Frank Lloyd Wright

U.S.A. (1867–1959)
American architect Frank Lloyd Wright played a leading role in transforming the practice of architecture early in the 20th century. Trained as an engineer at the University of Wisconsin but strongly drawn to architecture, he began his career as an architect in Chicago, working in the offices of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. At the age of 29 he set up his own practice and began work on a number of residential projects, chiefly in the Oak Park area of Chicago. These “Prairie Houses,” designed in the early 1900s, are characterized by their use of natural materials – stone, brick and wood. Their low elevations and gently sloping roofs create a strong horizontal emphasis.

Wright claimed to build “organic” architecture that seemed to grow naturally out of the surrounding landscape. He believed the internal space, furnishings and decorative details of a house to be intrinsic to its architecture. Many of his projects incorporated site-specific furniture and fittings. These unified projects were intended to possess a natural “organic” beauty that would promote the life of the human spirit. Instead of walls, furnishings were often used as spatial dividers, thereby creating more open interiors and a sense of flowing space.

Wright’s preoccupation with geometric forms and intersecting planes in his architecture led him to develop a similar style for furniture. For example, a series of metal desks and chairs designed for the Larkin Building in Buffalo, New York, were designed to be functionally and visually unified with their surroundings. They were also among the first metal items for indoor use that did not mimic wood. The chairs were made of painted steel with leather-upholstered seats and rigidly geometric backs with square perforations. In addition to furniture, Wright designed stained-glass windows, ceramics and glass, metalwork and textiles. Wright’s work became distanced from its Arts & Crafts origins as he began to explore the structural and decorative potential of industrial concrete blocks, which he used in the design of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and four houses in Los Angeles.

During the Great Depression, Wright founded a community known as the Taliesin Fellowship and published an autobiography. His career and reputation had flagged during this period, but commissions for the Johnson Wax Administration building and Fallingwater, Edgar J. Kaufmann’s residence in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, breathed new life into the charismatic architect. These projects, like his later Guggenheim Museum, built in the 1940s, incorporated reinforced concrete cantilevered construction that liberated architecture from the “Box.” All of Wright’s works express his reverence for nature and his belief in the “soul of humanity.” His influence on design and architecture in America and in Europe was, and is, profound.