Frank Lloyd Wright Biography and Profile, American Architect, American Interior Designer
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Frank Lloyd Wright Biography

Bio Synopsis

Frank Lloyd Wright, American architect, born June 8, 1867, in Richland Center, Wisconsin. Frank Lloyd Wright, widely considered the greatest architect of the 20th century and the greatest American architect of all time. With seemingly superhuman energy and persistence, Wright designed more than 1,100 buildings during his lifetime, nearly one-third of which came during his last decade. Here’s Frank Lloyd Wright Biography and Profile. Read more

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Frank Lloyd Wright Early Life

Frank Lloyd Wright, born June 8, 1867, in Richland Center, Wisconsin, the son of William Carey Wright, a preacher and a musician, and Anna Lloyd Jones, a teacher whose large Welsh family had settled the valley area near Spring Green, Wisconsin. When he was young, his father traveled from one ministry position to another in Rhode Island, Iowa, and Massachusetts, before settling in Madison, Wis., in 1878. His mother, Anna Lloyd Jones, was a teacher from a large Welsh family who had settled in Spring Green, Wisconsin, where Wright later built his famous home, Taliesin. His father, William Carey Wright, was a preacher and a musician. Wright’s family moved frequently during his early years, living in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Iowa before settling in Madison, Wisconsin, when Wright was 12 years old. He spent his summers with his mother’s family in Spring Green, falling in love with the Wisconsin landscape he explored as a boy.

“The modeling of the hills, the weaving and fabric that clings to them, the look of it all in tender green or covered with snow or in full glow of summer that bursts into the glorious blaze of autumn,” he later reminisced. “I still feel myself as much a part of it as the trees and birds and bees are, and the red barns.”

Frank Lloyd Wright’s parents divorced in 1885, making already challenging financial circumstances even more challenging. To help support the family, 18-year-old Frank Lloyd Wright worked for the dean of the University of Wisconsin’s department of engineering while also studying at the university. But, he knew he wanted to be an architect. In 1887, he left Madison for Chicago, where he found work with two different firms before being hired by the prestigious partnership of Adler and Sullivan, working directly under Louis Sullivan for six years.

Over the course of his 70-year career, Wright became one of the most prolific, unorthodox and controversial masters of 20th-century architecture, creating no less than twelve of the Architectural Record’s hundred most important buildings of the century. Realizing the first truly American architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses, offices, churches, schools, skyscrapers, hotels and museums stand as testament to someone whose unwavering belief in his own convictions changed both his profession and his country.

“The making of a good building, the harmonious building, one adapted to its purposes and to life, [is] a blessing to life and a gracious element added to life, is a great moral performance.” – Frank Lloyd Wright.

Frank Lloyd Wright Biography and Profile

Frank Lincoln Wright is born on June 8 1867, in Richland Center, Wis., to William Carey Wright (1825-1904), an itinerant music teacher, composer, and Baptist minister, and Anna Lloyd Jones (1838-1923), a school teacher. Following his parents’ divorce in 1885, Frank changed his middle name to Lloyd to honor his mother’s family.

Frank Lloyd Wright was an American architect, interior designer, writer, and educator, whose creative period spanned more than 70 years, designing more than 1,000 structures, of which 532 were completed. Frank Lloyd Wright, born June 8, 1867, in Richland Center, Wisconsin, the son of William Carey Wright, a preacher and a musician, and Anna Lloyd Jones, a teacher whose large Welsh family had settled the valley area near Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Wright began an apprenticeship with the Chicago architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan, working directly under Louis Sullivan, the great American architect best known as “the father of skyscrapers.” Sullivan, who rejected ornate European styles in favor of a cleaner aesthetic summed up by his maxim “form follows function,” had a profound influence on Wright, who would eventually carry Sullivan’s dream of defining a uniquely American style of architecture to completion. Wright worked for Sullivan until 1893, when he breached their contract by accepting private commissions to design homes and the two parted ways.

In 1889, a year after he began working for Louis Sullivan, the 22-year-old Wright married a 19-year-old woman named Catherine Tobin, and they eventually had six children together. Their home in the Oak Park suburb of Chicago, now known as the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio, is considered his first architectural masterpiece. It was there that Wright established his own architectural practice upon leaving Adler and Sullivan in 1893. That same year, he designed the Winslow House in River Forest, which with its horizontal emphasis and expansive, open interior spaces is the first example of Wright’s revolutionary style, later dubbed “organic architecture.”

Frank Lloyd Wright Education

In 1885, the year Wright graduated from high school in Madison. That year, Frank Lloyd Wright enrolled as a special student in engineering at the University of Wisconsin, studying under civil engineer Allan Darst Conover (1854-1929) for two semesters. To pay his tuition and help support his family, he worked for the dean of the engineering department and assisted the acclaimed architect Joseph Silsbee with the construction of the Unity Chapel. The experience convinced Wright that he wanted to become an architect, and in 1887 he dropped out of school to go to work for Silsbee in Chicago.

Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture

Anna Wright visits the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and returns home with Froebel Gifts, a series of innovative educational toys developed by German educator Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel. The system of guided instructional play formed the basis of “kindergarten” and included geometrically shaped blocks, tiles, spheres, and grids. Frank Lloyd Wright would write fondly of the gifts in his autobiography and later scholars have drawn connections between Froebel Gifts and his architectural designs.

Wright always aspired to provide his client with environments that were not only functional but also “eloquent and humane.” Perhaps uniquely among the great architects, Wright pursued an architecture for everyman rather than every man for one architecture through the careful use of standardization to achieve accessible tailoring options to for his clients.

Believing that architecture could be genuinely transformative, Wright devoted his life to creating a total aesthetic that would enhance society’s well being. “Above all integrity,” he would say: “buildings like people must first be sincere, must be true.” Architecture was not just about buildings, but about nourishing the lives of those within them.

Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin

Taliesin is the home, studio, school, and 800-acre agricultural estate of Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright built Taliesin on his favorite boyhood hill in the Wisconsin River valley homesteaded by his Welsh grandparents and named it Taliesin in honor of the Welsh bard whose name means “Shining Brow.” The Taliesin estate was his laboratory of organic architecture, with designs from nearly every decade of Wright’s life. The Taliesin residence, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the heart of these buildings that Wright designed and modified from 1897 to 1959, including the Romeo & Juliet Windmill, Hillside School, Tan-y-Deri, Midway Barn, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. These are among the reasons Taliesin is often described as Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography in wood and stone.

Since 1990, Taliesin Preservation has served as steward of Taliesin in a collaborative agreement with its owner, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The dual mission of Taliesin Preservation is to preserve the cultural, built and natural environments that comprise the Taliesin property and to conduct public educational and cultural programming that provides a greater understanding of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and ideas.

“It is an immense honor to have Frank Lloyd Wright’s work recognized on the world stage among the most vital and important cultural sites on Earth like Taj Mahal in India, the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt and the Statue of Liberty in New York,” said Stuart Graff, president and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. “To have this unique American legacy placed alongside these precious few sites around the globe is meaningful because it recognizes the profound influence of this American architect and his impact on the whole world. This designation is a great source of national pride, and while eight buildings are included in the inscription, it recognizes the importance of Wright’s work, embodied in every one of his buildings and designs. These sites are not simply World Heritage monuments because they are beautiful. It’s so much more than that. These are places of profound influence, inspiration, and connection.”

Taliesin was Frank Lloyd Wright’s Estate in the hills of Wisconsin
Taliesin was Frank Lloyd Wright’s Estate in the hills of Wisconsin

Frank Lloyd Wright Style

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 emphasize the horizontal line of the prairie and domesticity— Wright established the first truly American architecture. In a Prairie house, “the essential nature of the box could be eliminated,” Wright explained. Interior walls were minimized to emphasize 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.”

Most fashionable Americans still wanted their buildings—like themselves—dressed in European styles. To Wright, who believed that architecture was “the mother of all the arts,” this was unacceptable. Wright loved his country—its landscape, its people, its democratic ideals—and felt that the country desperately needed an architecture to reflect and celebrate its unique character: a truly American architecture. Wright would remain passionately devoted to this cause throughout his life.

Long before our modern emphasis on constant communication, Wright recognized that structure and space could themselves be powerful tools with which to create and convey cultural values. As such, he created dramatic new forms to promote his vision of America; a country of citizens harmoniously connected, both to one another and to the land. The primacy that his residential architecture gave to the hearth, the dining table, the music rooms, and the terrace, underscores this. His celebration of the human scale, his emphasis on creating a total environment, and the warmth that pervades all of Wright’s spaces, from the monumental to the miniscule, would warrant him a seat at any contemporary discussion panel on ‘placemaking.’ Furthermore, his approach to creating an architecture that appeared naturally linked to its surroundings, both in form and material, presaged many of today’s sustainability concerns. While American society may have changed markedly since the early 1900s, the underlying beliefs that Wright worked to uphold remain remarkably pertinent.

Though values may be timeless, their vehicles must change. The passage of a century and the advent of minimalism and computer-calculated shapes have dimmed the radical edge of Wright’s work. This would not worry Wright; a man whose underlying thesis—that technology could and should be embraced as a powerful tool for a wide variety of creative and stylistic expression—has obvious parallels with contemporary explorations of digitally generated architectural forms. Wright embraced change, forever pushing the conceptual and technological frontiers of his field. Though he went to great lengths to make his buildings conform to his vision, he was not afraid to test his materials to the brink of failure. His continual over-reaching—with its sporadic structural shortcomings—reveals that, for Wright, the perfection of his buildings was secondary to their communication of an idea that would persist in “the mind’s eye of all the world.”

Like Wright, we find ourselves at a moment of technological development that will have significant effects on architectural form. We have the parallel sense that the world will never be the same. As with the machine age, the impact of the digital age will continue to be felt in architecture’s process, material, and appearance. Are we to use these technologies as simply a new set of tools with which to better achieve familiar forms, or are they the basis for an entirely new aesthetic? “As for the future—“ Wright prophesied, “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.” As we stride into a new millennium, and grapple with architecture’s responsibility to embrace the tools and embody the values of our time and place, we must acknowledge that in all of this, Wright walked before us.

“Modern Architecture: International Exhibition”

Wright publishes “An Autobiography.” The anecdotal, poorly edited and not entirely accurate autobiography is nonetheless a dramatic account of Wright’s life story and a compelling argument for organic architecture. A number of early Taliesin apprentices, including Edgar Kaufmann, jr., were persuaded by the book to study with Wright.

Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship is established in Spring Green, Wis. with thirty-five apprentices and assistants. His plan, orchestrated with Olgivanna Wright, was to take on apprentices in a communal architecture, arts and spiritual community while charging them a rather considerable $550 for tuition. Despite the critics, Wright was able to attract a skilled cadre of young architects and artists, some of whom became longstanding associates. Within a few years, his practice went through one of the most remarkable resurgences in architectural history, in which Fallingwater was a key project. Department of Architecture established at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), naming Philip Johnson chairman.

“Modern Architecture: International Exhibition” shown at MoMA, alters the way Americans perceive architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright Houses

“There is no architecture without a philosophy. There is no art of any kind without its own philosophy.” – Frank Lloyd Wright, 1959.

Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water

From before Fallingwater was designed to when it was opened to the public for tours, there is a deep and rich history of the people, design, construction and relevance of Fallingwater. Since its public debut 82 years ago, more than five million visitors have toured and experienced Fallingwater. But not many people know that the story of Fallingwater is more than 100 years in the making. Learn more about the chronology of events that resulted in Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater.

Fallingwater is Wright’s crowning achievement in organic architecture and the American Institute of Architects’ “best all-time work of American architecture.” Its owners, Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann, were a prominent Pittsburgh couple, reputed for their distinctive sense of style and taste. They met Wright in 1934, when their son, Edgar Jr. spent six months in the Taliesin Fellowship. Knowing that Wright shared their love of nature, they commissioned him to build a summer home for the family’s weekend retreat in Bear Run, PA. Wright recognized that his clients wanted something that would celebrate the landscape of their favorite country hideaway in an innovative way. Determined to build over the stream that punctuated the property, Wright remarked that rather than simply look out at it, he wanted the Kaufmanns “to live with the waterfall…as an integral part of [their] lives.”

In Fallingwater, Wright anchored a series of reinforced concrete “trays” to the natural rock. Cantilevered terraces of local sandstone blend harmoniously with the rock formations, appearing to float above the stream below. The first floor entry, living room and dining room merge to create one continuous space, while a hatch door in the living room opens to a suspended stairway that descends to the stream below. Glass walls further open the rooms to the surrounding landscape. In 1938, Wright designed additional guest quarters set into the hillside directly above the main house and linked by a covered walkway. Fallingwater remained the family’s beloved weekend home for 26 years. In 1963 the Kaufmanns donated the property to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, together with 1,543 acres of surrounding land. It opened its door as a museum in 1964 and has since hosted more than five million visitors.

“Great architecture, like any great art, ultimately takes you somewhere that words cannot take you at all. Fallingwater does that the way Chartres Cathedral does that. There’s some experience that gets you in your gut and you just feel it, and you can’t quite even say it. My whole life is dealing with architecture and words, and at the end of the day, there is something that I can’t entirely say when it comes to what Fallingwater feels like.” — Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic.

Frank Lloyd Wright 'Falling Water'
Frank Lloyd Wright ‘Falling Water’

Frank Lloyd Wright Works

In the late 1930s, Wright constructed about 60 middle-income homes known as “Usonian Houses.” The aesthetic precursor to the modern “ranch house,” these sparse yet elegant houses employed several revolutionary design features such as solar heating, natural cooling and carports for automobile storage.

During his later years, Wright also turned increasingly to designing public buildings in addition to private homes. He designed the famous SC Johnson Wax Administration Building that opened in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1939. In 1938, Wright put forth a stunning design for the Monona Terrace civic center overlooking Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, but was unable to move forward with construction after failing to secure public funding.

In 1943, Wright began a project that consumed the last 16 years of his life — designing the Guggenheim Museum of modern and contemporary art in New York City. “For the first time art will be seen as if through an open window, and, of all places, in New York. It astounds me,” Wright said upon receiving the commission. An enormous white cylindrical building spiraling upward into a Plexiglass dome, the museum consists of a single gallery along a ramp that coils up from the ground floor. While Lloyd’s design was highly controversial at the time, it is now revered as one of New York City’s finest buildings.

Frank Lloyd Wright Quick Facts

  • In his autobiography, Wright discusses how his mother prophesied his future as an architect, decorating his nursery with buildings to encourage this development. She also famously purchased her son a Froebel Gifts block set, and used it heavily in his early childhood education.
  • First connected when Cheney and her husband Edwin commissioned Wright to build their Oak Park, Illinois, home in 1903, the amorous couple abandoned their spouses, children, and lives (and Wright his practice) in 1909 to spend a year together in Europe before relocating to Taliesin in 1911. This elopement would estrange Wright from several of his children for decades to come.
  • While Wright was away on business in Chicago, in 1914, a disgruntled servant at Taliesin set the structure’s living quarters on fire before murdering seven of the home’s residents, including Wright’s then-partner, Mamah Borthwick Cheney.
  • Wright was famous for his disdain for other architects, and refused to join the AIA. Even so, the organization awarded the architect its gold medal in 1949.
  • Though his divorce with second wife Miriam Noel was not yet final, Wright fled to Taliesin in 1926 with Olgivanna Lazovich Hinzenburg, whom he had met at a Russian ballet in Chicago. The charges would later be dropped, and the pair would be formally married in 1928.
  • According to Wright biographer David Hanks, the architect designed dresses for his wife Olgivanna and female clients, though little documentation exists around the designs.
  • The Austrian-American Neutra spent a brief stint at Wright’s practice with his friend, architect Rudolph Schindler, before ascending to modernist fame himself.
  • Until his death in 1959, Wright managed a prosperous business dealing Japanese block prints. It’s been said that at times during his career, Wright earned more from this operation than his architectural practice.
  • Wright’s second eldest son, John Lloyd, followed in his father’s footsteps to a career in architecture, inventing the still-prolific Lincoln Logs in 1916.
  • Wright is said to have owned more than 50 cars in his adult life, a staggering number considering he was born two decades before the invention of the automobile. His love of cars informed the ramped design of his final project, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Parents

His mother, Anna Lloyd Jones, was a teacher from a large Welsh family who had settled in Spring Green, Wisconsin, where Wright later built his famous home, Taliesin. His father, William Carey Wright, was a preacher and a musician.

Frank Lloyd Wright Spouse

Catherine Lee Tobin ‘Kitty’

Catherine Lee Tobin was Wright’s first wife. Nicknamed Kitty. In 1909, after 20 years of marriage, Wright suddenly abandoned his wife, six children and practice and moved to Germany with a woman named Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of a client.

Mamah Borthwick Cheney, Frank Lloyd Wright’s mistress
Mamah Borthwick Cheney, Frank Lloyd Wright’s mistress

Working with the acclaimed publisher Ernst Wasmuth, Wright put together two portfolios of his work while in Germany that further raised his international profile as one of the top living architects.

Miriam Noel

Returning to the United States, he married a sculptor named Miriam Noel in 1923; they stayed together for four years before divorcing in 1927. In 1925 another fire, this one caused by an electrical problem, destroyed Taliesin, forcing him to rebuild it once again.

In 1928, Wright married his third wife, Olga (Olgivanna) Ivanovna Lazovich — who also went by the name Olga Lazovich Milanov, after her famous grandfather Marko.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Death

Frank Lloyd Wright passed away on April 9, 1959, at age 91, six months before the Guggenheim opened its doors.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Legacy

Frank Lloyd Wright was a modern architect who developed an organic and distinctly American style. He designed numerous iconic buildings such as Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum. Frank Lloyd Wright, widely considered the greatest architect of the 20th century and the greatest American architect of all time, he perfected a distinctly American style of architecture that emphasized simplicity and natural beauty in contrast to the elaborate and ornate architecture that had prevailed in Europe. With seemingly superhuman energy and persistence, Wright designed more than 1,100 buildings during his lifetime, nearly one-third of which came during his last decade.

The historian Robert Twombly wrote of Wright:

“His surge of creativity after two decades of frustration was one of the most dramatic resuscitations in American art history, made more impressive by the fact that Wright was seventy years old in 1937.” Wright lives on through the beautiful buildings he designed, as well as through the powerful and enduring idea that guided all of his work — that buildings should serve to honor and enhance the natural beauty surrounding them. “I would like to have a free architecture,” Wright wrote. “Architecture that belonged where you see it standing — and is a grace to the landscape instead of a disgrace.”

The famed architect continued to make news even after his passing. In 1992, Wisconsin finally approved funding for Wright’s planned structure on the shore of Lake Monona in Madison, and the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center was completed in 1997, nearly 60 years after Wright delivered his designs.

Frank Lloyd Wright Biography and Profile

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