30 beautiful structures from the mind of Frank Lloyd Wright
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 House and Studio
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.
American System-Built homes
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.
Laura Gale House
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.
Johnson Wax Headquarters
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.
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
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.
Emil Bach House
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.2018 All rights reserved.