Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959) Frank Lloyd Wright’s life spans two important periods: from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, the eras before and after World War I and the period between the wars and after World War II. As a person, he embodied some of the most characteristic attitudes of his age. He had a supreme confidence in the future and a romantic yearning for the pre-industrial past. He had the very American attitude of a deep interest in flux and flow, expanding energies, and dynamism coupled with a search for unifying principles and organic coherence. These ideas are related to his interest in continuous space brought together into unifying shapes.
In an article in Architectural Forum (May 1953, p.106) entitled “The Language of Organic Architecture,” Wright made the following statement: Space. The continual becoming: invisible fountain from which all rhythms flow and to which they must pass. Beyond time or infinity. Prominent images in Wright’s writings and language are terms such as “continuous becoming,” with allusions to rivers, seas, and the American prairie. It relates to 19th-century thinking about historical and biological evolution, the geology of the earth in process.
But within the continuous becoming emerges a giant individualism characterized by arrogance, loneliness, and mobility--qualities that typify American culture in myriad ways.
For Wright, the final polarity was nature and civilization. This polarity was related to the opposition between confidence in science and the search or yearning for a primordial past, natural laws, instinctive order Wright loved the land, not just as a setting or foil against which to play out a scenario but as itself an expression of intrinsic natural evolution and organic principles. He always sought an intrinsic relationship between his architecture and its natural setting. This is not so difficult if you live your entire life in one landscape setting. Yet, Wright built all over North America in the most diverse locations. The principle he used was the intention to echo natural form in abstract shapes and rhythms.
Wright was born in either 1867 or 1869--he never admitted the correct date. The Civil War had ended. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman were still alive and contributing to American culture.
Wright was born on a farm near Madison, Wisconsin, and reared as a country boy with a rural arrogance (“Defend the rural areas of Wisconsin against the ‘Slickers’!”). His father was a Unitarian circuit preacher and musician. His mother was a Welsh woman of strong will and heavy influence. Wright’s father disappeared when Frank was 12 years old. His mother aimed to make her son into an architect. She hung pictures of Salisbury Cathedral in his nursery and bought Froebel blocks for him to play with. These blocks were his introduction to Euclidean geometry.
Country school and manual labor instilled conservative principles and a value for work in Wright’s mind. All this later became part of the Taliesin program at Spring Green, Wisconsin, and at Scottsdale, Arizona. The Wright family motto was “Truth Against the World.” Wright spent a year and a half in the School of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin. In 1887, he set out for Chicago “equipped with nothing but genius,” he later wrote. This was the classic story of the country boy going to the city to seek his fortune. He financed the trip by selling the mink collar his mother had sewn to his coat; and he carried a copy of Plutarch’s Lives of the Most Imminent Men.
Wright ended up in the offices of Adler and Sullivan whose career was at its zenith around the 1890s. He offered himself to Sullivan as a draftsman and as a “sympathetic though critical listener.” Wright recognized Sullivan’s romanticism and his talent. Wright called Sullivan his “Lieber Meister” or “beloved master.” He always acknowledged his debt to Sullivan’s formative influence, but also under-dramatized the freedom offered by the architectural environment of the Chicago Renaissance. He also underplayed the debt he owed to Richardson.
Ward Willits House, Highland Park, IL, 1902
Wright and the Prairie House Among Wright’s notable accomplishments is the concept of the “Prairie House” and what has been termed the “prairie style.” There is no prairie to be found in Chicago or its suburbs or in Wright’s own Wisconsin. The true prairie is part of the Great Plains in Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, perhaps southern Illinois. For Wright, the prairie was the essence of the middle west, something indigenous to which the East Coast could lay no claim. The prairie represented freedom, democracy, opportunity, closeness to nature, closeness to the earth, all of life as a single great work of creation. He believe American domestic architecture should express this. There is no simple, straight-forward definition of this. The symbolism is complex.
The Robie House, Chicago, IL, 1908-9
Plan, Main Floor Plan, Lower Level
The Larkin Company Administration Building, Buffalo, NY 1904-5
Unitarian Universalist Church (Unity Temple), Oak Park, IL, 1906