to the Arts and Crafts movement's principles which influenced Wright's early work. Spatially and in terms of their construction, the Usonian houses represented a new model for independent living, and allowed dozens of clients to live in a Wright-designed house at relatively low cost. The diversity of the Usonian ideal can be seen in houses such as the Gregor S. and Elizabeth B. Affleck House (1941) in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, which projects over a ravine; and the Hanna-Honeycomb House (1937) in Palo Alto, California, which features a honeycomb planning grid. Gordon House, completed in 1963, was Wright's last Usonian design.
His Usonian homes set a new style for suburban design that influenced countless developers. Many features of modern American homes date back to Wright: open plans, slab-on-grade foundations, and simplified construction techniques that allowed more mechanization and efficiency in building.
Wright turned 80 shortly after World War II ended, yet remained busy. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City occupied Wright for 16 years (1943–1959) and is probably his most recognized masterpiece. The building rises as a warm beige spiral from its site on Fifth Avenue; its interior is similar to the inside of a seashell. Its unique central geometry was meant to allow visitors to easily experience Guggenheim's collection of nonobjective geometric paintings by taking an elevator to the top level and then viewing artworks by walking down the slowly descending, central spiral ramp, the floor of which is embedded with circular shapes and triangular light fixtures to complement the geometric nature of the structure. However, when the museum was completed, a number of details of Wright's design were ignored, such as his desire for the interior to be painted off-white.
The only realized skyscraper designed by Wright is the Price Tower, a 19-story tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. It is also one of the two existing vertically oriented Wright structures (the other is the S.C. Johnson Wax Research Tower in Racine, Wisconsin). The Price Tower was commissioned by Harold C. Price of the H. C. Price Company, a local oil pipeline and chemical firm. It opened to the public in February 1956. On March 29, 2007, Price Tower was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior, one of only 20 such properties in the state of Oklahoma.
Monona Terrace, originally designed in 1937 as municipal offices for Madison, Wisconsin, was completed in 1997 on the original site, using a variation of Wright's final design for the exterior with the interior design altered by its new purpose as a convention center. The "as-built" design was carried out by Wright's apprentice Tony Puttnam. Monona Terrace was accompanied by controversy throughout the 60 years between the original design and the completion of the structure.
Florida Southern College, located in Lakeland, Florida, constructed 12 (out of 18 planned) Frank Lloyd Wright buildings between 1941 and 1958 as part of the Child of the Sun project. It is the world's largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.
In 2007 a house design that Wright completed shortly before his death in 1959 was realized in an energy-efficient form in the Republic of Ireland.
His Prairie houses use themed, coordinated design elements (often based on plant forms) that are repeated in windows, carpets and other fittings. He made innovative use of new building materials such as precast concrete blocks, glass bricks and zinc cames (instead of the traditional lead) for his leadlight windows, and he famously used Pyrex glass tubing as a major element in the Johnson Wax Headquarters. Wright was also one of the first architects to design and install custom-made electric light fittings, including some of the very first electric floor lamps, and his very early use of the then-novel spherical glass lampshade (a design previously not possible due to the physical restrictions of gas lighting).
As Wright's career progressed, so did the mechanization of the glass industry. Wright fully embraced glass in his designs and found that it fit well into his philosophy of organic architecture. Glass allowed for interaction and viewing of the outdoors while still protecting from the elements. In 1928, Wright wrote an essay on glass in which he compared it to the mirrors of nature: lakes, rivers and ponds. One of Wright's earliest uses of glass in his works was to string panes of glass along whole walls in an attempt to create light screens to join together solid walls. By utilizing this large amount of glass, Wright sought to achieve a balance between the lightness and airiness of the glass and the solid, hard walls. Arguably, Wright's best-known art glass is that of the Prairie style. The simple geometric shapes that yield to very ornate and intricate windows represent some of the most integral ornamentation of his career. Wright responded to the transformation of domestic life that occurred at the turn of the 20th century, when servants became less prominent or completely absent from most American households, by developing homes with progressively more open plans. This allowed the woman of the house to work in her 'workspace', as he often called the kitchen, yet keep track of and be available for the children and/or guests in the dining room. Much of modern architecture, including the early work of Mies van der Rohe, can be traced back to Wright's innovative work.
Wright also designed some of his own clothing. His fashion sense was unique and he usually wore expensive suits, flowing neckties, and capes. He had a fascination with automobiles, purchasing his first car in 1909, a Stoddard-Dayton roadster, and owned many exotic vehicles over the years. During the cash-strapped Depression, Wright drove cheaper vehicles. Some of his last cars in the 1950s included four Volkswagens and a Chevrolet Nomad wagon along with flashier articles such as a Jaguar Mark VII. He owned some 50 cars between 1909 and his death, of which ten are known to be extant.
Wright strongly believed in individualism and did not affiliate with the American Institute of Architects during his career, going so far as to call the organization "a harbor of refuge for the incompetent," and "a form of refined gangsterism." When an associate referred to him as "an old amateur" Wright confirmed, "I am the oldest."
Wright rarely credited any influences on his designs, but most architects, historians and scholars agree he had five major influences:
- Louis Sullivan, whom he considered to be his Lieber Meister (dear master),
- Nature, particularly shapes/forms and colors/patterns of plant life,
- Music (his favorite composer was Ludwig van Beethoven),
- Japanese art, prints and buildings,
- Froebel Gifts
He also routinely claimed the work of architects and architectural designers who were his employees as his own designs, and also claimed that the rest of the Prairie School architects were merely his followers, imitators and subordinates. But, as with any architect, Wright worked in a collaborative process and drew his ideas from the work of others. In his earlier days, Wright worked with some of the top architects of the Chicago School, including Sullivan. In his Prairie School days, Wright's office was populated by many talented architects including William Eugene Drummond, John Van Bergen, Isabel Roberts, Francis Barry Byrne, Albert McArthur, Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin.
The Czech-born architect Antonin Raymond, recognized as the father of modern architecture in Japan, worked for Wright at Taliesin and led the construction of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. He subsequently stayed in Japan and opened his own practice. Rudolf Schindler also worked for Wright on the Imperial Hotel. His own work is often credited as influencing Wright's Usonian houses. Schindler's friend Richard Neutra also worked briefly for Wright and became an internationally successful architect.
Later, in the Taliesin days, Wright employed many architects and artists who later become notable, such as Aaron Green, John Lautner, E. Fay Jones, Henry Klumb and Paolo Soleri.
Frank Lloyd Wright was interested in site and community planning throughout his career. His commissions and theories on urban design began as early as 1900 and continued until his death. He had 41 commissions on the scale of community planning or urban design.
His thoughts on suburban design started in 1900 with a proposed subdivision layout for Charles E. Roberts entitled the "Quadruple Block Plan." This design strayed from traditional suburban lot layouts and set houses on small square blocks of four equal-sized lots surrounded on all sides by roads instead of straight rows of houses on parallel streets. The houses, which used the same design as published in "A Home in a Prairie Town" from the Ladies' Home Journal, were set toward the center of the block to maximize the yard space and included private space in the center. This also allowed for far more interesting views from each house. Although this plan was never realized, Wright published the design in the Wasmuth Portfolio in 1910.
The more ambitious designs of entire communities were exemplified by his entry into the City Club of Chicago Land Development Competition in 1913. The contest was for the development of a suburban quarter section. This design expanded on the Quadruple Block Plan and included several social levels. The design shows the placement of the upscale homes in the most desirable areas and the blue collar homes and apartments separated by parks and common spaces. The design also included all the amenities of a small city: schools, museums, markets, etc. This view of decentralization was later reinforced by theoretical Broadacre City design. The philosophy behind his community planning was decentralization. The new development must be away from the cities. In this decentralized America, all services and facilities could coexist "factories side by side with farm and home."
Notable community planning designs:1900–03 – Quadruple Block Plan, 24 homes in Oak Park, Illinois (unbuilt)1909 – Como Orchard Summer Colony, town site development for new town in the Bitterroot Valley, Montana1913 – Chicago Land Development competition, suburban Chicago quarter section1934–59 – Broadacre City, theoretical decentralized city plan, exhibits of large-scale model1938 – Suntop Homes, also known as Cloverleaf Quadruple Housing Project – commission from Federal Works Agency, Division of Defense Housing, a low-cost multifamily housing alternative to suburban development1942 – Cooperative Homesteads, commissioned by a group of auto workers, teachers and other professionals, 160-acre farm co-op was to be the pioneer of rammed earth and earth berm construction (unbuilt)1945 – Usonia Homes, 47 homes (three designed by Wright) in Pleasantville, New York1949 – The Acres, also known as Galesburg Country Homes, five homes (four designed by Wright) in Charleston Township, Michigan1949 – Parkwyn neighborhood, a plat in Kalamazoo, Michigan developed by Wright containing mostly Usonian homes on circular lots with common spaces in between (since replatted)
Though most famous as an architect, Wright was an active dealer in Japanese art, primarily ukiyo-e woodblock prints. He frequently served as both architect and art dealer to the same clients; he designed a home, then provided the art to fill it. For a time, Wright made more from selling art than from his work as an architect. Wright was also an avid collector of Japanese prints and used them as teaching aids with his apprentices in what were called "print parties".
Wright first traveled to Japan in 1905, where he bought hundreds of prints. The following year, he helped organize the world's first retrospective exhibition of works by Hiroshige, held at the Art Institute of Chicago. For many years, he was a major presence in the Japanese art world, selling a great number of works to prominent collectors such as John Spaulding of Boston, and to prominent museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He penned a book on Japanese art in 1912.
In 1920, however, rival art dealers began to spread rumors that Wright was selling retouched prints; this combined with Wright's tendency to live beyond his means, and other factors, led to great financial troubles for the architect. Though he provided his clients with genuine prints as replacements for those he was accused of retouching, this marked the end of the high point of his career as an art dealer. He was forced to sell off much of his art collection in 1927 to pay off outstanding debts; the Bank of Wisconsin claimed his Taliesin home the following year, and sold thousands of his prints, for only one dollar a piece, to collector Edward Burr Van Vleck.
Wright continued to collect and deal in prints until his death in 1959, using prints as collateral for loans, often relying upon his art business to remain financially solvent.
The extent of his dealings in Japanese art went largely unknown, or underestimated, among art historians for decades until, in 1980, Julia Meech, then associate curator of Japanese art at the Metropolitan Museum, began researching the history of the museum's collection of Japanese prints. She discovered "a three-inch-deep 'clump of 400 cards' from 1918, each listing a print bought from the same seller—'F. L. Wright'" and a number of letters exchanged between Wright and the museum's first curator of Far Eastern Art, Sigisbert C. Bosch Reitz, in 1918-22. These discoveries, and subsequent research, led to a renewed understanding of Wright's career as an art dealer.
On April 4th, 1959, Wright was hospitalized for abdominal pains and was operated on April 6th. He seemed to be recovering but he died quietly on April 9th.After his death Wright's legacy was plagued with turmoil for years. His third wife Olgivanna's dying wish had been that Wright, she, and her daughter by her first marriage all be cremated and interred together in a memorial garden being built at Taliesin West. According to his own wishes, Wright's body had lain in the Lloyd-Jones cemetery, next to the Unity Chapel, near Taliesin in Wisconsin. Although Olgivanna had taken no legal steps to move Wright's remains and against the wishes of other family members as well as the Wisconsin legislature, in 1985 Wright's remains were removed from his grave by members of the Taliesin Fellowship, cremated and sent to Scottsdale where they were later interred in the memorial garden. The original grave site in Wisconsin, now empty, is still marked with Wright's name.
After Wright’s death, most of his archives were stored at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in Taliesin (in Wisconsin), and Taliesin West (in Arizona.) These collections included more than 23,000 architectural drawings, about 40 large-scale architectural models, some 44,000 photographs, 600 manuscripts and more than 300,000 pieces of office and personal correspondence. Most of these models were constructed for MoMA's retrospective of Wright in 1940. In 2012, in order to guarantee a high level of conservation and access as well as to transfer the considerable financial burden of maintaining the archive, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation partnered with the Museum of Modern Art and the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library to move the archive's content to New York. Wright's furniture and art collection remains with The Foundation, which will also have a role in monitoring the archive. These three parties established an advisory group to oversee exhibitions, symposiums, events and publications.
Photographs and other archival materials are held by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago. The architect's personal archives are located at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Frank Lloyd Wright archives include photographs of his drawings, indexed correspondence beginning in the 1880s and continuing through Wright's life, and other ephemera. The Getty Research Center, Los Angeles, also has copies of Wright's correspondence and photographs of his drawings in their "Frank Lloyd Wright Special Collection". Wright's correspondence is indexed in An Index to the Taliesin Correspondence, ed. by Professor Anthony Alofsin, which is available at larger libraries.
Wright designed over 400 built structures of which about 300 survive as of 2005. Four have been lost to forces of nature: the waterfront house for W. L. Fuller in Pass Christian, Mississippi, destroyed by Hurricane Camille in August 1969; the Louis Sullivan Bungalow of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005; and the Arinobu Fukuhara House (1918) in Hakone, Japan, destroyed in the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake. The Ennis House in California has also been damaged by earthquake and rain-induced ground movement. In January 2006, the Wilbur Wynant House in Gary, Indiana was destroyed by fire.
In addition, other buildings were intentionally demolished during and after Wright's lifetime, such as: Midway Gardens (1913, Chicago, Illinois) and the Larkin Administration Building (1903, Buffalo, New York) were destroyed in 1929 and 1950 respectively; the Francis Apartments and Francisco Terrace Apartments (both located in Chicago and designed in 1895) were destroyed in 1971 and 1974, respectively; the Geneva Inn (1911) in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin was destroyed in 1970; and the Banff National Park Pavilion (1914) in Alberta was destroyed in 1938. The Imperial Hotel, in Tokyo (1922) survived the Great Kantō earthquake but was demolished in 1968 due to urban developmental pressures.
Later in his life and well after his death in 1959, Wright received much honorary recognition for his lifetime achievements. He received a Gold Medal award from The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1941. The American Institute of Architects awarded him the AIA Gold Medal in 1949. That medal was a symbolic "burying the hatchet" between Wright and the AIA. In a radio interview he commented, "Well, the AIA I never joined, and they know why. When they gave me the gold medal in Houston, I told them frankly why. Feeling that the architecture profession is all that's the matter with architecture, why should I join them?" He was awarded the Franklin Institute's Frank P. Brown Medal in 1953. He received honorary degrees from several universities (including his "alma mater", the University of Wisconsin) and several nations named him as an honorary board member to their national academies of art and/or architecture. In 2000, Fallingwater was named "The Building of the 20th century" in an unscientific "Top-Ten" poll taken by members attending the AIA annual convention in Philadelphia. On that list, Wright was listed along with many of the USA's other greatest architects including Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Louis Kahn, Philip Johnson and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; he was the only architect who had more than one building on the list. The other three buildings were the Guggenheim Museum, the Frederick C. Robie House and the Johnson Wax Building.
In 1992, the Madison Opera in Madison, Wisconsin, commissioned and premiered the opera Shining Brow, by composer Daron Hagen and librettist Paul Muldoon based on events early in Wright's life. The work has since received numerous revivals, including a June 2013 revival at Fallingwater, in Bull Run, Pennsylvania, by Opera Theater of Pittsburgh. In 2000, Work Song: Three Views of Frank Lloyd Wright, a play based on the relationship between the personal and working aspects of Wright's life, debuted at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.
In 1966, the United States Postal Service honored Wright with a Prominent Americans series 2¢ postage stamp. Several of Wright's buildings have been proposed by the United States to be UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
'So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright' is a song written by Paul Simon. Art Garfunkel has stated that the origin of the song came from his request that Paul Simon write a song about the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Simon himself stated that he knew nothing about Wright, but proceeded to write the song anyway.
In 1957, Arizona made plans to construct a new Capitol building. Believing that the submitted plans for the new Capitol were tombs to the past, Frank Lloyd Wright offered Oasis as an alternative to the people of Arizona. In 2004, one of the spires included in his design was erected in Scottsdale.
Frank Lloyd Wright was married three times and fathered seven children, four sons and three daughters. He also adopted Svetlana Milanoff, the daughter of his third wife, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright.
His wives were:Catherine "Kitty" (Tobin) Wright (1871–1959); social worker, socialite (married in June 1889; divorced November 1922)Maude "Miriam" (Noel) Wright (1869–1930), artist (married in November 1923; divorced August 1927)Olga Ivanovna "Olgivanna" (Lazovich Milanoff) Lloyd Wright (1897–1985), dancer and writer (married in August 1928)
One of Wright's sons, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr., known as Lloyd Wright, was also a notable architect in Los Angeles. Lloyd Wright's son (and Wright's grandson), Eric Lloyd Wright, is currently an architect in Malibu, California where he has a practice of mostly residences, but also civic and commercial buildings.
Another son and architect, John Lloyd Wright, invented Lincoln Logs in 1918, and practiced extensively in the San Diego area. John's daughter, Elizabeth Wright Ingraham (d. 2013), an architect in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was the mother of Christine, an interior designer in Connecticut, and Catherine, an architecture professor at the Pratt Institute.
Wright designed a house for David Samuel Wright, his son by his first marriage to Catherine, and David's wife, Gladys.
The Oscar-winning actress Anne Baxter was Wright's granddaughter. Baxter was the daughter of Catherine Baxter, a child born of Wright's first marriage. Baxter's daughter, Melissa Galt, currently lives and works in Atlanta as an interior designer.
His step-daughter Svetlana (daughter of Olgivanna) and her son Daniel died in an automobile accident in 1946. Her widower, William Wesley Peters, was later briefly married to Svetlana Alliluyeva, the youngest child and only daughter of Joseph Stalin. Peters served as Chairman of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation from 1985 to 1991.Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, 1956–1961Beth Sholom Synagogue, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1954Child of the Sun, Florida Southern College, Lakeland, Florida, 1941–1958, site of the largest collection of the architect's workDana-Thomas House, Springfield, Illinois, 1902Darwin D. Martin House, Buffalo, New York, 1903–1905Dr. G.C. Stockman House, Mason City, Iowa, 1908Edward E. Boynton House, Rochester, New York, 1908Ennis House, Los Angeles, 1923Fallingwater (Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. Residence), Bear Run, Pennsylvania, 1935–1937First Unitarian Society of Madison, Shorewood Hills, Wisconsin, 1947Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Oak Park, Illinois, 1889–1909Frank Thomas House, Oak Park, Illinois, 1901Gammage Auditorium, Tempe, Arizona, 1959–1964Graycliff. Derby, New York, 1926First Jacobs House, Madison, Wisconsin, 1936–1937Herbert F. Johnson Residence ("Wingspread"), Wind Point, Wisconsin, 1937Hollyhock House (Aline Barnsdall Residence), Los Angeles, 1919–1921Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Japan, 1923 (demolished, 1968; entrance hall reconstructed at Meiji Mura near Nagoya, Japan, 1976)Johnson Wax Headquarters, Racine, Wisconsin, 1936Kenneth Laurent House, Rockford, Illinois, only home Wright designed to be handicapped accessible, 1951Kentuck Knob, Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania, 1956Larkin Administration Building, Buffalo, New York, 1903 (demolished, 1950)Marin County Civic Center, San Rafael, California, 1957–1966Marshall Erdman Prefab Houses, various locations, 1956–1960Midway Gardens, Chicago, Illinois, 1913 (demolished, 1929)Clubhouse at the Nakoma Golf Resort, Plumas County, California, designed in 1923; opened in 2000Park Inn Hotel, the last standing Wright designed hotel, Mason City, Iowa, 1910Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, 1952–1956Frederick C. Robie Residence, Chicago, Illinois, 1909R.W. Lindholm Service Station, Cloquet, Minnesota, 1958Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, 1956–1959Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin, 1911 & 1925Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona, 1937The Illinois, mile-high tower in Chicago, 1956 (unbuilt)Unity Temple, Oak Park, Illinois, 1904Usonian homes, various locations, 1930s–1950sV. C. Morris Gift Shop, San Francisco, 1948Westhope (Richard Lloyd Jones Residence, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1929William H. Winslow House, River Forest, Illinois, 1894Ward Winfield Willits Residence, and Gardener's Cottage and Stables, Highland Park, Illinois, 1901