Authors: Charles River Editors
By Charles River Editors
A commemorative Frank Lloyd Wright stamp
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Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)
“The architect must be a prophet... a prophet in the true sense of the term... if he can't see at least ten years ahead don't call him an architect.” – Frank Lloyd Wright
Perhaps America’s most innovative and prolific architect, the works of Frank Lloyd Wright are almost too vast and diverse to list. Recognized for designing unique churches and distinctive commercial buildings, and admired for his geometric style house designs, Wright has been widely imitated, and his work continues to influence architecture not only in the United States but around the world. Laymen often think they know the definition of “a Frank Lloyd Wright,” but they probably don’t fully understand the brilliant mind of the man, nor the intricacies of his Prairie Style. Yet it endures because he has made it so.
In many ways, Wright’s architectural career has overshadowed other aspects of his life. In the course of creating innovative kinds of offices, churches, schools, skyscrapers, hotels, and museums, not to mention furniture and stained glass decorations, Wright wrote over a dozen books and toured America and Europe at large, often giving widely acclaimed speeches. Despite a somewhat hardscrabble start to life in the Midwest, Wright became known for his flamboyant and entertaining lifestyle, which included multiple marriages and scandals like the murders at his Taliesin studio in 1914. But through it all, Wright continued working nearly up until his death, and in 1991 the American Institute of Architects recognized him as "the greatest American architect of all time"
Frank Lloyd Wright: The Life and Buildings of America’s Most Famous Architect
looks at the life and works of one of history’s greatest builders. Along with pictures of important people, places, and events, you will learn about Frank Lloyd Wright like never before.
Frank Lloyd Wright: The Life and Buildings of America’s Most Famous Architect
About Charles River Editors
The Evolution of an Engineer
Chapter 2: Wright’s Early Career
Chapter 3: Religious Buildings
Chapter 4: Midway Gardens and the Evolution of a Thinker
Chapter 5: Creating Communities
Chapter 6: Wright’s Personal Life
Chapter 7: Other Projects
“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
The world-famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, was born on June 8, 1867, in Richland Center, Wisconsin Frank Lloyd Wright’s grandparents were early arrivals in Ixonia, Wisconsin, when Richard Lloyd-Jones, his wife, and seven children immigrated from Wales to their new home on the Wisconsin prairie. Unlike many immigrants at the time, the Lloyd-Jones family traveled by water from one land to the other, rather than pioneer wagon, first aboard an ocean liner, then via canal boats, followed by a lake-steamer.
But pioneers they were. Richard Lloyd-Jones established a farm in Wisconsin at a time when Native Americans still lived in the Midwest.
In addition to being a farmer, Richard Lloyd-Jones was a Unitarian preacher. He established a Unitarian church in Ixonia where he declared “speech was free because men were.” Truth was the hallmark of grandpa Lloyd-Jones, as evidenced by the Druid symbol he took for his family crest which stood for “Truth against the world.”
His commitment to truth in all things deeply impacted Frank Lloyd Wright’s life, and he spoke of it often.
Richard Lloyd-Jones’s fourth child, Anna, was only five years old when the family arrived in the United States. She later became Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother, making him a first generation Wright.
The family’s respect for truth manifested itself in the belief that education was man’s salvation. To that end, Anna became a country schoolteacher, riding on horseback to various schoolhouses.
Frank Lloyd Wright failed to inherit his mother’s confidence in the educational system. In his autobiography, Wright said, “
Were I a Rockefeller – Ford – or Dupont, I mean as rich, I would buy up our leading universities—close them and hang out the sign—closed by the beneficence of one, Frank Lloyd Wright.”
That is not to say he did not respect intellect, education, and enlightenment. He simply had less trust in organized education than did his mother.
During her tenure as a country schoolteacher, Anna met a circuit rider from Hartford, Conn., who was traveling through Wisconsin, making his rounds. William Russell Cary Wright was educated at Amherst College where he originally studied medicine before deciding it wasn’t for him. Then he studied the law, becoming a circuit-rider and meting out justice in the Midwest.
When Anna and the young William Russell Cary Wright married, they each left their horse-riding days behind.
Anna stopped teaching, and Mr. Wright became a music teacher, but he eventually gave that up as well. Changing occupations yet another time, he became a preacher.
Anna and William’s first child was Frank Lloyd Wright, the grandson of immigrant Richard Lloyd-Jones. According to Frank, his father was jealous of his mother’s attention to her newborn son. She predicted that Frank Lloyd Wright was to “build beautiful buildings,” and she would stop at nothing to make that happen.
Even before he was born Anna had decided that Frank would be an architect. To that end, she decorated his baby’s room with ten wood-engravings of English cathedrals. The first images the future architect would see were great, celebrated buildings. Frank did become the architect of his mother’s dreams, but he detested the gaudy European stone buildings she'd chosen for him. As an adult, he made a career out of helping architecture to evolve in a new and innovative way, changing how buildings of any kind were designed. As far as Wright was concerned, the ornate trim and gargantuan domes were things to be done away with.
Three years later, the Wright family welcomed a baby girl, little Jane Wright. At about the same time, the now Reverend William Russell Cary Wright was called to a church at Weymoth, near Boston. As a result, Frank and Jane spent their first few years in a Boston suburb, far from the family’s Wisconsin home. But it was a Baptist church, and very much in contrast to the Unitarian teachings Frank had previously learned from his mother and her family.
It was while the family lived in Boston that Anna Lloyd-Jones Wright discovered Friedrich Froebel's concept of kindergarten, which was a new and foreign concept to her. Anna decided her very young children would benefit from Froebel’s approach. She discovered that, in the United States, Milton Bradley had embraced Froebel’s concept, well before kindergarten had become a part of the American school system, and had begun to manufacture learning products. Milton Bradley created blocks of different shapes with which to teach basic skills, and called them Kindergarten Gifts. Anna Wright eagerly bought these Kindergarten Gifts in order to teach preschoolers Frank and Jane, but as far as Anna was concerned, there never seemed to be enough education, so Frank also attended Miss Williams’ private school, a fashionable school in the Boston suburbs, for some years.
At home, Anna taught Frank the writings of William Longfellow, the radical William Ellery Channing,
Waldo Emerson, the sermons of Theodore Parker, and the works of Henry David Thoreau, favoring the transcendentalism of the East. In his autobiography, Wright describes his childhood as a lonesome one, where he would rather read, listen to music, draw, and “make things,” than to sleep—and to dream.
When Frank’s father became a minister, his mother longed to return west to Wisconsin and her family, the only home she had ever known. Soon Frank’s youngest sister, Maginel, was born, and then the family of five did return west, to a new home on the shores of Lake Mendota, near Madison, Wisconsin.
In Wright’s opinion, this was when his education began, but it had nothing to do with school or formal education. When he was only 11 years old, Frank was sent to his Uncle James in the Ixonia valley of Wisconsin, to learn farm work, or, as Wright said, to learn to “add ‘tired’ to ‘tired’.” His greatest regrets were that he had to leave behind books, music, idle dreams, and city streets. He also left behind his mother, father, little Maginel, and Jane, and went to work on his Uncle James’s farm, forty miles away.
As he worked the farm, Frank pondered about the fact that much of his time there was devoted to the dairy herd, yet the family never included cream with their meals. Frank’s mother distrusted doctors, and believed that food could cure anything, especially in its plainest forms. Apparently, her brother James held the same belief, because after a long day of work splitting rails and doing other things that seemed a bit too hard for such a young boy, he listed the array of foods for breakfast, but, no cream. Again, a list of food served at noon, but without cream. Finally, dinner, with no cream.
By April, Frank was yearning for September 17, and the beginning of the school year. Regardless of the fact that he adored Uncle James, the older man was not kind to Frank. As a result, the young boy ran away from home, only to be found by his uncle, who compassionately explained to Frank how to adjust to hard work. Years later, he recalled his uncle explaining that, “Adventures make strong men and finish weak ones.” Little, pre-pubescent Frank had only begun to learning to see the beauty in the world around him.
Back in Wisconsin, Frank’s father returned to teaching music to help make ends meet. It was shortly after his time on the farm that Frank befriended Robie Lamp, a physically handicapped boy his age, who studied music under the tutelage of Frank’s father. Frank and his new best friend remained close until Robie died at the early age of only 44 years. One of Wright’s lesser-known structures was a little cream-white brick house he'd designed for Robie where he lived until he died, which featured a billiards room, a children’s playroom, and an entire servants' wing.
As children, Frank and Robie not only learned violin, but they also learned how to run a small printing press in the Wright’s basement. The two, along with a friend, Charlie Doyon, formed Wright, Doyon and Lamp, Publishers and Printers. After a young lifetime of learning to respect the writers of literature, Frank now discovered that “Letters are works of art, or should be.”
Music and singing were what Wright called a “riot” at the Wright’s house, as it was always mixed with laughter. Frank decided when he was 16 that music was unmanly, and so he left it behind. He and Robie both replaced their childhood interests with construction and the design of inventions.
Frank Lloyd Wright was only 16 years old when he entered the University of Wisconsin. Frank’s parents had divorced by then, his mother’s family considered her failed marriage a disgrace, and he never saw his father again.
Wright enrolled in the university as a prospective civil engineer, but it proved to be a burden for his now single mother, left with three children to raise on her own, to afford tuition. During the 1886-87 school year, Frank Lloyd Wright attended the University of Wisconsin (Madison) where he had been a student during the latter part of 1885-86. By 1886-87, he was one of only four students who were referred to as a “Special Student in Engineering,”
and was working part-time to help his mother make ends meet.
The Catalogue of the
Phi Delta Theta Fraternity
from 1888-94 listed Frank Lloyd Wright at his Oak Park, Ill. address as a graduate of the class of 1889 and a member of Wisconsin Alpha.
But in truth, Frank Lloyd Wright never earned his college degree.
He left the University of Wisconsin for Chicago, with one semester left before graduation. He told his mother and sisters he was slipping out to get food, and simply never returned. In his own words, Frank was spared what he'd called the curse of the “architectural” education of the day, with its false direction in culture, and wrong emphasis on sentiment, partly because his mother could not afford for him to study architecture full-time.
With no architectural experience, and only a partial education in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Frank was met with no kindness in Chicago. He was nearly broke before he was able to find work. Eventually, he was hired by Cecil Corwin of Silsbee’s architectural firm. It was pure coincidence that Silsbee’s was in the process of building All Souls Church for Frank Lloyd Wright’s uncle.
Wright described his time at Silsbee’s as a very positive experience, save for Silsbee’s hesitance to approve a raise for him when he was earning less than lesser-talent staff, and he eventually quit.
Wright was quickly hired by Silsbee’s competitors, Beers, Clay and Dutton, for the same rate of pay he had asked from Silsbee's. However, soon Wright realized he lacked the experience to produce the designs expected of him, and he returned to Silsbee's who met his wage demands, at a time when the architecture firm of Adler & Sullivan were building the Chicago Auditorium.
Frank bounced around among the leading Chicago architectural firms, armed only with a partial education in civil engineering, for some years, before settling in to work for Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, styled as Adler & Sullivan, for seven years. During his tenure there, he met fellow architect Paul Mueller, with whom he would work in the future. Wright remained close with Adler, Sullivan and Mueller throughout his life, even after becoming an independent architect.
In spite of having left college degreeless and disenchanted about institutions of learning, Wright devoted his life to learning, eventually opening his own university.
Now that he no longer attended classes, he continued to learn everything he could on his own. It was about this time that Frank discovered a copy of Owen Jones’
Grammar of Ornament
in the All Souls library. He claimed that Jones’ book was “enough to keep, in spite of architects, one’s faith alive in architecture.”
The subject of “ornament” remained at the heart of everything Wright created throughout his life. He contended that ornamentation should come from the building materials’ natural beauty, not from elaborate and painstaking work by a master craftsman. Wright cited the visionary architect and city planner, Daniel H. Burnham, as saying, “Architecture will never be surpassed. Without a good education in the Classics how can you hope to succeed?”
Not only did Wright value learning--if not from formal education--but he left behind a legacy of learning that continues today. Early in Book Four of his five-book autobiography, Wright announced that the remainder of that book would be composed of lectures that the non-architect might be excused from reading. He could not resist devoting his own story, his autobiography, to teaching his all-encompassing theories of architecture, community, the environment, and politics.
“The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines - so they should go as far as possible from home to build their first buildings.” – Frank Lloyd Wright
“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.” – Frank Lloyd Wright
While living and working in Chicago in about 1889, Frank met Catherine “Kitty” Tobin at a church party at All Souls. He described his lack of social interaction with young women at that age as almost a task, rather than something he was motivated to pursue. Perhaps headstrong Kitty sensed this, and wanted to expand introvert Frank's world, even though she was only a high school teenager when they met.
Whether he realized it or not, Frank was attracted to strong, independent women. Before his life was over, he would marry three of them, in addition to having a relationship with a fourth woman when Kitty refused to divorce him.
Kitty’s family did not want her to be involved with Frank. They sent her to Michigan with the hope that she would forget him, but she couldn’t. By the time Frank was 21, he and Kitty, his first wife, were married. They divorced more than 30 years later.
In the meantime, Frank’s mother had sold their family home in Wisconsin, and she and Frank’s youngest sister, Maginel, moved to Chicago, where his mother became friends with Rev. Augusta Chapin, who lived in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. When Augusta Jane Chapin was 16 years old, she left her family home in New York, and enrolled at Olivet College in Michigan, far from home. In 1864, Chapin had become one of the first women ordained as a minister. In 1893, she earned a Doctor of Divinity degree from Unitarian Seminary, Lombard University. Chapin became the first woman to earn her doctorate from the school.
That same year, she chaired the Woman’s Committee of the World Parliament of Religions in conjunction with the World’s Columbia Exposition. A charter member of the American Woman Suffrage Association, Chapin was known as an advocate for women’s rights. She was a very busy woman, with her ministerial duties taking her from one end of the United States to another, though she lived in Oak Park, Illinois.
It is not clear how Chapin met Anna Lloyd-Jones Wright, though it was probably through Anna’s Unitarian connections. In fact, the Rev. Chapin and Frank’s mother knew each other well enough that, when Anna and Marginel left Wisconsin, they and Frank lived with Rev. Chapin in Oak Park until Anna decided whether she and her daughter would stay in Chicago. Oak Park was as close to the city as she cared to be.
He continued to live there for many years and built a number of private homes there, in addition to his own home and studio. As a result, Frank Lloyd Wright’s name has become synonymous with Oak Park.
That Unitarian connection continued with his work on the
All Souls Unitarian Church
, also known as the All Souls Building, in Chicago. According to Frank, the pastor and Frank’s uncle, Rev. Jenkins Lloyd Jones, was surprised when he had learned that Frank had been hired for the project without the reverend’s knowledge or influence.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s career continued to progress. In 1893, he established his own independent architectural firm in Chicago, primarily because Adler & Sullivan were only interested in commercial construction and had no interest in designing private homes. Wright’s first project, Winslow House, was a private home in another Chicago suburb, that of River Forest, Illinois. Winslow House is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and is often cited as an early example of what has become known as the Prairie School of architecture, created by Wright and influenced by Sullivan.
The front and back of the Winslow House
When most people think of Prairie Style they conjure up a two-story house with a large, over-hanging roof. To assume that such a description is complete would be an offense to the Prairie Style, and Mr. Wright himself. It has been said that “
Mr. Wright has been doing for the typical residence and apartment house what Sullivan has done for the theatre and office building.”
Wright was redefining houses.
His goal was sincere in “keeping the truest and best of which man is capable where man can use it.” Frank had realized he was interested in building homes that people should have, whether that was what they wanted or not. He felt it was the only way he could express truth, the truth his grandfather had taught him to respect above all else.
Ivo Shandor’s picture of the Walter H. Gale House, one of Wright’s early works
Steven Kevil’s picture of the Nathan G. Moore House
In Frank’s opinion, the typical American house was a box, cut too full of holes to let in light and air, and with one especially ugly one used to get in and out of it. He especially disliked all the walls, saying in his autobiography that the abundance of walls “implied ancestors familiar with penal institutions.”
Wright dictated there should be no more living quarters on the first floor. The downstairs could be designed with small alcoves where the residents could read or study alone. He declared the entire lower floor as one room, while cutting off the kitchen, which he called a “laboratory.”
The only exception to his first floor bedroom rule was to place the servants’ sleeping and living quarters next to the kitchen, but semi-detached. Keep in mind that Wright began working as an architect when live-in servants were more common among the wealthy. In retrospect, it seems a bit antiquated but it was a way of life for Wright’s affluent clients.
Wright determined that every house should have one chimney. He consented to allowing two at most, but he really preferred only one. He said, “It comforted me to see the fire burning deep in the solid masonry of the house itself. A feeling that came to stay.” Wright wanted to share that feeling with his clients, and the visitors to the houses he would design.
A Frank Lloyd Wright house was more than just a two-story home with big eaves and a chimney. It is easy to overlook the tradition Wright adhered to of never incorporating dormers into his designs. Instead, high-pitched roofs above broad eaves became the hallmark of a Frank Lloyd Wright home, and served as more than decoration--they prevented sun from flooding second-story rooms during the hotter hours on summer days.
Soffits, the underbelly of the eaves, are painted in light-reflecting tones, creating the glow of diffused light in the bedrooms on the second floor. Wright criticized the architectural styles that had gone before him, saying, “The whole roof was ridged and tipped, swanked and galed to madness before they would allow it to be either watershed or shelter.” A practical and environmentally-conscious man, Frank Lloyd Wright frequently designed buildings that would make water collection possible—to be used for landscaping or other uses--especially from his roof designs.
For Wright, “Walls became the function of a screen bringing inside out and outside in.” He saw the landscaping as creating walls, with windows and doors that would allow the outdoor environment to become a part of the interior design. He recommended casement windows everywhere because he deemed them the best form of window for his buildings. He didn’t really care that they were inconvenient for the homeowner.
Wright recognized that people must be able to cluster, sit or recline, confound them, and they must dine—but dining is much easier to manage and offered a great artistic opportunity. The arrangement of sitting in comfort, singly or groups, need not be an informal disarray, but should remain a part of the scheme as a whole. His solution to this matter was to create alcoves for privacy, and large, open spaces in which groups might gather.
Art & Decoration
described the new designs generated by this up and coming architect as follows: “Frank Lloyd Wright has attained wide popularity in the Middle West and the merits of his very radical architecture seem to have made a strong appeal to his clients. It cannot be denied even by fairly conventional conservatists that there is much in secessionist architecture which is sincerely pleasing. The broad restful spaces the freedom from meaningless moldings…
Wright despised moldings. He described moldings, or trim, as “plastic,” which he saw as a positive concept. He liked that the few moldings he might consent to use could be made by machines, rather than by individuals. Wright proudly declared, “No longer did trim look like carpenter work. The machine could do it all perfectly well as I laid it out.”
He went on to defend this position, saying there was little to conceal in the way of craftsmanship, because the battle between the machines and the Union had already begun to demoralize workmen. Perhaps it was not his best observation, but it was a true one. The machine was becoming a fixture in American society, and rather than resent it, Wright embraced it.
Wright declared that atrocity, the American front porch, to be a “fetish.” Upon closer inspection, one discovers that true Prairie Style is devoid of such things.
The overall Wright design itself was organic and specific, and spilled over into non-residential buildings. Wright declared that the ornament should be of the surface not on the surface, and there should be no tangible background at all. In fact, he took building to a new level and insisted that the architect should not only build the shell of a building or house, but the architect should build the furniture as well, and be responsible for designing every detail, right down to the artwork and landscaping.
Wright could not help himself. He was horrified when he began designing his clean, simple houses only to watch the owners haul in furniture and sentimental decorations that were too ornate, too gaudy, too much in conflict with his concepts. He readily admitted that assimilation was extraordinarily difficult when trying to combine home décor in the form of sculpture, paintings, or pottery. “Very few of the houses were anything but painful to me after the clients brought in their belongings,” he lamented.
Wright’s solution was to design everything in the buildings as integral features. He proposed incorporating built-in furniture, and wall decorations and flooring that defied the owner to cover it with rugs or carpets. A Wright client would have the house they needed, whether they wanted it or not.
To that end, Wright took it upon himself, the architect, to think of everything. He did not want to leave even the light fixtures to the discretion of the homeowner. In fact, he didn’t believe such things should even be seen. The light should be seen, but not the fixture. As a result, the ideal Wright house has indirect, hidden lighting, created by installing false ceilings to conceal fixtures while providing warm, indirect light, emitting from an unseen source.
A Wright house is built to reflect the white from a white floor. It has electric lights hidden within skylights, so that the “source of light is everywhere hidden.”
Wright carried out this new mission when he was hired to design the Larkin Administration Building for the Larkin Soap Company, of Buffalo, New York, his first independent commercial venture.
Just as with the houses, Wright designed built-in furniture for the Larkin Building, down to the desks and chairs. Ever the practical one, Wright invented chairs that had no legs. Instead, the chairs were attached to the desk by a swinging arm. The technique made it easier for the cleaning staff to sweep and mop the floors as they no longer had to move any chairs.
The Larkin Building was unique for many reasons. It was the first hermetically sealed and air-conditioned building. The purpose was to seal out noxious fumes from trains. To accomplish that, Wright invented a separate stairwell that served as both fire escape and air intake for the ventilation system. It also housed a communication system. The building also featured a fireproof vault--Wright thought of everything.
The Larkin Building
Few people probably realize that Wright invented something that can be found today in virtually every public restroom in America. Frank Lloyd Wright, ever a man of common sense, invented what he called the “hanging water close partition,” the suspended dividers now found in restrooms everywhere, realizing that they too would make it easier to clean floors. Frank’s son, John, wrote in his own book about his father, “Every time I see a porter swinging his mop under one of these closets, I wonder why Dad didn’t patent the idea. He would not patent any of his many inventions.”
In an innovation that has seldom been implemented elsewhere, Wright created a “light tower” in the center of the Larkin Building. Clerical staff were housed on the second floor, in an open area that rose all the way to the skylight on the sixth floor, providing natural light to the workers below and to the other floors that overlooked the atrium arrangement. Not only did this provide natural light for the office workers, but it reduced the utility bill as well.
Wright lamented that the Larkins never realized how important their building was. “To them it was just one of their factory buildings,” he said, noting that the Larkins continued to renovate their building over the years.
Wright’s technique did not go unnoticed. By 1900, the
wrote, “The polygonal libraries of the Bagley, Devin and McAfee houses and of Mr. Wright's own studio with their above-head or direct top light and air of quiet seclusion for study and reflection are noteworthy features. The result was not a dim room but one designed with soft light bright enough for library study.”
Wright’s style has often been described as plain, stripped of detail and ornamentation, which was exactly Wright's intention. His style began early in his career and remained a theme in everything he did. He saw ornamentation as sentimentality, and he despised it. In his autobiography, he pondered,
“How do sentimental people ever manage to live on good terms with themselves, at all?”
All Souls was an early embodiment of Wright’s view that the building materials themselves should be the ornamentation. Wood should look like wood, and stone should look like stone. Already the world was taking notice of Wright’s radical departure from artificially ornate cathedrals around the world, opting, instead, for simplicity. It was the
who was among the first to recognize that the new style was evolving beyond the influence of Sullivan: “The erection of a novel building will soon be begun by the congregation of All Souls Unitarian Church, whose pastor is the Rev. Jenkins Lloyd Jones. All precedents have been ignored, and a building has been designed to meet in the simplest, quietest, and most natural way the peculiar conditions imposed upon the architects…dignified and plain, almost to severity, depending chiefly for its effectiveness upon largeness and coherence of composition and refinement of the very sparing detail…Wright’s original way, which is a restrained and agreeably geometrified phase of ‘Sullivanesque.’ Frank Lloyd Wright and Dwight Heald Perkins are the associated architects.”
When discussing the construction of churches, Wright said, “I cannot see the ancient institutional form of any church building as anything but sentimental survival for burial. The temple as a forum and good-time place – beautiful and inspiring as such—yes. As a religious edifice raised in the sense of the old ritual? No. I cannot see it at all as living. It is no longer free.” Wright incorporated truth in everything he created, along with philosophy, environmentalism and faith.
“Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day's work. I follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain.” – Frank Lloyd Wright
“The architect should strive continually to simplify; the ensemble of the rooms should then be carefully considered that comfort and utility may go hand in hand with beauty.” – Frank Lloyd Wright
The year was 1899 and Frank’s life was coming together serendipitously. His name first became known because of his work on a Unitarian church building where the influence of Sullivan’s architectural style was recognized as a reflection of the master, though he was already seen as an original. Wright declared that he liked Adler & Sullivan's clean crispness. He also admired Adler for inventing the sound-board as an architectural principle. Wright declared that no public hall ever built by Adler & Sullivan was bad, acoustically speaking.
This was also the year that Wright built his home and studio in Oak Park. Though he eventually fathered seven children and adopted an eighth, Wright posed the question in his autobiography, “Is it a quality? Fatherhood?…I seemed born without [it].” That said,
he gave each of his first six children a musical instrument to learn, and the whole family played music together. He once declared, “Those children! They are worth a monogram each!” While decrying sentimentality, Wright clearly loved his own children, and to a degree he recreated his own childhood, filled with music, for his own children.
John Delano’s picture of Wright’s house in Oak Park
Wright’s studio in Oak Park
The public was also beginning to take notice of Frank Lloyd Wright. It became news when he attended the First National Convention of Architectural Clubs in Cleveland on June 2 and June 3, 1899.
Everyone seemed to have their eyes on Wright, and by
April of 1900, Frank Lloyd Wright was recognized for four projects by the Chicago Architectural Club, among them the All Souls Building, his own studio, and homes he designed for E.C. Waller and Mrs. Robert Eckart, both in the River Forest suburb of Chicago. All the while, Wright refused to participate in competitions. “[The] Committee always chooses the most average and the result is a building well behind the times before it is begun.” He would make his own way, and felt he did not need the endorsement of others.
Even as the private houses continued to be built, Wright designed five religious buildings. The first one he built was Unity Chapel in Spring Green, Wisconsin in 1886, the LloydWright family’s home. In 1904 he was chosen to rebuild Unity Church in Oak Park; after
Unity Church burned to the ground, the pastor, Rev. Rodney Johonnot, published the booklet,
A New Edifice for Unity Church,
describing his desire for a building that would embody “unity, truth, beauty, simplicity, freedom and reason.” Frank Lloyd Wright was the perfect man for the job, and fortunately, he lived nearby.
Wright proposed abolishing the art and craft of architecture and literature in any symbolic form whatsoever. He advocated, instead, for “the sense of inner rhythm deep planted in human sensibility [which] lives far above all other considerations in art.” He went even further, asking, “Why the steeple?” In designing Unity Church and other religious buildings, he answered that question be eliminating steeples from his buildings.
Unity Temple was unique because it became the “first concrete monolith,” in Wright’s words. Concrete was a new addition to the building materials scene and had previously been considered a poor building material. It took Frank Lloyd Wright to give concrete its proper standing and to be recognized as a respectable material. This is part of the reason Unity Temple is a square building: to accommodate the concrete blocks.
To Wright, the church or temple should be a modern meeting-house, and what he called a “good-time place.” It took 34 tries before Wright had created a design for Unity Temple that met his own standards.
Pictures of the interior and exterior of the Unity Temple
In 1947, he designed another Unitarian structure when he was contracted to build Shorewood Hills Unitarian Meeting House in Madison, Wisconsin, but not all of Wright’s religious buildings were Unitarian. In 1953, Wright designed Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, but he died before it was completed in 1959.
Beth Sholom Synagogue was identified by the American Institute of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the 17 Wright buildings most worthy of preservation. It became a National Historic Landmark in 2007.
A picture of the only synagogue Wright ever designed
Historically, Wright chose squares and rectangles as his geometric shape of choice, but in 1956 he made a distinct departure when he designed the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wauwautosa, Wisconsin, in the shape of a Greek cross, created in the traditional Byzantine gold and blue.
A large building, capable of seating more than 1,000 people, it is made of reinforced concrete shaped, molded to create the graceful curves of this church. As with Beth Shalom Synagogue, the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church was also finished after his death.
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church