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Frank Llyod Wright Essay, Research Paper

Frank Lloyd Wright is a name that is spoken synonymously with the advancement of American architecture in the early 20th century. For 70 years he worked to push the architectural profession in America to new limits. Wright sought to create an architecture that reconciles man’s relationship with Nature and Wright’s quest resulted in a style so successful and so innovative that, for once, instead of America looking to Europe for new ideas, Europe’s avant-garde looked to America’s Prairie style for inspiration. His influence in Europe coincides with the beginning of Modernism.

Born in Wisconsin in 1867 to Anna Lloyd-Jones and William C. Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright lived on several estates with his family before moving back to Wisconsin. He studied briefly at the University of Wisconsin at Madison before realizing his dream of moving to Chicago in 1887 where he found work as an apprentice to Chicago architect J.L. Silsbee. Later the same year, an opportunity to work with the firm Sullivan and Adler offered Wright the chance to study under one of America’s premier architects. As an apprentice to Louis Sullivan in Chicago, Wright shared Sullivan’s desire to create uniquely American architecture and to rebound from the chaotic restlessness in American architecture of the late 1800s. However, Wright’s interest in residential design and his individual approach to design led him to break with Sullivan and Adler in 1893 to form his Oak Park Studio in

Oak Park, IL.

At a time when architecture both in American and Europe returned to classical styles, Wright held on to ideas he had seen in earlier exotic revivals and a uniquely American style, the Shingle style. As first seen in the Winslow House (1893), he was inspired by the open plans popular in the Far East, and, from Japan, he borrowed the concept of the tokonama, a permanent element in the home and the focus of contemplation and ceremony. What is tokonama in Wright’s work? The heart. The hearth is often the vertical axis from which the horizontal floors radiate.

A famous example of the Prairie style is the Robie House in Chicago, IL. This is the style in which the Westcott House was designed.

At a time when Wright’s Oak Park practice was flourishing, the architect scandalized Chicago society by leaving his family and traveling to Europe with Mamah Cheney in 1909, and subsequently the Oak Park practice collapsed. At a time when many architects rejected technology and the advent of the machine because they believed it stifled the “human” art of architecture, Wright embraced the machine. For him, it was a tool to sharpen his control as the designer- so that he might convey his ideas more clearly. He praised new advances in structural steel and concrete for its opportunistic fluidity and its visual continuity. Low, sloping roofs and wide, cantilevered overhangs worked with the solid layers of concrete and transparent bands of casement windows create the horizontal planes that lend to the style’s namesake. Having grown up in the flat prairie-land of the Midwest, Wright’s designs recall the natural landscape that was so familiar to him.

Although Wright made little impact on architects in America with his new Prairie style, the reaction in Europe’s avant-garde can be seen throughout Western Europe. The Wasmuth Portfolios (published as the Ausgef?hrte Bauten und Enw?rfe von Frank Llyod Wright and Ausgef?hrte Bauten ) was first important publication of Wright’s work. While Wright lived in Fiesole, Italy with his mistress Mamah, Wright’s son Lloyd and Wright’s apprentice Taylor Wooley helped him to prepare the drawings required for these portfolios. They were published in Berlin, Germany in 1910 (the second was published the next year), and combined elements of Beaux-Arts Classicism with elements of English Arts and Crafts. The Wasmuth Portfolios were an important ingredient in the architectural movement that would become Modernism.

Following his return from Europe, Wright and Mamah moved to Spring Green, Wisconsin and built Taliesin. His new home was indicative of the emergence of Wright’s Usonian architecture, appearing as his fortress against the world that had turned against him. Rarely able to turn down the opportunity to apply his design principles to a new project, Wright was commissioned to design a project in Chicago, Midway Gardens, that would blend a mix of entertainment spaces within Chicago’s existing urban fabric. While he engaged with work on the Midway Gardens, a crazed servant, who set fire to the home after locking his victims inside, murdered Mamah and her children at Taliesin.

Unbroken, Wright rebuilt Taliesin at which he would later be accompanied by his mistress Miriam Noel. He married Miriam in 1923, the year after being granted a divorce from his first wife, Catherine Tobin. His relationship with Miriam was short lived; in the mid-1920s, Wright tmet the woman with whom he would spend the rest of his life, Olgivanna (Olga Lazovich). They married in 1928 and, in 1932, they founded the Taliesin Fellowship as a learning opportunity for architects and and architecture-related artisans who wished to work with Wright.

Although Wright slowly regained the fame from which he had once walked away, his life at Taliesin was beckoning for more so, in the early 1930s, Wright and Olgivanna moved to Arizona where he, with the help of several Taliesin Fellowship apprentices, built a new studio called Taliesin West.

Throughout Wright?s architectural career, he was an innovator, an educator, and a philosopher. His work spanned from private, single-family homes, to commercial manufacturing facilities, to religious structures. He constantly sought new sources of inspiration on how to convey his evolving philosophy on the relationships between man and Nature, Nature and man’s built environment. He experimented in modes of Modernism but even in his streamlined Johnson Wax Building, there are elements akin to the Prairie style.

Usonian architecture, another style uniquely Wright’s, emerged later in his career as his prescription for “anti-urbania.” Having established a practice of mainly residential architecture and having himself withdrawn from the city to live in nature, Wright saw Usonian buildings as “shelter not only as quality of space but of spirit.” He stood for the emotional benefits of architecture, which was the backbone of the design philosophy Wright taught his Taliesin Fellowship apprentices. With the assistance of the apprentices, Wright produced an impressive volume of work in the Usonian model, including the other ten Ohio projects completed by Wright after the Second World War. Frank Lloyd Wright continued to create and give form to architecture until his death in 1959 at age 91. In his 72 years of practice, Wright designed over 800 architectural works, 380 of which were built. Today approximately 280 structures remain.


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