(June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959) was an American architect, interior designer, writer, and educator, who designed more than 1,000 structures, 532 of which were completed.
Wright believed in designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture. This philosophy was best exemplified by Fallingwater (1935), which has been called “the best all-time work of American architecture”. His creative period spanned more than 70 years.
Wright was the pioneer of what came to be called the Prairie School movement of architecture, and he also developed the concept of the Usonian home in Broadacre City, his unique vision for urban planning in the United States. In addition to his houses, Wright designed original and innovative offices, churches, schools, skyscrapers, hotels, museums, and other structures. He often designed interior elements for these buildings, as well, including furniture and stained glass. Wright wrote 20 books and many articles and was a popular lecturer in the United States and Europe. Wright was recognized in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects as “the greatest American architect of all time”
His Prairie houses use themed, coordinated design elements (often based on plant forms) that are repeated in windows, carpets, and other fittings. He made innovative use of new building materials such as precast concrete blocks, glass bricks, and zinc cames (instead of the traditional lead) for his leadlight windows, and he famously used Pyrex glass tubing as a major element in the Johnson Wax Headquarters. Wright was also one of the first architects to design and install custom-made electric light fittings, including some of the first electric floor lamps, and his very early use of the then-novel spherical glass lampshade (a design previously not possible due to the physical restrictions of gas lighting). In 1897, Wright received a patent for “Prism Glass Tiles” that were used in storefronts to direct light toward the interior. Wright fully embraced glass in his designs and found that it fit well into his philosophy of organic architecture. According to Wright’s organic theory, all components of the building should appear unified, as though they belong together. Nothing should be attached to it without considering the effect on the whole. To unify the house to its site, Wright often used large expanses of glass to blur the boundary between the indoors and outdoors. Glass allowed for interaction and viewing of the outdoors while still protecting from the elements. In 1928, Wright wrote an essay on glass in which he compared it to the mirrors of nature: lakes, rivers and ponds. One of Wright’s earliest uses of glass in his works was to string panes of glass along whole walls in an attempt to create light screens to join together solid walls. By using this large amount of glass, Wright sought to achieve a balance between the lightness and airiness of the glass and the solid, hard walls. Arguably, Wright’s best-known art glass is that of the Prairie style. The simple geometric shapes that yield to very ornate and intricate windows represent some of the most integral ornamentation of his career.
Wright also designed some of his own clothing. His fashion sense was unique and he usually wore expensive suits, flowing neckties, and capes. He had a fascination with automobiles, purchasing his first car in 1909, a Stoddard-Dayton roadster, and owned many exotic vehicles over the years. During the cash-strapped Depression, Wright drove cheaper vehicles. Some of his last cars in the 1950s included four Volkswagens and a Chevrolet Nomad wagon along with flashier articles such as a Jaguar Mark VII. He owned some 50 cars between 1909 and his death, of which 10 are known to survive.
On April 4, 1959, Wright was hospitalized for abdominal pains and was operated on April 6. He seemed to be recovering, but he died quietly on April 9. After his death, Wright’s legacy was plagued with turmoil for years. His third wife Olgivanna’s dying wish had been that Wright, she, and her daughter by her first marriage all be cremated and interred together in a memorial garden being built at Taliesin West. According to his own wishes, Wright’s body had lain in the Lloyd-Jones cemetery, next to the Unity Chapel, near Taliesin in Wisconsin. Although Olgivanna had taken no legal steps to move Wright’s remains and against the wishes of other family members, as well as the Wisconsin legislature, in 1985, Wright’s remains were removed from his grave by members of the Taliesin Fellowship, cremated, and sent to Scottsdale, where they were later interred in the memorial garden. The original grave site in Wisconsin, now empty, is still marked with Wright’s name.
Child of the Sun 1941–1958
Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania (1937)
An open office area in Wright’s Johnson Wax headquarters complex, Racine, Wisconsin (1939)