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Who is Frank Lloyd Wright?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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Frank Lloyd Wright, born 8 June 1867, was a prolific and influential American architect. He designed truly magnificent homes, workplaces, cathedrals, and furniture. His forward-thinking designs still look modern and desirable today, further evidencing his genius. Wright focused on organic design with the use of natural light and natural materials such as wood, stone, and clay.

Many of Frank Lloyd Wright's designs emphasized one material such as wood or concrete block over the rest of the materials used. For example, Wright's 1908 G.C. Stockman House Prairie Style dining room design is mostly wood that is all in the same medium-warm tone with clean rectangular lines. Extra long wood spindles on the backs of the dining chairs and the wood trim around the windows add an understated natural elegance to the room.

The exploratory effects of sunlight is an especially intriguing quality found in some of Wright's architecture. For instance, In H.F. Johnson's 1937 Wingspread home, Wright used hundreds of little square windows in the roof. The windows reflect the sunlight in tiny square bands all around the brick walls of the high-ceilinged living room for an interesting confetti sort of effect.

Frank Lloyd Wright also experimented with glass windows reflecting light in the patio roof design of I.N. Hagan's home, called Kentuck Knob, in 1954. Hexagonal shaped glass pieces inserted in the roof in a straight line are framed by slanted wood. As the sun shines through the shaped glass, bright white hexagons appear on the gray stone patio floor creating a uniquely lit pathway.

Wright believed that creativity should not be merely used for the purposes of experimenting with new ways of doing something. He believed that experimental work should be used if it is the best way to fill a need by providing a better way to do something. Wright's experimental use of windows made from stacks of glass tubes in the S.C. Johnson & Son Administration building added the needed type of diffused light while giving an innovative look to the structure.

Wright's design philosophy is so widely thought of as organic because he believed that architecture should combine innovative ways of interpreting structure with the use of elements from nature. The Japanese have long "married" natural materials such as plants in creative structures made of metal or wood and Wright was heavily influenced by Japanese culture. Much of his early work, including his redesign of Tokyo's Imperial Hotel, emphasizes the strong, long lines of Japanese architecture.

Wright used the straight-lined, organic approach for Fallingwater, a home he designed for a family who loved the waterfalls that were in their backyard. Fallingwater remains one of Wright's most famous designs and features the unique concrete balconies leveraged to look like the rock ledges in the waterfalls. Wright said of his Fallingwater work: "I think you can hear the water fall when you look at the design."

Frank Lloyd Wright opted for curved lines rather than straight in his striking, spiral-shaped design for New York's Guggenheim museum, another one of Wright's most famous works. The Guggenheim from the outside looks like a tower of overlapping cement rings and inside the floors are sloped. Museum visitors walk down the curved and sloping halls that lead to different sections of displays.

Wright was born and raised in Wisconsin. Wright studied civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin before moving to Chicago and working in a few architectural design firms as a draftsman. He opened his own successful architectural firm in 1893. Frank Lloyd Wright was married three times and died at 92 years of age in April 1959 in Arizona.

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