Best known for the iconic Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the daringly cantilevered private residence Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright—arguably America's most influential architect—transformed the American landscape with his innovative philosophy of form and function.
Wright spent his childhood in rural Wisconsin, raised by devout Unitarians whose religious beliefs promoted the divine connection between the spiritual and natural worlds. When he was just 20, Wright moved to Chicago to apprentice with Louis Sullivan, but never lost his affection for his pastoral, boyhood home. Turning his hand to domestic architecture early in his career, Wright revolutionized how homes were designed by focusing on how people lived. Wright's pioneering Prairie School architectural style, characterized by horizontal massing, open floor plans, the integration of interior and exterior spaces, and sparing, stylized ornamentation evolved over the first two decades of the 20th century. As his reputation grew, so did Wright's oeuvre. In addition to private homes, he designed civic and commercial structures throughout the U.S. and Japan.
A complicated man, Wright wrestled with the concept of traditional domesticity in both his professional and private lives. Much as Wright broke with the rabbit-warren rooms and heavy, gingerbread ornamentation characteristic of Victorian architecture, he also wrestled with the traditional role of husband and father, abandoning his wife, Catherine Lee "Kitty" Tobin, and their six children for his neighbor and mistress, the free-thinking Mamah Borthwick Cheney. The scandal forced the couple to flee the cozy Chicago suburb of Oak Park and seek refuge in Wright's native Wisconsin. There, the architect established a second residence and studio in Spring Creek, which he christened Taliesin. In 1932, Wright established his internationally renowned School of Architecture on the 600-acre estate.
Of the 1,171 structures Wright designed, less than half were built. Many of those that were realized have since been destroyed. Now and then, however, a new Wright building is rediscovered, such as the unassuming Elizabeth Murphy House in suburban Milwaukee, identified as a Wright design in 2015.
April 9 marks the 70th anniversary of the death of Wright; his uniquely American vision, however, continues to inspire. Using information from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Stacker curated this slideshow to celebrate and showcase 30 of Wright's most beautiful buildings.
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Commissioned in 1935 as a summer home for prominent Pittsburgh couple Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann, Fallingwater is regarded by many as Wright's masterpiece. The Kaufmann's first encounter with Wright was via their son, Edgar Kaufmann Jr.—an architectural fellow at Taliesin who urged his parents to hire Wright for the project. With its cantilevered concrete terraces affixed to the existing rock and dramatic perch above a waterfall in wooded Western Pennsylvania, Fallingwater is the apogee of Wright's architectural philosophy, seamlessly integrating the structure into the surrounding environment. Although Wright's most celebrated creation, Fallingwater in some respects, fell short of expectations, with engineering taking a back seat to aesthetics. A massive renovation was required in 2001 to prevent the home from collapsing into the very landscape that inspired it.
Oak Park, Ill., was the cradle of Wright's Prairie School aesthetic, and, fittingly, where the architect made his home. Wright's Shingle-style personal residence was built in 1899, financed with a loan of $5,000 from his then-boss, Louis Sullivan. Wright continuously tinkered with the home, adapting it for his growing brood of children. Enthusiasts can tour the home, as well as Wright's office and octagonal drafting room.
Tucked away in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood is one of Wright's most influential projects—the Frederick C. Robie House, constructed in 1906. With its signature horizontal massing, cantilevered roof, open floor plan, and centrally located hearth, the Robie House is the quintessential expression of Wright's distinctly American Prairie School style.
Although Frank Lloyd Wright is best known for his large private homes and commercial projects, he was nevertheless committed to creating affordable housing for everyday Americans. Between 1911 and 1917, in conjunction with the Arthur L. Richards Factory in Milwaukee, Wright designed a variety of relatively inexpensive Prairie School style homes, manufactured with pre-cut materials that were assembled on site. A cluster of six American System-Built homes survives on Milwaukee's Burnham Street.
Just around the corner from Frank Lloyd Wright's Oak Park home stands the Laura Gale House, a relatively modest Prairie School structure built in 1914, distinguished by a cantilevered roof and large first- and second-story balconies. In 2017, the house sold for $952,000—a reasonable price, some might argue, for such a distinguished piece of architectural history.
In 1936, H.F. Johnson Jr. turned to Frank Lloyd Wright to reimagine the SC Johnson Headquarters in Racine, Wis. It was the beginning of a friendship that would span decades. As fond as Wright was of Johnson, he was less than enamored with Racine. Determined to shut out the city and create an interior evocative of a forest, Wright created a windowless building composed of soaring, mushroom-like columns crowned by a ceiling of glass tubing. Seven years later, Wright designed the company's 14-story, cantilevered research tower.
Spurred by the success of the Johnson Wax project, H.F. Johnson commissioned Wright to construct a family residence in his hometown of Racine the following year in 1937. One of Wright's final and most ambitious Prairie School projects, Wingspread totals 14,000 square feet and takes its name from Wright's attenuated, pinwheel-shaped floor plan. The distinctive crow's nest and Juliet balcony were included at the request of Johnson's young children.
In 1956, the congregation of Milwaukee's Greek Orthodox community looked to Frank Lloyd Wright for the design of a new house of worship in suburban Wauwatosa. While the brilliant blue dome pays homage to traditional Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture, Wright's perfectly proportioned floor plan consisting of a cross inscribed within a circle breaks with tradition. One of his last major commissions, Wright never saw the finished project. The architect passed away in 1959—two years before the church was completed.
An early example of Wright's Usonian ideal, the diminutive Pope-Leighey House has endured—despite having been moved twice. Wright coined the term “Usonian” in the 1930s to describe smaller homes designed for owners of modest means, yet which retained signature Wright staples, such as organic decorative elements, passages of art glass, open floor plans, and a centrally located hearth. Commissioned by Loren and Charlotte Pope, the 1,200-square-foot structure has influenced contemporary home design since its construction in 1939.
Built in 1915 for a brick magnate in Chicago's Rogers Park, the Emil Bach House was originally conceived of as an oasis on the edge of the city, with striking views of Lake Michigan. Composed of a series of hulking cubes capped by a cantilevered roof, the home is typical of Wright's later Prairie School designs. The structure now operates as an event space and is available for weddings, vacations, and family reunions.
In 1909, Frank Lloyd Wright's scandalous affair with neighbor Martha “Mamah” Borthwick Cheney forced the couple to seek refuge in Europe. When Wright and his mistress returned to the U.S. in 1911, they abandoned Oak Park in favor of Wright's childhood stomping grounds in Spring Green, Wisc. There, Wright constructed a sprawling residence for the couple in the Prairie School style, which he christened “Taliesin.” Just a few years later, the couple's love nest would become synonymous with tragedy when Cheney and her two children were among seven people murdered at Taliesin by a deranged, ax-wielding servant.
As much as Wright loved Taliesin, winter took its toll on Wisconsin's native son. In search of sunshine, Wright looked West, relocating his retinue to a desert utopia in Scottsdale, Ariz., dubbed Taliesin West. The jagged residential compound—composed of local stone, redwood, and cement, appears to erupt from the encompassing landscape, shouldering at odd angles through the earth itself. A national hub for education and exploration since its inception, Taliesin West continues this mission today, serving as the campus for the school of architecture founded by Wright in 1932.
Constructed on the outskirts of Rockford, Ill., in 1949, the Laurent House is the only home designed by Wright for a homeowner with a physical disability. Phyllis Laurent stumbled across an article about the Loren Pope House and was struck by its open plan. She wrote to Wright, asking him to build a home that could accommodate the needs of her husband Ken, a disabled World War II veteran. Wright not only constructed a 1,400-square-foot Usonian style home on the couple's $20,000 budget—he ranked it among his 38 most significant projects.
Home to some of the world's most venerated works of modern art, The Guggenheim Foundation turned to Frank Lloyd Wright in 1946 to create a building worthy of its magnificent contents. Dominating NYC's Fifth Avenue between 88th and 89th Streets, Wright's iconic, spiraling, apple-peeling of concrete first opened its doors to the viewing public in 1959—16 years after the architect was first approached by Guggenheim and six months after his death.
Wright had Japan on his mind—specifically his Imperial House project in Tokyo—when he designed the house on Milwaukee's fashionable East Side for local businessman Frederick Bogk. With its tiled, hipped roof and overhanging eaves, the block-like house, built in 1916, looks to the east, yet maintains Wright's characteristic Prairie School open floor plan and centrally located hearth on the ground level.
Wright spent almost 20 years designing more than a dozen concrete structures for Florida Southern College, beginning with the angular, glass-fronted Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, dedicated in 1941. The Lakeland campus which the architect christened “Child of the Sun,” is the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world.
In the 1930s, Wright imagined a utopian suburbia called Broadacre City in which every family owned an acre of property and a home that harmonized with the natural landscape. Although Broadacre City never materialized, a service station similar to the one Wright envisioned as the epicenter of his planned community was erected in 1958. Commissioned by Ray Lindholm, who had previously hired Wright for a residential project, the otherwise modest service station in Cloquet, Minn., boasts a recognizably Wright copper cantilevered roof and glass-enclosed observation lounge.
Wright's only San Francisco commission, his 1948 design for the V.C. Morris Gift Shop was as iconoclastic as the city itself. The remodeled store eschewed windows, opting instead to entice shoppers with a welcoming brick bath and intriguing, hemispherical entrance reminiscent of medieval Romanesque structures. Once inside, customers descended a wide, spiraling ramp leading to the sales floor—a design which prefigures Wright's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. In 2007, the American Institute of Architects named the building to its list of America's Favorite Structures.
Coal heiress Susan Lawrence Dana broke with tradition in 1903, hiring Wright to put a modern spin on her family's sprawling Italianate mansion in Springfield, Ill. With a limitless budget at his disposal, Wright scrapped the remodel and constructed an entirely new 35 room,12,000-square-foot structure designed to accommodate Dana's lavish parties and impressive collection of Japanese art. One of the most ambitious and best-preserved examples of the Prairie House style, the Dana-Thomas House is open to the public and features a vast collection of original Frank Lloyd Wright furnishings and art glass.
It's said that lightning never strikes twice and once was all it took to turn Oak Park's wood-frame Universalist church to ash in 1905. The congregation turned to local boy Frank Lloyd Wright to design a new meeting house. The result was Unity Temple, which opened in 1908. It is the first ecclesiastical structure to be built of poured concrete. The stylized, classically influenced exterior belies a mystical interior, bathed in the soft glow of light filtered through a clerestory of art glass.
When Wright was hired to modernize the lobby of Chicago's Rookery, he was no stranger to the building, having kept an office there himself several years earlier. The remodel required the removal of much of the ironwork original to Daniel Burnham and John Root's 1888 design, which was then replaced with a glass canopy and white marble walls incised with gilded arabesque patterns, resulting in an urban oasis of light.
When Frank Lloyd Wright was 85, he received a letter from Rabbi Mortimer J. Cohen, leader of the Congregation of Beth Sholom in Elkins Park, Pa., asking the elderly architect to design a new synagogue. Cohen's proposal, however, was not without restrictions. The new structure would have to adhere to a $500,000 budget and accommodate up to 1,500 people. It would also be windowless, save for a glass rotunda. Wright was captivated by the request and designed a concrete structure capped with a glass pyramid. Wright's only synagogue, Beth Sholom opened its doors five months after Wright's death in 1959.
Wright employed concrete for several homes he designed in Southern California, including Pasadena's Millard House, constructed in 1923. Also known as La Miniatura, the Millard House represents a shift in Wright's Prairie School aesthetic, employing an innovative modular building technique invented by Wright consisting of interlocking concrete blocks. Although the home continues to be privately owned, Wright enthusiasts can content themselves with a virtual tour of the property.
Even a building as utilitarian as a warehouse aspires to the sublime when entrusted to the imagination of Frank Lloyd Wright. The decorative frieze that crowns the A.D. German Warehouse, built in 1917, foreshadows the concrete residences Wright would build in California in the 1920s. The perennially cash-strapped Wright designed the building as repayment for a debt owed to Wisconsin businessman Albert German. When construction exceeded German's budget by almost $100,000, it wasn't Wright, but his patron who faced bankruptcy.
Designed for Dr. John Christian, a research scientist at Indiana's Purdue University, and his wife, Kay, Samara is considered by many to be Wright's finest exponent of his Usonian housing principles. The house takes its name from the pine seeds covering the empty lot purchased by the Christians, the shape of which served as Wright's inspiration for much of the home's stylized elements. The house was constructed on a limited budget, and customized details continued to be added after the Christians moved into the home in 1956.
The last building design by Wright before his death in 1959, the Lykes House appears to meld seamlessly into the arid Arizona canyons. Construction of the house was overseen by Wright's apprentice, John Rattenbury, and completed in 1967. The undulating facade is reminiscent of the Guggenheim Museum and offers spectacular views of the city below. Although the home is privately owned, Wright aficionados can indulge in a 3D tour.
Growing up in the shadow of Taliesin, Seth Peterson had been a fan of Wright's since childhood, making the pilgrimage to Oak Park while still in high school and applying (unsuccessfully) for an apprenticeship with his idol. After denying repeated requests to build a house for Peterson and his intended fiancee in the Wisconsin Dells, Wright finally capitulated, designing the 880-square-foot home of glass and stone on a hilltop overlooking Mirror Lake. Sadly, Peterson did not live to see his dream house completed. Plagued by financial problems and romantic troubles, Wright's young patron committed suicide at just 24.
Frank Lloyd Wright was an avid collector of Japanese block prints. He made his first of several visits to Japan in 1905 and would eventually design 14 buildings there. Only three of these survive, including the Yodoko Guest House. Built in 1918 from concrete and local stone and embellished with a stylized leaf motif, the house served as a second home in Ashiya City for sake brewer Tazaemon Yamamura.
The Unitarian Meeting House in Madison, Wisc., completed in 1951, had spiritual significance for Frank Lloyd Wright. His parents had been founding members of the First Unitarian Society in Madison and Wright himself had been a longtime member of the congregation. The transformative design incorporated Wright's Usonian architectural principles, which had previously been reserved for residential dwellings. With its expansive glass facade and exaggerated roofline, the meeting house is evocative of a bird in flight and was likened by Wright to hands in prayer.
Reminiscent of an ancient Mayan temple—a style Wright referred to as “California Romanza,” Hollyhock House was commissioned by oil heiress Aline Barnsdall. The residence takes its name from Barnsdall's favorite flower, which also served as the inspiration for much of the home's stylized ornamental detail. A multitude of terraces and colonnaded courtyards take advantage of the mild California climate and seamlessly knit together interior and exterior spaces. Once completed, however, Hollyhock House failed to spark joy for Barnsdall, who gifted it to the City of Los Angeles.