Editorial Feature

A Tour of Pioneering Architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buildings

Travel across America to discover the architect’s innovative designs  

With more than 1,000 structures to his name and 532 of those completed, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) believed in designing buildings that were in harmony with humanity and its environment. This became a philosophy he called “organic architecture”.

Wright was responsible for several movements and concepts in architecture including the Prairie School movement, which is characterized by horizontal lines, flat or hipped roofs with overhanging eaves and windows grouped together, and also the concept of the Usonian home – Wright’s unique vision for urban planning in the USA.

As well as houses, Wright was responsible for designing an array of structures including churches, schools, skyscrapers, hotels and museums and he often designed the interior elements of these buildings as well such as furniture and custom stained glass. The architect wrote 20 books in his lifetime, and in 1991 was recognized by the American Institute of Architects as “the greatest American architect of all time”.

While his colorful personal life often made the headlines more than his buildings, Wright was integral in bringing American architecture to the forefront. He leaves a legacy of modern architecture across the USA that inspired a new wave of architects.

Frank Lloyd Wright (From the collection of Sydney Opera House)

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Oak Park, Illinois, USA

Located at 951 Chicago Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois, Wright lived at this home and studio with his family until 1909. Wright purchased the home from his then-employer Louis Sullivan, and built up the small residence, originally built in 1889, over two decades to encompass a studio and children’s playroom. The building became the birthplace of Wright’s Prairie style, with the architect using the house to develop his early architectural vocabulary.

The home contains an office with an octagonal hanging light and drafting room where Wright and associates designed future masterpieces. The Home and Studio was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and has received the American Institute of Architects' National Honor Award. It is now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and has been restored, maintained, and operated as a museum by The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.

Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania, USA

Completed in 1935, Fallingwater is probably the most famous private home of the 20th century and was designed by Wright as a weekend home for the family of Liliane Kaufmann and her husband, Edgar J Kaufmann Sr, owner of Kaufmann’s Department Store.

The building’s striking silhouette appeared on a career-defining cover of Time magazine in 1938 and propelled Wright through the final decades of his career. The house is set atop a waterfall in Bear Run, a summer camp in western Pennsylvania. The concrete and limestone home is intertwined with the body of the water, which is where its name comes from. Wright’s passion for Japanese architecture was strongly reflected in the design of Fallingwater, particularly in the importance of interpenetrating exterior and interior spaces and the strong emphasis placed on harmony between man and nature.

Jacobs House, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Herbert and Katherine Jacobs First House, commonly referred to as Jacobs I, is a single family home in Madison, Wisconsin. Constructed in 1937, it is considered by most to be the first Usonian home by Wright, his attempt at creating affordable, well-designed homes for the masses.

The L-shaped residence features a simple, open-plan layout and plywood walls. Its exterior is finished in a combination of brick, vertical boarding, and glass doors, the latter opening from the rear of the house. It is covered by a flat roof and rests on a concrete pad foundation. While other Usonian houses would become more elaborate and costly, this first iteration was simple and honest, and the closest structure that aligned with Wright’s utopian ideals.

Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA

Taliesin West was architect Wright's winter home and school in the desert from 1937 until his death in 1959. Today it is the main campus of the School of Architecture at Taliesin and houses the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Established in 1927, Wright labored over the design of this desert outpost and he felt it needed to have a strong connection with its surroundings. The structure's walls are made of local desert rocks, stacked within wood forms, filled with concrete. Wright always favored using the materials readily available rather than those that must be transported to the site. The flat surfaces of the rocks were placed outward facing and large boulders filled the interior space so concrete could be conserved.

Wright constantly tampered with the building, adjusting angles and surfaces every time he returned to the house, often with the help of his students. The building’s sloping roof, desert wall work and redwood trusses, as well as the symbols inspired by native petroglyphs, became a showcase of his vision of Arizona architecture.

Robie House, Chicago, Illinois, USA

The Frederick C. Robie House can be found on the campus of the University of Chicago in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Built between 1909 and 1910, the building is said to be the greatest examples of Wright’s Prairie School style, the first architectural style that is considered uniquely American.

The main living space, is an open-plan living-dining room with a central chimney and like many of his other Prairie houses, Wright designed the interiors, leaded windows, lighting, rugs, furniture and textiles. As Wright wrote in 1910: “It is quite impossible to consider the building one thing and its furnishings another… They are all mere structural details of its character and completeness”. The cantilevered roofs and Roman bricks emulated the endless horizons of the wide-open landscapes found in the Midwest.

Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, Manhattan, New York, USA

The Guggenheim Museum building was opened six months after Wright died in 1959. The building was met with the kind of criticism that the architect would have welcomed. The main concern being that the building itself was so striking that it would overshadow the art within.

The open atrium and curved spiraling floorplan creates a unique viewing experience, with visitors able to slowly ascend toward the top of the architectural shell. The final structure was slightly different to the one Wright had initially designed. For instance, the Guggenheim's surface was made out of concrete to reduce the cost, inferior to the stone finish that Wright had wanted and the architect had also proposed a red-colored exterior, which was never realized. Also the small rotunda (or "Monitor building", as Wright called it) next to the large rotunda was intended to house apartments for Rebay and Guggenheim but instead became offices and storage space.

Congregation Beth Shalom, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

This was Wright’s only synagogue and is a piece of modernist religious architecture. The pyramid-shaped roof, with inclined walls of translucent fiberglass and plastic, is built on three steel beams, which allows light in and take on a golden glow when the sun goes down.

Wright’s references for the aesthetics of the building were two religious metaphors given to him by the then-rabbi Mt. Sinai. The humble tent was also proved to be an inspiration as he interpreted the inside as a shared sacred space.

Child of the Sun, Lakeland, Florida, USA

Child of the Sun, also known as the Florida Southern College Architectural District is a group of buildings designed for the campus of the Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida designed by wright and built from 1941 through 1958.

The name comes from Wright’s own description of the college: “Out of the ground and into the light, a child of the sun”. It is the largest collection of his buildings in one place and the group is dominated by the towering, ship-like Annie Pfeiffer Chapel. The complex, consisting of a dozen buildings, is integrated with examples of organic architecture made with copper, tidewater cypress and crushed coquina shells.

Rosenbaum House, Florence, Alabama, USA

The Rosenbaum House is a single-family house designed by Wright and built for Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum. It is one of the best examples of the architect’s Usonian house concept, and is one of only 26 pre-World War II Usonian houses. Built in 1940, the home also includes a 1948 extension also designed by Wright, which nearly doubled its size.

Usonian homes are typically single-story dwellings without a garage and are often L-shaped. They are characterized by native materials, flat roofs and large cantilevered overhangs. For the Rosenbaum house, the flatness of the structure and the use of large panels of glass ultimately blurs the distinction between indoors and outdoors.

Unity Temple, Oak Park, Illinois, USA

Built between 1905 and 1908, the Unity Temple is a concrete church built in the Prairie style and a structure Wright considered to be his first contribution to modern architecture. Wright designed the church for the Unitarian Universalist congregation of Oak Park Unity Church, which included his mother, after the original building burned down.

Part of Wright’s approach was informed by a small budget, which pushed him towards making the building out of concrete in a cubic shape. The main sanctuary contains clerestory windows and skylights to bring plenty of light inside. In the four-storey worship space, 25 stained glass windows are coloured in hues of yellow and brown, to reference natural tones. The main room is enclosed by seating on three sides, intended to provide each member of the congregation with close contact to the minister during service.

R W Lindholm Service Station, Cloquet, Minnisota, USA

Built in 1958, R W Lindholm Service Station was built to a Wright design and is still in use today. Wright had designed station owner Ray Lindholm's house in 1952, and, knowing Lindholm worked in the oil business, presented him with a proposal to design the gas station envisioned as part of Broadacre City. Lindholm seized the opportunity to beautify gas station design, and Wright completed his design in 1956. The station ultimately cost $20,000, roughly four times the cost of the average filling station at the time.

Broadacre City was an urban or suburban development concept proposed by Wright throughout most of his lifetime and the architect designed his service stations to be community social centers and an integral part of his utopian ideas. His design of the Lindholm Service Station reflects these plans and represents a then-unconventional approach to filling station design, which includes a cantilevered copper canopy, which extends over the gas pumps and an observation lounge with glass walls. Despite the importance of gas stations to the Broadacre City concept, the building was the only service station Wright designed.

Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, USA

The Price Tower is a 19-story tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma built in 1956. It is the only realized skyscraper by Wright and he described it as “the tree that escaped the crowded forest”. Based on a design for apartments in Manhattan the architect created in the 20s but transplanted to Oklahoma when Harold Price, owner of a local oil and chemical factory, hired Wright to create the skyscraper. The copper-clad structure continues to dominate the skyline and visitors can now stay in a hotel at the top half of the building.

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