Frank Lloyd Wright: seven things to know about the iconic American architect

On the death anniversary of Frank Llyod Wright, STIR remembers the revolutionary modern architect for his contribution and learnings that are relevant even today.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : Apr 09, 2020

Frank Lloyd Wright, the visionary American architect of the 20th century was born on June 8, 1867 in Wisconsin, USA where he studied civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin. After his apprentice with two architecture practices for a few years, Wright started his own practice in 1893. Through the many years of his practice he was known for his thoughtful ideas and was celebrated for having connected with the people of America and the world, using architecture as a tool to change lives.

Wright focused on building homes. He experimented with new styles and redefined ideas about architecture. Wright’s philosophies established a new direction for the way modern architecture was shaping up and was recognised for coining 'organic architecture', and other new styles in building design. In 2019, a total of his eight works, titled The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, were conferred the World Heritage status by UNESCO. His most famed buildings, the Falling Water house in Pennsylvania, and the American architect until 1892 before starting his own practice. While Louis Sullivan’s approaches towards design were different from Wright’s, his work with him helped Wright shape the direction he wished to take.

Albert Sullivan House built in 1892  by Frank Lloyd Wright in collaboration with Louis Sullivan | American architect Frank Lloyd Wright | STIRworld
Albert Sullivan House built in 1892 by Frank Lloyd Wright in collaboration with Louis Sullivan Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

2. In 1910, during his time away in Europe with his second wife, Wright worked on two publications of his work. Published by Ernst Wasmuth, one was a publication of his drawings known as the Wasmuth Portfolio, Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright and the other of photographs, Ausgeführte Bauten. Both were released in 1911.

3. Wright is believed to have been an admirer of Japanese art. He was an avid collector of Japanese prints and used them as teaching mechanism with his apprentices. Wright actively promoted the Japanese art form of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, which were famous from 17th-19th century. He is known to have frequently served as both architect and an art dealer to some of his clients. It is believed that, for a time, Wright made more from selling art than from his work as an architect.

A Japanese art work: ukiyo-e woodblock print | American architect Frank Lloyd Wright  | STIRworld
A Japanese art work: ukiyo-e woodblock print Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
There is no architecture without a philosophy. There is no art of any kind without its own philosophy. – Frank Lloyd Wright, 1959

4. Wright’s work from 1899 to 1910 belongs to what became known as the ‘Prairie Style’. With the ‘Prairie house’ - a long, low, open plan structure that eschewed the typical high, straight-sided box in order to emphasise the horizontal line of the prairie and domesticity, Wright is known to have established the first truly American architecture with this style.

The Prairie house style: the Robbie house built in 1910  | Robbie House by Amercian architect Frank Lloyd Wright | STIRworld
The Prairie house style: the Robbie house built in 1910 Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
In a Prairie house, “the essential nature of the box could be eliminated,” Wright explained. Interior walls were minimised to emphasise openness and community. “The relationship of inhabitants to the outside became more intimate; landscape and building became one, more harmonious; and instead of a separate thing set up independently of landscape and site, the building with landscape and site became inevitably one.” – FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT

5. In the book, The Disappearing City published in 1932, Wright unveiled the development of Broadacre City, a city of the future. Though this vision did not materialise, Wright conceived a new type of dwelling that came to be known as the Usonian House, which was a model for independent living.

Frank Lloyd Wright, after 1932, inclined towards catering to designing and building for all and began working towards creating designs for affordable housing. Wright’s Usonian houses proposed simplified approaches to residential construction that reflected both economic realities and changing social trends.

  • The drawings of the Broadacre city  | Broadacre city by Frank Lloyd Wright  | STIRworld
    The drawings of the Broadacre City Image Credit: Courtesy of Creative Commons
  • A Usonian approach: the Gordon house, 1963  | Broadacre city by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright | STIRworld
    A Usonian approach: the Gordon house, 1963 Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
  • A Usonian approach: the Gordon house, 1963  | Gordon House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright | STIRworld
    A Usonian approach: the plan of the Gordon house, 1963 Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

6. Besides designing homes, Wright also designed furniture, rugs, fabrics, art glass, lighting, dinnerware and graphic arts. He designed textiles and wooden vases, and in 1955 launched the first commercial venture of his long and eminent career, designing a line of affordable home products for the general consumer. The designs for the fabrics and wallpapers, based on Wright’s architectural vocabulary and inspired by specific buildings, were featured in a sample book, Schumacher's Taliesin Line of Decorative Fabrics and Wallpapers Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1955). A recent exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright Textiles: The Taliesin Line, 1955–60 featured these textiles at the MET Museum (May 20, 2019–April 5, 2020).

“In organic architecture then, it is quite impossible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishings another and its setting and environment still another,” he concluded. “The spirit in which these buildings are conceived sees all these together at work as one thing."

The peacock chair, designed in about 1921 or 1922 for use in the Tokyo Imperial Hotel, is made of oak and features leatherette (plastic mimicking leather) upholstery. It is deeply influenced by Mayan and traditional Japanese elements  | Peacock chair by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright |  STIRworld
The peacock chair, designed in about 1921 or 1922 for use in the Tokyo Imperial Hotel, is made of oak and features leatherette (plastic mimicking leather) upholstery. It is deeply influenced by Mayan and traditional Japanese elements Image Credit: Courtesy of Creative Commons

7. In the wake of COVID-19, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings have been opened for virtual tours by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. Click here to see the schedule of #WrightVirtualVisits each Thursday, when a short video of the tour is shared via social media. These include virtual tours of some of Wright’s notable buildings; the Ebsworth Park, Gordon House, Taliesin West, Unity Temple, Wiley House, among others.

Frank Lloyd Wright is known to be a pioneer of modern architecture, a movement through which his work influenced American architecture and can be seen across the world till today. Insights into his work, philosophies and beliefs further establish that it takes will, vigour and talent to push the boundaries to create a legacy, in this case, even beyond the field of architecture.

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About Author

Meghna Mehta

Meghna Mehta

An architect by education and a journalist by passion, Mehta pursued a crossroad between her two interests. Having completed an M.Arch from CEPT University in Ahmedabad, she has worked in the field of architectural journalism for over 5 years. Besides content generation for STIR, she continues to teach in architectural schools in Mumbai.

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