Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)

Frank Lincoln Wright was an architect, interior designer, writer, and educator who developed an organic and distinctly American style. Possibly the most influential American architect of the 20th century, over his career he designed numerous iconic buildings.

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Nurturing a passion

Frank Lloyd Wright was born on June 8, 1867, in Richland Center, Wisconsin, in a family of Unitarian Welsh preachers. His mother brought him up following the principles of pedagogy of Friedrich Froebel (as will happen, in particular, with Charles Eames, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Johannes Itten), in which the concept of “Spielgabe” (translated as “gifts of play”) plays an important role: spheres, cubes, cylinders and other primitive solids made from various materials (from yarn to wood) that can be manipulated and assembled in endless variations, and which, according to chroniclers, would capture his imagination.

Frank Lloyd Wright at the “Frank Lloyd Wright American Architect” (1940-1941) exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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About his career

Winslow House, Chicago suburb (1893)

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After enrolling as an external student at the Wisconsin Faculty of Engineering (which he later left), he began his professional career as an apprentice in two important studies: first, with J.L. Silsby; then, the Chicago office of Dankmar Adler and Louis Henry Sullivan, the pioneers of modern American architecture and the “fathers of skyscrapers”. He stayed there for about six years, from 1887 to 1893, devoting himself primarily to designing single-family homes, while Adler and Sullivan built skyscrapers and commercial buildings, founding the Chicago School and, from a broader perspective, initiating the phenomenon of organic architecture (of which Wright would become the undisputed protagonist).

Wright was greatly influenced by Sullivan, whose motto was “form follows function” and rejected the more florid European styles in favor of a purer aesthetic. Wright followed his ideas and developed them into a unique brand of modern American architecture.

Later, Wright founded his firm and began employing style that became known as the Prairie School. Throughrought his career, he became known as the creator and master of organic architecture, the harmony between human constructions, the inhabitants and its natural sorroundings; the audacity and fruitfulness of his process and his mastery of space are probably his greatest achievements.

Guggenheim Museum, 1959, F. L. Wright
Guggenheim Museum, 1959, F. L. Wright

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What are his major works?

His main works are:

  • Winslow House, Chicago suburb (1893);
  • Unity Temple, Chicago, USA, (1906-1907);
  • Robie House, Chicago, USA, (1908-1910);
  • Midway Gardens, Chicago (1913-1914);
  • Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Japan, (1916-1922);
Robie House, Chicago (1910)

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  • Ennis House, Los Angeles, USA, (1920-1924);
  • Kaufmann House – Fallingwater House, Pittsburg (1932-1936);
  • Johnson Wax Headquarters, Racine (1936-1939);
  • Guggenheim Museum (1949-1959).
  • Norman Lykes house, Phoenix, Arizona. (1959). One of the few circular homes Wright designed during his career. It was built into the side of a mountain.

Perhaps the most famous example of Wright’s daring design philosophy was Fallingwater House, which Wright designed to hover over a waterfall.

Casa sulla cascata (Fallingwater), 1935, F. L. Wright
Kaufmann House (Fallingwater House), 1935, F. L. Wright

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About his style

Frank Lloyd Wright and his unique interpretation of designing a building gave him the fame as of, if not the, greatest architects of all time. He perfected a distinctly American style that emphasized simplicity and natural beauty in contrast to the intricate and ornate constructs that prevailed in Europe. With apparently endless energy and tenacity, Wright has designed over 1,100 buildings in his lifetime, nearly a third of which in the past decade.

Norman Lykes house, 1959

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Wright was an above all a pioneer and a highly productive creator. Throughout his career, he retained the use of ornamental detail, earthy colors, and rich textures and effects. His sensible use of materials helped to control and perfect his dynamic expression of space, opening a new era in American architecture; too impetuous to be contained, his works would go on to touch Europe and, in the later years of his life, Japan.

Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Japan, (1916-1922)

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