Frank Lloyd Wright
Born June 8, 1867, Richland Center, Wis., U.S. died April 9, 1959, Phoenix, Ariz.
Original name Frank Lincoln Wright architect and writer, the most abundantly creative genius of American architecture. His “Prairie style” became the basis of 20th-century residential design in the United States.
His “prairie architecture” expressed its site, region, structure, and materials and avoided all historical reminiscences; beginning with its plan and a distinctive spatial theme, each building burgeoned to its exterior sculptural form. Starting from Richardson's rustic, shingle houses and making free use of Beaux-Arts composition during the 1880s and 1890s, Wright hinted at his prairie house idiom with the Winslow House at River Forest, Ill. (1893), elaborated it in the Coonley House at Riverside, Ill. (1908), and, ultimately, realized it in 1909 in the flowing volumes of space defined by sculptural masses and horizontal planes of his Robie House at Chicago .
Meanwhile, he scored a triumph with his administration building for the Larkin Company at Buffalo in 1904 (destroyed 1950), which grouped offices around a central skylighted court, sealed them hermetically against their smoky environs, and offered amenities in circulation, air conditioning, fire protection, and plumbing. In its blocky fire towers, sequences of piers and recessed spandrels were coupled together in a powerful composition. Wright was, however, ignored by all except a select following. The buildings of the single figure who gave international distinction to early 20th-century American architecture remained the cherished property of personal clients, such as Aline Barnsdall, for whom Wright designed the Hollyhock House at Los Angeles (1918-20).
The Millard House at Pasadena, Calif. (1923), exemplified many of these principles; its concrete-block walls were cast with decorative patterns. Taliesin East, Wright's house near Spring Green, Wisc., went through a series of major rebuildings (1911, 1914, 1915, and 1925), and each fitted the site beautifully; local stone, gabled roofs, and outdoor gardens reflected the themes of the countryside. A period of withdrawal at Taliesin afforded Wright several years of intensive reflection, from which he emerged with fabulous drawings for the Doheny ranch in California (1921), a skyscraper for the National Life Insurance Company at Chicago (1920-25), and St. Mark's Tower, New York City (1929). The last was to have been an 18-story apartment house comprising a concrete stem from which four arms branched outward to form the sidewalls of apartments cantilevered from the stem to an exterior glass wall.
Unexecuted like most of Wright's most exciting projects, St. Mark's Tower testified to his revolutionary thinking about skyscraper architecture. His ideas gained a wide hearing in 1931 when he published the Kahn lectures he had delivered at Princeton in 1930. In keeping with the needs of the United States during the Depression, Wright turned his attention to the low-cost house, designing a “Usonian house” for Herbert Jacobs near Madison, Wisc. (1937), and a quadruple house, “the Sun houses,” at Ardmore, Pa. (1939). These exemplified the residences he intended for his ideal communities, such as rural, decentralized Broadacre City (1936), which was Wright's answer to European schemesfor skyscraper cities.
At about the same time, Wright produced four masterpieces: Fallingwater, Bear Run, Pa. (1936), the daringly cantilevered weekend house of Edgar Kaufmann; the administration building of S.C. Johnson & Son, in which brick cylinders and planes develop a series of echoing spaces, culminating in the forest of graceful “mushroom” columns in the main hall, and the Johnson House (1937), aptly called Wingspread, both at Racine, Wisc.; and Taliesin West at Paradise Valley, near Phoenix, Ariz. (begun 1938), where rough, angular walls and roofs echo the desert valley and surrounding mountains.
With increasing sensitivity to local terrain and native forms and materials, Wright stated more complex spatial and structural themes than European modernists, who seldom attempted either extreme programmatic plans or organic adaptation of form to a particular environment. Eventually, Wright himself developed a more universalgeometry, as he revealed in the sculptural Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum at New York City (1956-59).