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Frank Lloyd Wright 1857 - 1959

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright
Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright

There are many notable architects that have shaped and led the way our buildings look and feel today through philosophy, concepts, use of new materials, breaking with tradition and challenging the established form of building design and construction.

One name stands out amongst these individuals. Frank Lloyd Wright. His drive and passion for what he did in his career and his influence in building design can be seen all over the world today. It can be safe to say his design process involved a complete creation not of just the walls floors and ceiling, but through designing and creating the building from the inside out, designing furniture specifically for each room, all the fixtures and fittings so that the entire form, vision and mood of the building was realized as one unit.

Most important of all, the buildings location drove the design process so that its form was influenced by its location and vice versa. This became known as Organic Architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wrights experience and formative years are rooted in Chicago in the 1890's He worked for Louis Sullivan from 1888 - 93 in his 20s, a period of extreme growth and expansion in the construction industry. The great fire of Chicago in 1871 created a fantastic opportunity for architecture and building firms to rebuild the city using new techniques, allowing for new building forms and new possibilities. The use of steel became more prevalent, shifting from Iron which was more heavy and expensive. this allowed column frame construction giving the ability for a building to grow upwards. Hydraulic Elevators combined with upwards construction allowing for new heights in building size.

However, Frank Lloyd Wright did not conform to this type of building and with any passion led architect, he had his own desire and will to create his own style. while he was working for Sullivan, he was designing bootleg houses, those buildings that were infringing on his contract with Adler and Sullivan Architects. Apparently Sullivan recognized one of Wrights buildings in suburban Chicago which led to Wright being sacked for infringement of contract.

One of Frank Lloyd Wrights Bootleg Buildings in Chicago
One of Wrights Bootleg Buildings that Louis Sullivan recognized in suburban Chicago

After leaving Chicago, he set up his own practice and began designing a series of houses through the 1900s. They became known as the Prairie Style, there were specific characteristics to these homes :-

Open Plan with a central chimney core

Bands of windows letting in plenty of natural light

Low sloped roofs


Asymmetrical Design - creating a sense of motion

Frank Lloyd Wright was also of the 20th Century Movement of decenturing interior building design, meaning for many years Man would be placed centre stage in a building design, an example of which would be the Villa Rotunda, built in 1567. Wrights building plans + many others had the Chimney Brest at the centre of the home or offset from the middle, displacing the family unit of Mother Father and Children. This encompassed the American dream of individuality and the 20th Century being open to new ideas.

Structural Techniques

Unity Temple - Frank Lloyd Wright
Unity Temple - Photo Copyright Andrew Pielage

Frank Lloyd Wright was interested in different building techniques, His Unity Temple Design, built in 1905-08, was a building that had never been seen before for two notable reasons, First, Wright had never designed a religious building before so this was a new venture for him, and the type of construction was also a new concept. Slip form concrete walls was a technique where a single piece of concrete pouring from base to the top could be created without any fragmentation or blocks used, creating a smooth, complete, textured concrete wall, which was very strong. It is considered amongst many architects to be one of the first modern buildings of the 2oth Century

Interior of Unity Temple - Frank Lloyd Wright
Interior of Unity Temple

Wright during this time began to demonstrate a type of interior spacial awareness that showed as a pattern in his major works many times, the use of a major space, with a smaller space connected together with an entrance in between the two spaces

Unity Temple - a distinctive Frank Lloyd Wright Floorplan
Unity Temple - a distinctive Wright Floorplan with a major and minor space and centralized entrance

Notable Works

During his Career, Frank Lloyd Wright designed over 1000 buildings, over 500 of these were constructed . One of his most famous and notable works was a family home built for Liliane and Edgar J. Kaufmann, owners of a successful department store in Pittsburgh.

Falling Water - Frank Lloyd Wright
Falling Water - Photo Copyright Andrew Pielage

Falling water even though it was conceived and built in 1935 looks like a modern 21st Century House, the reason being its architectural style and impact has influenced architects through the 20th and 21st Century.

Its predominant feature is its predisposing design ethic being of a building that works in harmony with its surroundings, the real definition of organic architecture. It was placed on top of a water fall, with a new interpretation of what the inside and outside of a house is.

Interior detail of Falling Water - Frank Lloyd Wright
The line between inside and outside space is blurred by unframed windows
Window Detail in the interior of Falling Water - Frank Lloyd Wright
Corner windows open outwards leaving total space to invite nature into the interior spaces

Wrights visits to Japan and appreciation of Japanese architecture can be seen though the buildings use of interpenetrating interior and exterior spaces that flow throughout.

Alfred Hitchcock immortalized the buildings style in the use of a fictional building in the film North by Northwest, echos of this can be seen below in the blueprints for the fictitious house

Fictitious rendering of house for North by Northwest
Concept Drawing for the fictitious Van Damme house in the film North by Nothwest

One of Wrights last and most prominent buildings is the Guggenheim Museum in New York, built in 1957, It was a building that was deliberately anti New York in its shape and form, Wright disliked the architecture of New York, he felt its predominant purpose was to build floorspace for power and greed, he could not see any idea or overall plan for the city that caused him not to understand the City at all.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum - Frank Lloyd Wright
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum - A total departure from conventional building design in NYC

The buildings uniqueness lies in its interactive flow for the visitor, it has a ramp that is coiled in a flowing curve that ascends upwards for 1/4 of a mile. This makes the Guggenheim a unique art space as it allows the visitor to see art works in an ordered presentation with plenty of space on the ramp to appreciate the art, the visitor can appreciate art that has been before and can see what they will see further up.

Interior Space of the Guggenheim Museum - Frank Lloyd Wright
Internal flow for the visitor along wide ramps


Later in his life, Frank Lloyd Wright received a number of awards and recognition's : -

Gold Medal Award - Royal Institute of British Architects - 1941

AIA Gold Medal - American Institute of Architects - 1949

Frank P Brown Medal - Franklyn Institute - 1953

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