Wright is considered by many to be the greatest architect of the twentieth century. During his long career, he was responsible for a great many innovations in structure, materials, and design.
Born: June 8, 1867; Richland Center, Wisconsin Died:April 9, 1959; Phoenix, Arizona Also known as:Frank Lincoln Wright (birth name) Primary field:Architecture Primary inventions: Innovative architectural design
(open planning, outdoor rooms, water features) in such signature projects as Taliesin, Fallingwater, the S. C. Johnson building, and Usonian and Prairie homes
Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin, on June 8, 1867, and given the middle name of Lincoln. Frank’s mother, Anna Lloyd Jones Wright, was a schoolteacher and the daughter of prosperous Welsh immigrants. Frank’s father, William Carey Wright, was a New Englander who became a Baptist preacher. In 1863, William’s first wife, Permelia, died in childbirth, leaving three children. Three years later, William and Anna were married.
Though William was likeable and dynamic, he was impractical; he kept accepting calls to churches that could not pay him enough to support his growing family—for Frank was soon joined by two younger sisters. After three years in Richland Center, William moved to McGregor, Iowa; Pawtucket, Rhode Island; and Weymouth, Massachusetts. In 1877, he accepted a call to a Unitarian church in Madison, Wisconsin. William’s indifference toward Anna and his children by her made her understandably hostile toward him. In 1885, William and Anna were divorced. William left Madison, and Frank never saw his father again. About this time, Frank changed his middle name to Lloyd, thus claiming his mother’s family and her Welsh heritage.
Despite the family problems, Frank had a relatively happy youth. He always had playmates and friends. Moreover, his mother, who was always certain that he would be a great architect, devoted a great deal of time to his education. She utilized the progressive ideas of the German educator Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel, who believed in balancing physical and mental activity, Building, thus expanding his knowledge of engineering. He also learned a great deal from Louis H. Sullivan, who was noted for his innovative designs. Sullivan thought so highly of Wright that he made the young man his assistant. On June 1, 1889, Wright married Catherine Lee Tobin, and they moved to a house in Oak Park that he had designed and built for her. The next year, their first child was born; five more would follow. As the family expanded, Wright built onto his home. A spacious playroom constructed in 1895 had a floor patterned with the shapes Wright remembered from his Fröbel training; its extensive use of natural light and its open plan foretold designs to come. In 1893, Wright left Sullivan and formed a partnership with his friend Cecil Corwin. Three years later, Wright became independent. He constructed a number of low, horizontal homes in and near Oak Park that became known as “Prairie houses.” In them, he eliminated interior walls as much as possible, substituting large open spaces with multiple uses; he also used porches to eliminate the break between indoors and outdoors. These ideas would reappear in his designs for larger homes and even for public buildings such as the Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, New York (1902-1906), and the Unity Temple in Oak Park (1905-1908).
However, Wright’s marriage had collapsed. In 1909, he eloped to Europe with a married woman, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. After they returned, Wright installed his mistress at Taliesin, the house at Spring Green that was to be his home, his studio, and later the location of his Fellowship. On August 14, 1914, tragedy struck. Without warning, a newly hired cook ran amok, killing seven people, including Mamah and her two children, and setting fire to the living quarters, which burned to the ground. Wright was devastated. His only salvation was his work.
Wright had already begun planning one of his most ambitious projects, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (1922). Aware of the danger of earthquakes, he designed the building in separate sections, each of which was attached to a base that floated on the mud below, and he also placed pools of water throughout the structure, thinking encouraging creativity through the use of geometric designs, and developing a reverence for nature. Though Frank attended the Second Ward Grammar School in Madison, his real education took place at home, where he could let his imagination run free, reading, painting, drawing, or just dreaming. In order to toughen him up physically, every summer from 1878 on Wright was sent to work on an uncle’s farm.
Since his father would not support Anna and her children, Frank dropped out of Madison High School in March, 1885, and began working in an architectural office. He also attended the University of Wisconsin for two semesters, but in the spring of 1887 he went to Chicago, which had become an important architectural center.
At his first job, in the drafting office of the architect J. Lyman Silsbee, Wright began to develop skill in domestic architecture. His employer’s high estimate of Wright is evident in the fact that within a year, he was making enough to bring his mother and his younger sister, Maginel Wright, to live with him in suburban Oak Park. On his own time, he built the Hillside Home School in Spring Green, Wisconsin, for two of his aunts. Wright then obtained a position with Adler and Sullivan, an architectural firm that was always on the cutting edge of design. There he worked on the massive Auditorium ferent—an office building without separate cubicles, for example, or a house with a concealed entrance. Wright could also use whatever materials he wished in whatever combination he liked. He could place something as modern as reinforced concrete in close proximity to traditional building materials like wood or stone and produce a structure that seemed at the same time as ancient as its that they could be useful in case of fire. The Imperial Hotel was one of the few buildings in Tokyo to survive the catastrophic 1923 earthquake.
During the years that followed, Wright designed and built “Usonian homes” for people of modest means; lavish private residences like Fallingwater in Bear Run, Pennsylvania (1935); and public structures such as the S. C. Johnson and Son Administration Building in Racine, Wisconsin (1936), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City (1959). At a rebuilt and expanded Taliesin, he founded the Fellowship, a system in which students, or apprentices, pursued their artistic interests while living a communal life. He later added a second campus, Taliesin II, located in the Paradise Valley near Phoenix, Arizona.
After Mamah’s death, Wright had become involved with Miriam Noel, a sculptor. However, he postponed obtaining a divorce from Catherine until 1922. His subsequent marriage to Miriam lasted only a few months. In 1928, Wright married Olgivanna Ivanova Lazovich Hinzenberg, a dancer from Montenegro. They had one daughter, Iovanna. Wright died in a Phoenix hospital on April 9, 1959, and was taken to Wisconsin to be buried in the family graveyard. However, after Olgivanna died in 1985 , Iovanna in s i s ted tha t he r mother had wanted Wright to be buried with her. His body was exhumed and cremated, and his ashes were taken to Taliesin West.
Though during his lifetime a great many architectural fashions came and went, Wright paid little attention to them. Instead, he drew his inspiration from his own inner sense of what was good and beautiful. This freedom from tradition, from fashion, and indeed from all outside influences enabled him to invent structures that were totally new and difnatural surroundings and as new as the spacecraft of the future.
Wright’s genius was also evident in the fact that he never repeated himself. Every building he designed was unique, and as decade followed decade, he was constantly pursuing new paths, while at the same time remaining true to those principles by which he had always been guided, among them his insistence on fitting a structure to its site.
Wright’s designs are responsible for much that is taken for granted today: for example, open planning, outdoor rooms, and the use of water features in homes, hotels, and convention centers. His works and the free spirit that produced them continued to influence both domestic and commercial architecture throughout his life span and into the twenty-first century.
—Rosemary M. Canfield Reisman
Hess, Alan. Frank Lloyd Wright: The Houses. New York: Rizzoli, 2005. Contributions by Kenneth Frampton, Thomas S. Hines, and Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, and photography by Alan Weintraub. Contains color photographs of all 289 houses built by Wright that are still in existence. Essays by leading Wright scholars are also included. Huxtable, Ada Louise. Frank Lloyd Wright: A Penguin
Life. New York: Lipper/Viking, 2004. This concise, up-to-date biography by a Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic would be an excellent starting point for the study of Wright. Includes suggestions for further reading. Illustrated. Meehan, Patrick J., ed. Truth Against the World: Frank
Lloyd Wright Speaks for an Organic Architecture.