Alongside his European peers Walter Gropius, Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier, the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright is recognized as one of the founding fathers of Modern Architecture. Wright was an innovator throughout his life, not just as a designer.
Nearly forty years after his death, Frank Lloyd Wright is the subject of a major retrospective touring Europe. Devoted to the development of a pure form of American architecture, his career spanned more than seventy years, during which he produced nearly 800 works. The ideas Wright developed in the final period of his life were often misunderstood but now, at the end of the 20th century, with bold architectural statements such as those of Frank Gehry, a reevaluation is taking place.
A PIONEER FROM THE START
Born in Wisconsin in 1867, Frank Lloyd Wright was sixteen when his father deserted the family. His mother encouraged him to become an architect, and in 1887 Wright left home to work in Chicago, starting his own practice in 1893. His earliest success came with his radical open-plan Prairie Houses, the finest example being the Dana House at Springfield, Wisconsin, built in 1902.
Wright’s clients also commissioned him to design the interiors, fixtures and fittings. His own home, Taliesin in Wisconsin, was built in 1911. While his work took him all over America, an important commission came from Japan. The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, built between 1915 and 1922, withstood a major earthquake in 1923 thanks to Wright’s design of a floating foundation and steel-reinforced construction. One of his greatest achievements, the hotel was demolished in 1968, although the entrance lobby was dismantled and reconstructed as part of a Japanese architectural museum.
In 1917 Wright moved to California where, in the early 1920s, he built his first textured concrete block house. After Taliesin burned down, he rebuilt it in 1925 and in 1937 built a new home, Taliesin West, in Arizona. During the 1930s, already in his sixties, Wright created two of his most important buildings: Failingwater in Pennsylvania, the most famous private house in America, for Edgar J. Kauffmann in 1935 and the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin.
While most of his commissions came from wealthy clients, Wright also developed his earlier Prairie Houses into the moderately-priced Usonian Houses. These were flatroofed, built of brick, wood and glass, with walls made of composite panels and glazed doors opening out onto private gardens. Wright termed them "organic architecture," designed with economy, convenience and comfort in mind, providing flexible living space.
Frank Lloyd Wright courted controversy in both his professional and private life. He left his first wife and family to be together with the wife of a client. After her tragic death, Wright remarried twice. His final masterpiece, and the climax of his career, was the Guggenheim Museum in New York, which was completed a few months after his death in 1959. Wright’s talent and single-mindedness took precedence over his notorious lifestyle, resulting in his rightful position as America’s greatest 20th-century architect.