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Frank Lloyd Wright1
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5 December 2000
Frank Lloyd Wright
American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright is considered the pioneer in modern style and one of the greatest figures in twentieth-century architecture (Twombly, 16). According to Frank Lloyd Wright: “…having a good start, not only do I fully intend to be the greatest architect who has yet lived, but fully intend to be the greatest architect who will ever live. Yes, I intend to be the greatest architect of all time.”
It appears that from the beginning, Frank Lloyd Wright was destined by fate, or determination, or by his mother’s support, to be one of the most innovative and celebrated architects of the twentieth century. Throughout his life, he designed nearly 900 structures, some 400 of which were actually built. He was principally known for his highly original methods of uniting buildings with their surroundings (Hirsh, 189). Wright was also renowned for initiating new architectural and engineering techniques but was often criticized by the more conventional architects who opposed his new methods (Twombly, 17 - 18).
Frank Lincoln Wright (he would later change his middle name to Lloyd) was born on June 8 1867 in Richland Center, Wisconsin, to Anna Lloyd-Jones Wright and William Russell Cary Wright. Anna Lloyd-Jones was a teacher from a large
close-knit Welsh family of farmers and ministers. His mother and her family would have a tremendous influence on Frank throughout his life. Frank’s father, William, was a devout Unitarian preacher and musician. The Wright family spent many evenings listening to William read such works as Emerson, Thoreau, and Blake .
In 1869 through 1878, the Wright family traveled the country, relocating to Iowa, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, where William held pastorate positions (Taliesin Preservation). His father moved from job to job dragging the family along which often resulted in financial difficulties. In 1878, the Wright’s eventually returned to the hills of Wisconsin, close to the strong support of Anna’s family. Finally, settling back in Wisconsin, William Wright became secretary of the Wisconsin Conference of Unitarians and Independent Societies (Gill, 57).
Anna relied heavily upon her family to help rear her children. Frank spent numerous hours helping his uncles in the fields, who taught him the importance of hard work. His aunts and his mother intellectually guided him in education, religion, and nature, which played an important part in forming Frank’s architectural philosophy. Using Froebel’s geometric blocks to entertain and
educate her son, Anna seems to have struck on the genius and imagination her son possessed. Anna consistently encouraged Frank to achieve great things in the field of Architecture (Gill, 58).
In 1885, Frank quit high school and entered the University of Wisconsin at Madison (as a special student). He studied civil engineering because the school did not offer any courses in architecture. No longer working in the fields, Frank worked for the dean of engineering in order to supplement the family income but he was not enthused with his situation and dreamed of going to Chicago (Gill, 74). After two years at the University, Frank left and moved to Chicago.
In Chicago, Frank found a job as a draftsman with the major firm headed by Louis Sullivan (Art Through the Ages, 1058 - 1060). Sullivan had a profound influence on Frank and became his mentor in architecture (Twombly, 153). With the industrial age, came a growing suburban population. The firm of Alder and Sullivan concentrated on downtown commercial buildings, whereas Frank accomplished residential contracts. His work soon expanded and he accepted contracts outside the firm. When Sullivan discovered this in 1893, he felt betrayed, accused Frank of a breach of contract, and demanded that Frank
discontinue working outside the firm. Rather than drop his night job, Frank walked out on the firm (Gill, 87-88).
Frank Lloyd Wright quickly built up a practice in residential design that eventually expanded to include commercial architecture. Through designing a prairie-style home and implementing new techniques and materials, business thrived. He created the philosophy of “organic architecture,” the central principle of which maintains that the building should develop out of its natural surroundings so that the indoors and outdoors often seemed to merge. Wright would define the word of organic as: “Originally used in architecture, organic means part-to-whole-is-to-part. Therefore, entity as integral is what is really meant by the word organic. Intrinsic” (Twombly, 347). Frank also followed the Sullivan approach to architectural philosophy, “form follows function.” “The architect should consider the purpose of a building as a starting point, not as a rigidly limiting structure” (Encarta). With this philosophy in mind, Wright designed some of the most spectacular buildings in the world. One project that gained him notoriety was the Robie House.
The Robie house was constructed in the South Side of Chicago between 1907 - 1909 and considered one of his finest architectural accomplishments. His
prairie-style home design emphasized one room flowing into another, giving the sense of spaciousness and features strong horizontal lines that create a sculptured effect. In place of traditional architecture, Wright designed low-slung, over hanging roofs, which open outwards onto terraces and merged with the landscape beyond (Great Architecture of the World, 227). Even his critics admired the way in which he made maximum use of a small site, putting the heating and other services on the ground floor and the living area on the upper floors (Chronicle of America, 565).
Wright demonstrated his organic philosophy when he produced the Kaufmann house, nicknamed “Fallingwater.” Fallingwater truly integrates the house and the landscape that blends in with the environment, harmonizing with the natural surroundings. Positioned on a steeply rocky hillside, the upper portion is encased in the slope to counterbalance the terrace that is situated out over a flowing waterfall below (Great Architecture of the World, 255). Glass walls on both stories envelop a harmonic view of the countryside. Fallingwater is probably one of Wright’s most admired works and the epitome of organic architecture.
Among Wright’s other remarkable engineering feats was the design of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, constructed to withstand earthquakes. Wright
incorporated a cantilever with the foundation floating on a bed of mud to obtain flexibility of the structure (Twombly, 215). Wright took his son John, who also demonstrated architectural ability, with him on this project. While observing the construction, his son decided it was something children could do on a smaller scale and invented Lincoln Logs (Chronicle of America, 593). The hotel, completed in 1922, combined oriental simplicity with modern world comfort. As with many of Wright’s architectural projects, he was criticized for its aesthetic design. Nevertheless, when it survived the 1923 earthquake without damage, praise was rendered.
In conjunction with his engineering talent, Wright was a pioneer in implementing new techniques. The Larkin Office Building located in Buffalo, New York not only incorporated new techniques but also exemplified Sullivan’s philosophy of form follows function. Wright used concrete blocks reinforced by steel rods that added strength to the building and made it more fire resistant. After the 1871 Chicago fire, importance was attached to fireproof construction. The Larkin building was the first of its kind to employ air conditioning, panel heating, double-glass windows, all glass doors, and metal furniture. Wright avoided the conventional box-like arrangement by building open galleries around
a four-story skylight thus introducing innovations in indirect lighting (Great Architecture of the World, 226).
For more than 70 years, and until his death in 1959, Frank Lloyd Wright continued to design fascinating structures. Both creative and daring, his engineering genius and implementation of new techniques marveled even his worse critics. He introduced the world to prairie style housing which is still used today. His mastery in organic technique not only blended into the surrounding environment but also allowed people to see and appreciate the world around them. His creativeness and boldness made him one of the most criticized and most admired architects in the world.
Daniel, Clifton, “Innovative Wright builds the Robie House,” Chronicle of
America, New York, Chronicle Publications, 565, 593.
Gill, Brendan, Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright, G.P. Putnam’s
Sons. New York, 1987, 57 - 58, 74, 87 - 88.
Hirsh, E.D., Jr., The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Mass., Houghton Miffin
Co., 1988, 189.
Keith’s Homepage, Photograph of Fallingwater, Cover, Internet Resource,
Kleiner, Fred S., Mamiya, Christin J., Tansey, Richard G., “The Triumph of
Modernist Art: The Early Twentieth Century.” Art Through the Ages Vol. II,
Texas, Harcourt College Publishers, 2000, 1058 -1060.
Sir Richards, James, “New Beginnings,” “Some Twentieth Century
Architectural Developments,” Great Architecture of the World, Da Capo Press,
New York, 1991, 219, 226 -227, 255.
Sullivan, Louis Henri, Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, Internet Site,
Taliesin Preservation Commission, Inc., Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation,
“Frank Lloyd Wright,” Life Time Line, Internet Resource,
Twombly, Robert C., Frank Lloyd Wright: His Life and His Architecture, New
York, John Wiley & Son Inc., 1979, 16 - 18, 153, 215, 347.
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