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Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959) is one of the United States’ most famous architects. He was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin, and studied in his home state. Frank Lloyd Wright was early associated with architect Louis Sullivan. The collapse of a newly built wing led him to apply engineering principles to his architecture. He went on to set up his own practice in Chicago and became known for his low=built prairie-style residences. He soon launched into more controversial designs. As an innovator in the field of open planning, he is considered a leading designer of modern private dwellings, planned to con form with the natural landscape of the surrounding environment. His larger works include the formerly-new Imperial Hotel main building in Tokyo {from 1922 until 1967 and replaced by a third main building from 1970) and the Guggenheim Museum of Art in New York City. On this webpage, are featured some of his works as seen in the United States during a visit to New York City in the early 1990’s, Pennsylvania in 2017 and visits to Chicago, Illinois and Wisconsin in 2018. Not included on this page are Spring Green, Wisconsin – the location of Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 600 acre estate where he lived until his death in 1959 and from where he ran a school based on his architectural principles, and also not featured is the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Perhaps they may be added one day, should the author of this website have more time on money on his hands! Photos of some of his most famous works, accompanied by brief text follow.

 

Above: Robie House, built 1910

Robie House

The Robie House, shown above, was significant in that Frank Lloyd Wright introduced architectural ideas with a revolution in domestic design. His bombast and egomania was captured in The Fountainhead, a novel by Ayn Rand and a Hollywood film starring Gary Cooper. Frank Lloyd Wright’s design was for a house built for Frederick C. Robie in Chicago, but designed as one of his last and finest series of “Prairie Houses” which he had been designing in the Illinois countryside since 1894. A contrast from other residencies in the neighbourhood, Wright described the Prairie House as one characterised by its wide, deep-caved roof, its emphasis on the horizontal and a free plan turned around a central hearth. His houses were elegant, constructed to last and as liberating to the occupants as they were with offering practicality. As a shift from his styles earlier on, it may come as a surprise to discover some of his later designs were more vertical in nature, including the aforementioned Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (built 1922 and replaced with a new structure by the Japanese in 1970) and the Johnson Wax Headquarters building in Racine, Wisconsin (built 1936), the latter being featured further down this webpage. The Robie House was one of the first residencies anywhere to include a built-in garage and represented a new way of living as the automotive industry took off. Despite modifications, the building still shows today a low-lying intersection of elongated planes and exaggerated overhangs of the roof, characterised by Frank Lloyd Wright. His design here is reminiscent of the style of roofing seen in ancient Japanese temples combined with the building styles of Chicago in the early 20th century. Robie house represents an infusion of new engineering technologies that industrial Chicago had to offer by 1910 and what could be achieved with the ideas of a creative and imaginative genius.

Guggenheim Museum, New York City

Describing the Soloman R. Guggenheim Museum when completed in 1959, Frank Lloyd Wright wrote “Entering into the spirit of this interior, you will discover the best possible atmosphere in which to show fine paintings...”. His galley in New York’s fifth avenue was designed to display paintings on a spiral ramp. Controversial in design, whatever the art on show, the building in its own right can only serve to distract the visitor. It pushes concrete technology to new limits and presents an open space to escape from the streets of Manhattan. Wright spent 16 years designing this building. His plans were for people to take a lift to the top and comfortably stroll down a ramp back down to street-level. This never came to fruition. Today, the ram may be ascended, although the visitor needs to walk up it and at leisure, whilst viewing the artworks on display. A ten-storey limestone-clad tower was added in 1992. It provides a place for visitors to view other artworks on a flat floor, as opposed to from a sloped floor. Photo Below:

 

Above: Guggenheim Museum, New York City, built 1959

Fallingwater

Fallingwater lies 43 miles southeast of Pittsburgh and set in an idyllic rural location in the state of Pennsylvania. Signposted off Hwy-381, some 20 miles south of I-70, it is probably the most famous family home Frank Lloyd Wright designed. It was built in the 1930’s for the Kaufmann family, owners of Pittsburgh’s premier department store and is set in the deciduous forest of Bear Run Nature Reserve. A separate page on this website includes further photographs and explanatory text and may be found by clicking on the link Here (or clicking on the photo of the residential property below):

Above: Fallingwater, built 1936-1939

S. C. Johnson and Son Inc. (Johnson Wax) Administration Building

Located in Racine, Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s design, here, represented a solution for the layout of a successful commercial building. Wright always wished to design a place of work as somewhere to be employed as an enjoyable and productive space to work in, combined with the pleasures of being to freely move around in the sort of space one may expect from any public museum, gallery or place of worship:

 

By the year 1936, Johnson and Son Inc. Had been profit-sharing with employees for nearly twenty years and was modelling itself on new concepts in style of management. The building here that Wright designed would compliment a modern philosophy of running a business to enhance the wellbeing of its employees. This new building was to become indeed a fantastic place to work. The Administration Building was built as a great workroom, some 120 by 200 feet wide, and 25 feet high. It was made unique by the columns that Wright designed to hold up the roof. With slender supports, never seen in engineering before with seemingly audacity, the construction had no windows offering views, although natural light comes in the form of Pyrex tubes of varying dimensions that make up the standard form of a brick plus mortar. As with other buildings, such as Fallingwater, Wright also designed the furniture within his design.

S. C. Johnson and Son Inc. (Johnson Wax) Research Tower

Built in 1944, and next door to the S. C. Johnson and Son Inc. (Johnson Wax) Administration Building is located a building also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In the form of a tower, he decided for the first time to draw up plans for an innovative cantilevered structure, whereby the walls would not bear any load. The design was such that the Johnson Wax Research Tower would contain all utilities, such as the lifts, stairwells and piping, within a central core. To add to this, he made the floors within the structure of alternating shape – round and square. Consequently, the round floors inside the building do not reach all corners of the exterior and workers could communicate with each other directly between adjacent levels. Wright’s design facilitated close relationships between research chemists and also built in his ideas that a place of work should be an enjoyable space to inhabit, freely communicating with colleagues. The S. C. Johnson and Son Inc. Research Tower is supported by a ‘tap root’ core that reaches over 50 feet underground, to a thick concrete slab, 60 feet in diameter. This, in turn, tapers towards the edge, thus providing the structure with stability. The S. C. Johnson and Son Inc. Research Tower is shown on the photo below (lower left):

 

Taking a very slight deviation from the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the interesting points of note about the S. C. Johnson and Son Inc. site at Racine, Wisconsin, is that there is also a building on the ‘campus’ which was designed by the British architect and another pioneer of applying latest technologies to innovative building design, Sir Norman Foster. This is also shown, above, to the right.
To a fan of 20th-century architecture, to see two adjacent buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Sir Norman Foster was to see something very unique. Two structures by leaders in their field, from opposite sides of the pond, leaving their own footprints side-by-side. Amazing. Sir Norman Foster (A.K.A. Norman Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank) and his design team has always been an inspiration. His constructed buildings have included Stansted Airport in the UK, the restored Reichstag in Berlin (housing the German parliament), the HSBC building in Hong Kong, and various other projects in Singapore, America, Spain and other countries.

Wingspread House for Herbert F. Johnson

Above: Wingspread House for Herbert F. Johnson

Located approximately 10 minutes drive north of Racine in Wisconsin is Wingspread, a residence that Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built in 1938 to 1939 for the Herbert Fisk Johnson family. Johnson first met Wright to discuss a design for the Johnson Administration Building (featured on this page above) and disagreed with certain ideas. They did have one thing in common and that was the fact that the both of these gentlemen at the time both drove Lincoln Zephyrs. After commissioning Wright to create his office building, Johnson then approached Wright to design a house in which to reside. Wingspread was thus built and in his own words, Wright described as “the last of the Prairie houses and also as ‘a tall central brick chimney stack with five fireplaces on four sides’ “. It was an interesting property to visit insofar that there was a business conference going on at the time whilst walking up to the property, although a very kind lady walked outside and freely offered information regarding the history of the building, Frank Lloyd Wright and had a genuine understanding as to why I wished to take some photographs. Wingspread is shaped like a four-wheel pinwheel and covers an impressive 14,000 square feet. It encompasses both residential and private areas for people to meet, as well as more social gatherings in wider spaces, such as in the Great Hall. Like many of Wright’s designs, there is a genuine intelligence with considering the property in terms of natural landscape and placing people in an environment where they feel most comfortable and productive. The central brick chimney stack of Wingspread was built within a three-storey octagonal structure and inspired by the design of the Native-American teepee tent. The pinwheel floor-plan has four wings. The playroom is set at a 45° angle and the end of the swimming pool is not visible in the same manner, so there is a sense of design in Wright’s ideas of geometrical ideas later seen within this house and within his Prairie roots.

Meeting House for the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Madison, Wisconsin

     
 

Above: Meeting House for the First Unitarian Society of Madison (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, built by Marshall Erdman 1949-1951). Top photograph is a composite image.

What a lovely title. This building, at the time of the visit was somewhat limited for taking photographs, due to it undergoing external renovation works. After 20 minutes in the parking lot outside the closed building, saw a lady whom had a key and would not allow access to take a few quick photographs of the interior. She did not seem to understand about my interest in Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. This particular church has over 2,000 members and is one of the largest Unitarian Universalist congregations in the United States. A complete contrast from the lovely lady I had met outside Wingspread House. So, off on the excursions to see another building by Frank Lloyd Wright. Another church and this time, back to Chicago...

Unity Temple

 

Above: Unity Temple (1908)

Unity Temple (above) is a compact church which was completed in 1908 and represents Wright’s use of poured concrete for both decorative and structural purposes. For the era, it exemplifies his understanding for material sciences and architecture as an art-form. The church is located in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, 7 miles (8km) west of the city’s downtown area. Oak Park contains the world’s largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings and is featured on the final part of this webpage below.

Oak Park

Oak Park is technically a village and lies adjacent to the West Side of Chicago, Illinois. It was in this location that Wright developed his early Prairie style, which was inspired by the flat lines of the Midwestern plains. In contrast to the architectural ideas of his times, his style was non-conformist. The focal point in Oak Park is the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio:

Above: Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (1889)

Built when Wright moved to Oak Park, his home and studio formed his base where he designed over 150 buildings. It is possible today to walk around on a guided tour and take in sights such as where he worked, clients would consult and his children’s play-areas. Of particular note is the fact that as well as the building. the interior décor and furniture was also of Wright’s design, something which would be characteristic of career. Photographs of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

Throughout Oak Park, perhaps a contrast from Chicago’s downtown area, some leisure time can be taken out to stroll around the tree-lined streets. With the aid of a map from the shop at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, it is possible to view some eighty properties throughout the direct vicinity. Buildings by architect(s) are by Wesley A. Arnold, Lawrence Buck, William E. Dummond, Frank Ellis, Henry G. Fiddelke, Graham/Anderson/Prost/White, Guenzel/Drummond, Cicero Hine, Henry K. Holsman, Roy Hotchkiss, George W. Maher, Harvey L. Page, Patton/Fisher, Pond/Pond, Purcell/Elmslie, Ebin Ezra Roberts, Schmidt/Garden/Martin, Howard VanDoren Shaw, Robert C. Spencer, Spencer/Powers, Tallmadge/Watson, John S. Van Bergen, William J. Van Keuren, Vernon S. Watson and the easier to type Charles E. White. The surrounding neighbourhood does, of course, contain buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his eminent style stands out from the rest of the bunch listed above!  Photographs from Oak Park are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

Properties in the area by Wright also include (as well as the Unity Temple) Beachy House, Pleasant Home, the Charles Matthews House, Edwin Cheney House, the Bootleg Houses, Arthur Heurtley House, Nathan Moore House and the Harry Adams House. Each and every building has a story behind it, including the Bootleg Houses, whereby Wright took out three private commissions whilst employed by Louis H. Sullivan and got fired, and building the Nathan Moore House for his neighbour, out of pure financial desperation. Further time in the United States may have allowed for a visit to Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin, where Wright had his summer home. There is also a Taliesin West, in Arizona; this being Wright's winter home and school of architecture, where the main campus of his foundation remains today. A final note on Oak Park, here, is that a very short stroll from the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is another residence - one where the influential and infamous writer, Earnest Hemmingway, was born:

 

References and Further Information

1. In Situ literature and information
2. http://flwright.org/
3. Alphin, T. (n.d.). The LEGO architect.
4. Crystal, D. (1995). The Cambridge biographical encyclopedia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
5. Edwards, N. (2017). The rough guide to USA. London: Rough Guides.
6. Finch, J., Hempstead, A., Jensen, J., Mikula, N., Miller, J., Peterson, E., Roe, K. and Stann, K. (2015). USA. London: Dorling Kindersley.
7. Glancey, J. (1999). Twentieth-century architecture. London: Carlton.
8. Glancey, J. (2006). Architecture. London: DK.
9. Glusac, E., et al. (2017). Chicago. London: Dorling Kindersley.
10. Irving, M. and St. John, P. (2008). 1001 buildings you must see before you die. [London]: Cassell Illustrated.
11. Knight, C. (2003). Essential Frank Lloyd Wright. 1st ed. Bath: Parragon.
12. Ring, T. and Salkin, R. (1995).13. International dictionary of historic places. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn.
13. Volner, I. and Kirkham, M. (n.d.). This is Frank Lloyd Wright.

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