Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Ohiopyle, Fayette County
Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright created numerous masterpieces, including Pennsylvania?s Fallingwater.
One of the most influential U.S. architects and designers of our time, Frank Lloyd Wright has designed over 1,000 projects, of which approximately 400 have been completed. Wright is remembered for his original concept of “organic architecture”, building houses in harmony with nature. Through his “organic” concept, Wright designed Fallingwater, a home built directly above a waterfall in Bear Run, Pennsylvania. Frank Lloyd Wright was recognized in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) as “the greatest American architect of all time,” and continues to influence every sphere of architecture around the world.
Eldest of three children born to William and Anna Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright was born on June 8, 1867, in the small town of Richland Center, Wisconsin. After his family settled in Madison, Wisconsin in 1879, Frank began working on his uncle’s farm in Spring Green, where he first realized his dream of becoming an architect after developing a strong passion for nature and land. Unfortunately in 1885, Frank’s father left his mother and two younger siblings, never to be heard from again.
Leaving Madison without finishing high school, Frank was admitted at the University of Wisconsin as a special student working for the Dean of the Engineering department, Allan Conover. After two semesters spent studying civil engineering, Wright left the university without acquiring a degree, yet again, in order to take advantage of Chicago’s booming opportunities available for architects after the devastating Great Chicago Fire of 1871. After a short employment as a draftsman with Joseph Silsbee, Wright successfully landed a job with Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, a firm credited as his primary influence. Wright implemented his first design, the Hillside Home School, in 1887 under the supervision of Louis Sullivan. In 1889 Frank married his first wife and mother of six children, Catherine Lee Tobin. In order to support his family, Wright took on extra work of designing “bootlegged” homes, which were designs borrowed from the Adler and Sullivan firm with Wright’s added ideas. Despite the initial close relationship developed with Mr. Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright was fired from the Adler and Sullivan firm in 1893 due to his illicit practice. Striving to pay off accumulated debts, Wright moved to Oak Park, Illinois to establish his own architectural business and build his first home.
Between 1893 and 1910, the approximately 273 homes Wright designed were “Prairie” style homes, a technique combining Japanese design elements and American influences. After developing and refining the prairie style, Frank Lloyd Wright founded the “Prairie School of Architecture” in 1909. Unfortunately in the same year, Wright abandoned his wife and children to meet his mistress, Mamah Borthwick Cheney, in Europe. After returning to the United States in 1912, the newlyweds settled in Spring Green, Wisconsin, where Wright spent two years building them his famous residence, Taliesin. The unthinkable happened in 1914, when a crazed servant murdered Ms. Cheney, four of her children, and two other servants, while setting the house on fire. Paying tribute to his late wife Mamah Cheney, Wright rebuilt Taliesin and began traveling to Japan where he was appointed to design the Imperial Hotel. Although re-marrying in 1922, his third wife Miriam Noel left Wright shortly after they were married. Turmoil only continued when Taliesin burned down yet again in 1925, depleting Wright of all emotions and finances.
In 1924, his scandalous life seemed to come to a halt at a performance of the Petrograd Ballet where he met his fourth wife, Olgivanna Milanoff. After marrying her in 1928, Wright entered a long period of introspection, devoting much of his time to writing and lecturing. During this period of personal re-assessment, Wright wrote his very own An Autobiography and turned his residence into a studio workshop for 30 apprentices to live and study. At this time, Wright also managed to cultivate a new chapter in American Architecture with his concept of “organic” architecture, which promotes harmony between man and nature through a design that unifies the buildings and furnishings with the site’s natural surroundings.
Under this newly established “organic” style, Wright built the masterpiece of Fallingwater, a home the American Institute of Architects referred to as “the best all-time work of American architecture.” Designed in 1936 for the family of Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar J. Kauffman, Frank Lloyd Wright responded to the family’s love of a waterfall at Bear Run, Pennsylvania. As the Bear Run waterfall was a center point of many family activities, the Kaufmanns were stunned when Wright revealed just how close to the waterfall their new home would be. Instead of simply facing the home towards the waterfall, Fallingwater was built directly above the active stream which would flow beneath the house. To further harmonize the home with its immediate surroundings, Fallingwater was constructed of locally quarried sandstone resembling the nearby rock formations. Finished in 1939, Fallingwater water was the Kauffmann family’s weekend home from 1937-1969 before being presented to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Reflecting on the completed structure in his novel, An Autobiography, Frank Lloyd Wright states: “Fallingwater is a great blessing—one of the great blessings to be experienced here on earth.”
In the 1930s following the Great Depression, Wright began designing cheaper houses and communities that he thought would be perfect for families as the economy began to stabilize. Reflecting a simple, yet elegant geometry, Wright felt his “Usonian” houses were the perfect answer to a modern democratic America. In The Wright Style, Carla Lind states “Drawing inspiration from his native mid-western prairie, he coaxed Americans out of their boxlike houses and into wide-open living spaces that suited the American lifestyle.” Wright spent the majority of the 1940’s lecturing, teaching, and writing several books on his architectural concepts. Resuming his innovative building in the late 1940s and 1950s, Wright designed some of the most spectacular buildings of his career. Although in his eighties, some of Wright’s last works were his most spectacular. With a burning passion for his beliefs on radical architecture, Wright’s final remarkable projects included Taliesin West, the Price Tower in Oklahoma, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and the Marin County Civic Center.
Wright never retired, continuing his work on suburban development until his death on April 9, 1959, at the age of 92. According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, throughout his prolific career, Wright designed over 400 homes, bungalows, factories, theaters, civic centers, office buildings, and college campuses, none of which sustained damages due to faulty engineering. Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs have inspired generations of architects throughout the world, for which he was awarded a Gold Medal from The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Frank Lloyd Wright’s great success as an architect and innovative artist has influenced every sphere of architecture throughout the 20thth century. In Civic Builders, architectural writer Robert Campbell writes:
The greatest artist this country has ever produced seems at last to be coming into his own. America’s other great artists—our painters, sculptors, composers—don’t really rank with the tops of all time. They’re not Rembrandt or Michelangelo or Beethoven. Wright alone has that standing.
Frank Lloyd Wright Residence, Oak Park, Illinois, 1889.
Frederick C. Robie House, Chicago, Illinois, 1906.
Taliesin III, Spring Green, Wisconsin, 1925.
Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Japan, 1923.
Fallingwater, Bear Run, Pennsylvania, 1935.
S.C. Johnson Administration Building, Racine, Wisconsin, 1936.
Price Company Towers, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, 1952.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York, 1956.
An Autobiography. London: Longmans Green and Company, 1932.
An Organic Architecture. London: Lund Humphries, 1939.
Genius and the Mobocracy. New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1949.
The Future of Architecture. Pittsburgh: Horizon Press, 1953.
“Architecture, Interior Design, and Furniture.” American Decades. Vol. 1: 1900-1909. Detroit: Gale, 2001.
“Frank Lloyd Wright.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 16. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale, 2004.
Fentress, Curtis and Robert Campbell. Civic Builders. New York: Wiley-Academy, 2002.
Twombly, Robert. “Architecture.” Dictionary of American History. Vol. 1. 3rd ed. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003.
Twombly, Robert. Frank Lloyd Wright: His Life and His Architecture. New York: Wiley, 1979.
“Wright, Frank Lloyd 1867-1959.” Encyclopedia of Environment and Society. Ed. Paul Robbins. Vol. 5. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc., 2007. 1995-1996.
“Wright, Frank Lloyd 1869-1959.” American Decades. Vol. 6: 1950-1959. Detroit: Gale, 2001.