February 25, 2021

Frank Lloyd Wright: Journey of the Greatest American Architect

Snaptrude Editorial Desk

What's in this post?

What’s in this Blog?

  1. Introduction
  2. 1800s: Early Life
  3. 1889 to 1910: Chicago & Wisconsin Diaries
  4. 1910 to 1920: European & Japanese Journeys
  5. 1920s to 1950s: The Rise & Rise of Wright


“Every great architect is necessarily a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright.
Image Credit: https://pixy.org/40569/ under CC0 Public Domain

A master who created close to 1000 architectural masterpieces over 70 years…
A visionary whose vision was considered the holy grail of 20th century architecture…
A legend who left behind a legacy for generations of architects to follow!

Nineteenth and twentieth-century architect, Frank Lloyd Wright (born June 8, 1867 – died April 9, 1959) has been considered the greatest American architect of all time. We take you through his amazing journey to understand his design influences, learn from his iconic buildings, get inspired by his famous quotes and discover little known facts.

1800s: Early Life

“Space is the breath of art.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright

A very early influence worth mentioning in young Frank Lloyd Wright’s life would be in 1876, when at the age of 9 years, he was introduced to wooden educational blocks called the Froebel Gifts by his mother who was a teacher.

Wright described the influence of these exercises on his approach to design in his Autobiography: “The smooth shapely maple blocks with which to build, the sense of which never afterward leaves the fingers: so form became feeling. The maple-wood blocks…all are in my fingers to this day.”

Wright was homeschooled throughout his childhood and never attended architecture school. He attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison for a few terms in 1885–86 as a special student, but since there were no architecture courses, he took up engineering courses. But he did not complete his graduation. In 1887, at the age of 20, he went on to work as a draftsman with Joseph Lyman Silsbee, a prominent architect in Chicago.

Frank Lloyd Fact #1 You Probably Didn’t Know: Even before he was born, Wright’s mother had predicted that her first born would build great buildings. She had decorated his nursery with engravings of English cathedrals.

1889 to 1910: Chicago & Wisconsin Diaries

“Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright

After working with J.L. Silsbee, Wright found employment with well-known architectural firm, Adler & Sullivan. Soon, Frank Lloyd Wright became chief assistant to Sullivan, and was offered a five-year contract with them. From late 1889 to 1892, Lloyd was a part of the team building many residential houses in Chicago like Sullivan’s bungalow and James A. Charnley bungalow, both in 1890, Berry-MacHarg House in 1891 and the Louis Sullivan House in 1892.

On Wright’s request, Sullivan also lent him a $5,000 loan to build his own house in Oak Park, a  semi-rural village on the Western edges of Chicago. In 1889, Wright completed the construction of his two-storey residence in Oak Park. The design influences of his current and previous employers – Sullivan  and J.L. Silsbee was apparent in the building. It was also inspired by the English Arts and Crafts movement, which encouraged simplicity and integrity in art, architecture and design. The home was a reflection of Wright’s upbringing in Unitarianism, a faith that did not believe in the trinity but instead promoted that the Christian God is one entity. Wright’s desire for unity was evident in his aesthetic style at that point and later on in his career.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home & Studio in Oak Park
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home & Studio in Oak Park.
Image Credit: Teemu008 from Palatine, Illinois, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wright worked under Sullivan until 1893, when he moved on to start his own architectural practice. However, it was said that he didn’t leave the firm on a good note, as there was an alleged breach of contract, with Frank Lloyd Wright taking up more projects i.e. around nine residential houses in a personal capacity while working at the firm.

However, a self-confident Wright was not short of projects. Right after leaving the firm of Adler & Sullivan, he designed the Walter Gale House in Oak Park. His design style consisted of bold geometric shapes, open floor plans and a lot of windows.

But the influence of his mentor, Sullivan stayed with Wright throughout his career. The now-legendary phrase “form follows function” was coined by Louis H. Sullivan, which Frank Lloyd applied and improvised in his works. Wright later referred to Sullivan as ‘Lieber Master’ or ‘Dear Master’.

During this time, Frank Lloyd Wright shared his thoughts in The Art and Craft of the Machine, which was printed in 1901. It showcased his progressive thinking and his belief in the machine (be it the printing machine or the wood carving machine) to beautify architectural spaces and life. An excerpt from it: “Look out over the modern city at nightfall from the top of a great down-town office building, and you may see at a glance how organic the machine has become, how interwoven it is in the warp and woof of our civilization, its essential tool indeed, if not the very framework of civilization itself. Thus is the machine, the forerunner of democracy, into which the forces of art are to breathe the thrill of ideality – a soul.”

Frank Lloyd Fact #2 You Probably Didn’t Know: Wright is believed to have dabbled in fashion design, applying his aesthetic sense of organic architecture to design dresses from 1890 to 1910.

Walter Gale House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Walter Gale House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright was constructed in 1893.
Image Credit: IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1896, Wright, having conducted his independent practice out of two different offices, moved his office to the Steinway Hall building, where he shared his space with other young architects Dwight H. Perkins, Robert C. Spencer and Jr., Myron Hunt. All of these architects pioneered the Prairie Style of Architecture in the 1900s, which was a unique and bold approach to American architectural style. The founding principles of the Prairie style were horizontal rows of windows, sharp horizontal lines, flat roofs with broad eaves, harmony with the landscape, using locally available materials and stylised ornamentation.

One noteworthy project, Robie House designed by Wright in 1909-1910 became a classic example of the Prairie style of architecture, with its flat roof, horizontal lines, bay of windows and bold geometry. From 1900 to 1910, Wright went on to build around 50 houses based on the Prairie style of architecture.

Robie House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Robie House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1909-1910 showcases Prairie style of architecture.
Image Credit: Dan Smith, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1908, Frank Lloyd Wright first used the term “organic architecture” which symbolised harmony of buildings with their inhabitants as well as nature.

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright

Around 1909, Wright also designed his own home near Spring Green, Wisconsin, which he named Taliesin, meaning the ‘Shining Brow’ in Welsh (his grandparents were Welsh) and completed the construction in 1911. He would later turn it into a studio and school to impart the knowledge he had gained.

“I meant to live if I could an unconventional life. I turned to this hill in the Valley as my grandfather before me had turned to America – as a hope and haven.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright on Taliesin
Taliesin East designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Taliesin East near Spring Green, Wisconsin, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Image Credit: Stephen Matthew Milligan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1910 to 1920: European & Japanese Journeys

Later, Wright left for Europe and while there, he published two books in Germany. The first book ‘Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe’ or ‘Studies and Executed Buildings’ was published in 1910. It was a double portfolio of his drawings. He published one more book ‘Ausgeführte Bauten’ or ‘Executed Buildings’ in 1911.

In 1916, Frank Lloyd Wright went to Japan for a new project. He was commissioned to work for The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, which he designed in the Maya Revival style of architecture. The hotel structure survived the 1923 earthquake of Tokyo with minimal damage.

Frank Lloyd Fact #3 You Probably Didn’t Know: Wright was cynical towards other architects and refused to join the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo by Frank Lloyd Wright
The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Image Credit: Collin Grady, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1920s to 1950s: The Rise & Rise of Wright

“Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright

Having travelled abroad and come back to the USA, Wright was now taking up more projects outside his city. In 1923 and 1924, he built four residential houses in California. In 1925, he had to rebuild Taliesin again as it caught fire due to lightning. Later, in 1929, he designed a tower of studios for New York City. From his original concept, the St. Mark’s Tower project was completed as the Price Tower, a 58 m tall skyscraper in Bartlesville, Oklahoma in 1956. It was Wright’s only materialised skyscraper in his architectural journey.

The year 1932 was a defining year for Frank Lloyd Wright who published two books – An Autobiography and The Disappearing City. In the same year, he also started a training school for architects called the Taliesin Fellowship. It was a residential program in Taliesin, where he took up to 60 students under his guidance every year.

Another crucial turning point is his long career came between 1935 and 1937 when Wright designed a path-breaking weekend retreat cantilevered over a waterfall for the Kauffman family called the Fallingwater. It was to become one of the 20th centuries most celebrated structures. Fallingwater brought Wright worldwide acclaim and won him a slew of new projects.

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright
Fallingwater, the iconic structure by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Image Credit: Somach, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Snaptrude inspiration - Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, we used Snaptrude BIM technology to create the 3D model as a tribute to this architectural marvel. See how Snaptrude offers the fastest sketch-to-BIM experience.

Snaptrude inspiration - Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright.
A tribute to Frank LLoyd Wright’s architectural marvel, Fallingwater created in Snaptrude 3D BIM tool.

Another building which has been celebrated as one of the top 25 buildings of the 20th century was built by Wright from 1936 to 1939 – the Johnson Wax Headquarters at Wisconsin for S.C. Johnson, manufacturers of wax.

Mr Johnson said later, “Anybody can build a typical building. I wanted to build the best office building in the world, and the only way to do that was to get the greatest architect in the world.”

Johnson Wax Headquarters by Frank Lloyd Wright
Inside the Johnson Wax Headquarters created by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Image Credit: Daniel X. O’Neil from USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Between 1937 and 1959, Wright also constructed his winter home and school in the desert of Arizona and called it the Taliesin West.

Taliesin West by Frank Lloyd Wright
Taliesin West was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and school in the Arizona desert from 1937 until his death.
Image Credit: Lar (primary) User:Lar (secondary), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the last major projects created by Wright was The Guggenheim Museum which was built to exhibit abstract art. He conceptualized four designs beginning 1943 and the construction began in 1956. The Museum opened to the public six months after Wright’s death.

The Guggenheim Museum by Frank Lloyd Wright
The Guggenheim Museum by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Image Credit: Ajay Suresh from New York, NY, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Frank Lloyd Fact #4 You Probably Didn’t Know: Wright had a successful business dealing in Japanese block prints, until his death.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s legacy continues to inspire the architectural, art and design communities throughout the world. Many of his iconic structures like the Guggenheim Museum and Fallinwater have been recently designated as World Heritage sites. His original thinking, illustrious buildings and concept of organic architecture are a major influence on the architectural community till date.

Signature of Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright, the master’s signature.
Image credit: Frank Lloyd Wright Created in vector format by Scewing, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Frank Lloyd Wright and other legendary architects continue to inspire our team of architects and technology creators at Snaptrude to simplify modern-day architects’ lives so they continue to contribute to the world with masterpieces.

Information Courtesy: franklloydwright.org, Britannica.com, Wikipedia, brainyquote.com, https://froebelweb.tripod.com/web2000.html, architecturaldigest.com, architecture.org, jstor.org, https://www.scjohnson.com/