Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 8 of June of 1867, in Wisconsin, USA, an agricultural state not particularly vast.
Was Frank Lloyd predestined to be an architect!?
In his autobiography, the architect says that when his mother was pregnant with him she predicted that he would create beautiful buildings as an adult.
Predestined or not, his architecture skills were very well stimulated since an early age, especially by his mother, a school teacher, that decorated his bedroom with pictures of English cathedrals. She also bought building blocks of Friedrich Fröbel, which Frank Lloyd says that he had spent a lot of time playing with them and making different multidimensional geometric combinations, which had influenced the design of several buildings constructed by him.
Certainly, his early years had some kind of impact in his future career.
Wright had to grow up quickly!
The marital stability of his parents has always been put to the test, not only by financial difficulties, but also with several residence changes. Their separation was inevitable and after 1881, the future architect would never see his father again.
At only 14 years and with a talent rather stimulated, Wright became the main financial support of his mother and his two sisters. It was in this period that he changed his middle name from Lincoln to Lloyd. Lincoln was a name he inherited from his father and Lloyd was the name he choose to honour his mothers side of the family.
The beginning of his career
Five years later, he joined the Wisconsin-Madison University as an Engineering special student, and attended two semesters of classes and made an internship in Civil Engineering. The following year he left university without concluding the course and went to Chicago, where he had many opportunities due to an enormous fire that had disfigured the city one decade earlier.
In Chicago, he joined an architecture studio, Joseph Lyman Silsbee. After one year, he exits Joseph Lyman Silsbee to be an apprentice of Louis Sullivan in Adler & Sullivan.
His marriage increased his social status
In 1889, he marries Catherine Lee Tobin, which rises his social status because she was a daughter of a wealthy businessman. In this year, he also designs his first project, a studio and a house to live with his wife in Oak Park, Illinois.
The social status of his wife would benefit Frank Lloyd Wright giving him greater prestige with repercussions in his professional career.
In the last decade of the nineteen century, he became responsible for all residential work in the company that he worked in, but he also began to accept particular jobs secretly to support additional expenses that he had. In 1893, his mentor Louis Sullivan, discovers this and fires Frank Lloyd Wright.
After being fired, he starts making his own path and creates his own architectural studio in the studio he had previously built.
The Taliesin Scandal
In 1909, he was still married with Catherine, a beautiful society girl, was father of six children, and his career as an architect was rising until he decided to ran off with the wife of Cheney, one of his clients. This was a scandal of society, so Mamah and Frank left their families and went to Europe. They spent one year abroad.
So they could go back to US, Frank Lloyd build a house in Chicago for him and his mistress, the Taliesin house. He gave the name Taliesin – after the Welsh bard.
The valley in which Taliesin lays, was originally occupied during the Civil War by the Lloyd Joneses, the maternal side of Wright`s family. During his childhood he used to go to this valley every summer after he was eleven years old.
Wright placed the house on the top of a hill, the favorite of his childhood. The house was designed with three areas that included a habitation area, an office, and farm construction. He oriented the building according to the landscape, and used Taliesin as a way to explore its Organic Architecture ideas. He used local material like the local limestone to build chimneys and stone foundations to remind an observer of the rocky outcrops of Wisconsin, and mixed the sand of the Wisconsin River with stucco on the walls to evoke the river sand banks.
In 1911, he settled with Mamah and her two children in Taliesin, which means “shining brow” in Welsh. On the 15th of September 1914 it became the scene of the biggest single incident of mass-murder in Wisconsin history. While he was away in Chicago a male servant from Barbados, Julian Carlton, set the house on fire and murdered Mamah, her two children and four workers with an axe. No one knew why this happened and this still remains a mystery because Julian Carlton never revealed why he did this.
Taliesin was rebuilt after this, but on 1925, another fire destroyed Taliesin, destroying also a collection of Japanese prints that were estimated to be worth $250,000 to $500,000. Therefore, Taliesin had to be rebuilt another time.
His future wives Miriam Noel (which he would divorce), and Olga also lived in Taliesin.
The Prairie Houses
From 1894 until 1917, the architect design would substantially be known as “Prairie House”. This term wasn’t actually used by Frank Lloyd to describe his designs it was coined by H. Allen Brooks. The Prairie Houses designation derived from the complementary that this type of houses have with the Illinois State landscapes, and the style is characterized by its horizontal and low height , clean and simple silhouettes with embedded and concealed chimneys. In addition, it also stood out because of the protrusions they had, the large terraces and the use of rustic materials; in a more structural level, this type of houses didn’t have internal walls, stimulating the functionality of the internal divisions.
His most acclaimed Prairie Houses are the Robie house in Chicago (build from 1906 to 1910) with a lowered roof, composed by thin plaques, and the Coonley house in Riverside, Illinois (build from 1907 to 1908).
Frank Lloyd Wright adopted an expression of Louis Sullivan, designating his way to work as “organic architecture”, guided by a coherent set of ideas and principles: interior space and exterior form, materials and methods, nature and environment.
The main purpose of his organic buildings was to create a harmony between the building and the landscape. As an essential premise of his work, the architect also stressed out the importance of the human scale in his projects. His houses were created to satisfy the individual needs. He also believed that the buildings influenced those who live or work there, and because of this the architect would also be a “men shaper”.
The Organic Architecture was a type of architecture that connected integrally all parties with each other as one, creating a kind of continuity and wholeness in the buildings design. On a broader and deeper sense, he said that an organic building, no matter of its construction date, should be appropriate to its time, place and occupants.
The Fallingwater constructed from 1934 to 1937, located in Pittsburgh, is one of the greatest examples of his organic architecture. This project arose from the desire of Mr. Edgar Kaufmann, a successful businessperson, to rebuild a property in a waterfall that was deteriorating. The project of Frank Lloyd Wright for Fallingwater reflects, in his drawings, a strong inspiration from the natural surroundings, the rocks, the trees and, of course, the waterfall.
The design is dominated by terraces just above the waterfall, which allow you to appreciate the mountains and trees view; the stone walls are similar to the rocks nearby and create a protected atmosphere, almost like a cave. In this house, you can hear the waterfalls, creating an environment of calm and tranquillity for its inhabitants.
What Wright did in this house, was creating an intimate relationship between its occupants and the valley, the trees, wild plants and nature in general. The main floor provides views in three directions, with terraces leading to other two: one of the terrace leading up, and the other projected on the rocks and the waterfalls. Each room in the top level has its own terrace, and the studio and the gallery room in a third level also has access to another outdoor terrace.
All vertical elements of the house were built with stones of the region, with “projections” or slightly projected stones to confer a more sculptural quality to the stone masses. This projections make the house seems bigger than it really is, and many visitors are surprised because when they visit the interior of the house they thought it would be bigger than it is. All of the horizontal elements were made in concrete. The entire ground floor were made in stone as well as the walls, and woodworks are made of walnut wood, executed with excellent quality.
The expression “Usonian” also has its origins in this North American virtuoso, being based on the necessity to emphasize the characteristics of American landscapes with the creation of spaces and buildings according to that. It was during the Great Depression, that Wright envisioned a new type of residence, known as Usonian house, a low house economic and independent. Usonian was Wright`s personnel synonymous to America.
It is also important to emphasize the environmental and functional character of Wright, which emphasizes the close relationship between the material and the natural using local materials and mechanisms to make the most of the existent natural resources.
Nevertheless, Wright’s designs presents some variants from the initial paradigm of production. The “Westcott House” (1907-08, Ohio, USA) aggregates characteristic traits of Oriental culture, especially the Japanese culture. The use of a pergola over thirty meters, which connects the garage and a deposit to the core of the house, is a detail that is only occasionally used in his works.
Another example of that is the Barnsdall house built in Los Angeles, from 1917 to 1920, which integrates ornamental motifs derived from the Mayan culture.
Wright didn`t used exclusively rectilinear shapes. He also appreciated the unusual shapes: great examples of that are the spiral used in the Soloman R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (built from 1956to 1959) which caused a lot of controversies even before its construction, and the tent-like structure of steel, glass and synthetic materials of Beth Sholom Synagogue in Philadelphia (built from 1958 to 1959).
Although, he strongly condemned the high towers of New York he also constructed the Price Tower in Bartlesville, a skyscraper from 1953 to 1956 in Oklahoma.
Johnson Wax Building
I have to confess this is my favorite building of Frank Lloyd Wright`s buildings. His apprentice Edgar Tafel describes the Johnson Wax building as the culmination of Wright`s work by comparing it to Beethoven’s 9th symphony, and I agree with him.
Frank Lloyd Wright built the headquarters for the firm of chemicals S.C. Johnson & Son in Racine, in Wisconsin, from 1936 to 1939.
What I like most in this building, like many other persons, are the “lily pad” columns. It feels like you are submerse in a pound with the light coming from above.
MoMA`s Exhibition Commemorating the 150th anniversary
MoMA is preparing an exhibition in honor of Frank Lloyd Wright, that will happen in 2017, on the occasion of the 150th architect`s birthday.
The exhibition, that is supposed to inaugurate in June, will feature about 450 works of all the architect’s career phases, including architectural drawings, models, films, etc.
So, if you happen to be in New York by then you should look in on this exhibition.
Frank died in April 10, 1959 in St. Joseph’s Hospital with 91 years old. He watched the turn of a century, had a long life and a very prolific one. He designed over a thousand structures, compiled many articles and books and added new concepts and views in Architecture. Even after his dead he still remained prolific with some of his designs coming to life, and with his influence in architecture.
This influence he had in Architecture`s theory and practice granted Frank Lloyd Wright (in 1949) the Gold Medal of the “American Institute of Architecture” for all the work he had developed and the influence, a prize he certainly deserved.
Frank undoubtedly altered the Architecture paradigm not only in North America but also in the whole world.