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Frank Lloyd Wright was born on June 8, 1867, to William Carey Wright and Anna Lloyd Jones, in Richland Center, Wisconsin. His father, William, was a musician and preacher and his mother, Anna, was a teacher who had a large Welsh family that settled the valley area around Spring Green, Wisconsin. He spent a lot of time on the move as a child due to his father moving from place to place taking up ministry positions in locales such as Iowa, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, before finally settling down in Madison, Wisconsin in 1878.
In 1885, Wright’s parents divorced, which made an already difficult financial situation turn even direr. In order to help support his family, a then 18 year old Frank Lloyd Wright began working for the Dean of the department of engineering at the University of Wisconsin while he took up studies there. Even then, though, he knew he wanted to become an architect. He eventually moved from Madison to Chicago IL in 1887, where he took up work with two separate firms before landing a job at the prestigious partnership of Adler and Sullivan. He ended up working under Louis Sullivan directly for six years.
Early Work of Frank Lloyd Wright:
Frank Lloyd Wright married Catherine Lee Tobin in 1889, at the ripe old age of 22. He was excited to build his own home and so he arranged a five year contract with Sullivan in trade for a loan to pay for it. He ended up buying a wooded corner lot in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb and built his first house.
The house was modest, resembling that of the East Coast shingle style and featuring a prominent roof gable. In order to better accommodate the growing family of six he had produced, he added on a studio and playroom where was able to experiment with geometric volumes and shapes. These experiments reflected the ingenuity of his later works.
Often looked back upon by his children as a lively house, their home was filled with all sorts of beautiful things Wright had a hard time going without.
Frank Lloyd Wright Breaks Off On His Own:
It was not too long before growing expenses pushed him into agreeing to independent residential design commissions. When Sullivan became aware of these commissions in 1893, he charged Wright with breach of contract, even though he had been doing them on his own time.
Whether he was fired or quit, it is uncertain, but his leaving was damaging, and it created a rift between the two that wasn’t mended for nearly 20 years. Wright’s leaving presented him with the great opportunity he needed in order to branch out on his own. He opened up his own office and started on his journey to design homes that he thought would fit perfectly on the American prairie.
Compared to his later works, his first independent commission was quite conservative. Featuring simple elegance, and a broad sheltering roof, the William H. Winslow House attracted a lot of attention among the locals. Wright was determined to create an original American architectural style and so over the following sixteen years, he set the standard for what would later be known as the Prairie Style.
In order to mirror the long, low horizontal prairie from which they were perched, his Prairie Style houses featured deep overhangs, low-pitched roofs, no basements or attics, and long rows of casement windows that further accentuated the horizontal theme he was going for.
During this time, his most important residential designs were the Avery Coonley House in Riverside, Illinois (1907), the Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago (1908), and the Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo, New York (1903). Some of the important commissions he did for the public included the Unity Temple in Oak Park (1905) and the Larkin Company Administration Building in Buffalo (1903).
Due to emotional restlessness and creative exhaustion, Wright left his family for an extended stay in Europe in 1909. He stayed with Mamah Borthwick, a client who had fallen in love with him several years prior. Wright had hoped that this time away would free him from the discontent and weariness that had presided over both his family and professional life.
During his time in Europe, Wright was able to work on two separate publications of his works, one of photographs, titled Ausgeführte Bauten, and one of drawings, titled Wasmuth Portfolio, Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright. Both were published by Ernst Wasmuth and released in the year 1911. Through these publications he was able to garner international recognition for his work and went on to greatly influence future architects and designers.
Though unwelcome in Chicago social circles, Wright and Mamah returned to the states in that same year and he began construction of their refuge and home, Taliesin, near Spring Green. It was there that Wright resumed his architectural practice and continued working on two more important public commissions over the next few years: One being an entertainment center in Chicago called Midway Gardens in 1913; and another for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan, later on in 1916.
Wright’s life with Mamah was sadly put to an end in August 1914 when an angry Taliesin domestic employee attacked and set fire to Mamah and her two children. Four others were also killed during the attack. Devastated both spiritually and emotionally by the tragedy, Wright’s only source of peace was found in his work.
In Mamah’s memory, he began rebuilding Taliesin. Once complete, he pretty much abandoned it for a decade as he chased large contracts in Tokyo with the Imperial Hotel, which would later in 1968 be demolished, and in Los Angeles with the Hollyhock House and Olive Hill for Aline Barnsdall, an oil heiress.
During the span of his 70-year career in architecture, Wright became known as one of the most controversial, unorthodox, and prolific masters of 20th century architecture. He created twelve of the Architectural Record’s one hundred most important buildings of the century.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses, churches, schools, offices, skyscrapers, museums, and hotels stand to show someone an individual whose belief in themselves changed both his country and profession. He created the first true American architecture.
Impact of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work:
Wright started his work when the USA was having a hard time defining it’s identity architecturally. Most well-to-do Americans wanted their buildings modeled in European styles, much like themselves. Wright believed that architecture was “the mother of all the arts”, and saw this wanting as something he could not accept.
Wright truly loved his country, including its people, democratic ideals and it’s landscape, and felt that it was in desperate need of an architectural style that would truly celebrate and show it’s singular character; an original American architecture. Throughout Wrights lifetime, he remained devoted passionately to this cause.
Wright saw that space and structure could be used as powerful tools to convey and create cultural values, long before an emphasis was placed on constant communication, as it in modern times. As a result, he made amazing new shapes to further his vision of America; a country where it’s populous was connected harmoniously to both the land and each other.
The importance that his residential architecture assigned to the dining room table, the music room, the terrace, and the hearth emphasize this. Though his emphasis on creating an environment in totality, his celebration of the human scale, and the genuine warmth that presides through all of his spaces, from the minuscule to the monumental, he is warranted a place at any modern discussion panel on ‘place making.’
Foreshadowing the sustainability concerns of modern time’s, his way of creating an architecture that, both in materials and form, appeared to be linked naturally to its surroundings. Though the society of America may have changed a lot since the early 1900’s, his underlying beliefs that he worked so hard to uphold remain incredibly relevant.
Although values may be timeless, their conveyance can change. With the introduction of minimalism and computer-calculated shapes, the impressive styling of Wright’s work have dulled during the past century. Wright would not falter at this realization though; an individual who’s latent thesis- that technology should be celebrated as a great tool for a large variety of stylistic and creative expressions- has many similarities with modern explorations of architectural forms generated digitally. Always pushing the technological and conceptual frontiers of the architectural field, Wright celebrated change.
Wright took great strides to create his buildings with a confirmation of his vision but was not afraid to test his materials to the near brink of failure. He over reached frequently, which sometimes resulted in structural mishaps. But it goes to show that for Wright, communication of an idea that would exist in “the mind’s eye of all the world” was paramount, and the technical perfection of his buildings was secondary.
During these modern times, one finds themselves at a turning point where technological developments will again have monumental effects on the architecture form, much like Wright back in his day. It may be sensed that the world will never be quite the same.
The digital age’s impact will go on to be felt in architecture’s materials, appears, and process, similarly to the machine age. Should one utilize these new technologies as only a means with which one can better create familiar forms, or could they be used to fashion a new aesthetic entirely?
“As for the future, the work shall grow more truly simple, more expressive with fewer lines, fewer forms; more articulate with less labor; more plastic; more fluent, although more coherent; more organic.”
Moving forth into a new century, fighting with architecture’s responsibility to utilize the tools and personify the values of modern time, one must admit that despite all of this, Wright paved the way.