Frank Lloyd Wright

       Frank Lloyd Wright


nk Lloyd Wright was born in Richland Centre, Wisconsin on June 8, 1867. His parents, William Cary Wright and Anna Lloyd-Jones, originally named him Frank Lincoln Wright, which he later changed after they divorced. When he was twelve years old, Wright's family settled in Madison, Wisconsin where he attended Madison High School. During summers spent on his Uncle James Lloyd Jones' farm in Spring Green, Wisconsin, Wright first began to realize his dream of becoming an architect. In 1885, he left Madison without finishing high school to work for Allan Conover, the Dean of the University of Wisconsin's Engineering department. While at the University, Wright spent two semesters studying civil engineering before moving to Chicago in 1887.

In Chicago, he worked for architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee. Wright drafted the construction of his first building, the Lloyd-Jones family chapel, also known as Unity Chapel. One year later, he went to work for the firm of Adler and Sullivan, directly under Louis Sullivan. Wright adapted Sullivan's maxim 'Form Follows Function' to his own revised theory of 'Form and Function Are One.' It was Sullivan's belief that American Architecture should be based on American function, not European traditions, a theory which Wright later developed further. Throughout his life, Wright acknowledged very few influences but credits Sullivan as a primary influence on his career. While working for Sullivan, Wright met and fell in love with Catherine Tobin. The two moved to Oak Park, Illinois and built a home where they eventually raised their five children. In 1893, Sullivan and Wright ended their business relationship. Wright opened his own firm in Chicago, which he operated there for five years before transferring the practice to his home in Oak Park.


Wright's early houses revealed a unique talent in the young, aspiring architect. They had a style all their own, mimicking that of a horizontal plane, with no basements or attics. Built with natural materials and never painted, Wright utilized low-pitched rooflines with deep overhangs and uninterrupted walls of windows to merge the horizontal homes into their environments. He added large stone or brick fireplaces in the homes' heart, and made the rooms open to one another. His simplistic houses served as an inspiration to the Prairie School, a name given to a group of architects whose style was indigenous of midwestern architecture. Later he became one of its chief practitioners. Some of his most notable creations include the Robie House in Chicago, Illinois and the Martin House in Buffalo, New York.

In 1909, after eighteen years in Oak Park, Wright left his home to move to Germany with a woman named Mamah Borthwick Cheney. When they returned in 1911, they moved to Spring Green, Wisconsin where his mother had given him a portion of his ancestors' land; it was the same farm where he had spent much time as a young boy. In Spring Green he constructed Taliesin. They lived there until 1914 when tragedy struck. An insane servant tragically murdered Cheney and six others, then set fire to Taliesin. Many people thought this horrific event would be the end of Wright's career. He proved them wrong however, with his decision to rebuild Taliesin.

Over the next 20 years Wright's influence continued to grow in popularity in the United States and Europe. Eventually his innovative building style spread overseas. In 1915, Wright was commissioned to design the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. It was during this time that Wright began to develop and refine his architectural and sociological philosophies. Because Wright disliked the urban environment, his buildings also developed a style quite different from other architects of the time. He utilized natural materials, skylights and walls of windows to embrace the natural environment. He built skyscrapers that mimicked trees, with a central trunk and many branches projecting outward. He proclaimed that shapes found in the environment should be not only integrated, but should become the basis of American architecture. A great example is the Larkin Company Administration Building in Buffalo, New York (1903), and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City (1943), which resembles the structure of a shell or a snail.

In 1932, Wright opened Taliesin up as an architectural fellowship where young students could pay to work with and learn from him. Thirty apprentices came to live with him at Taliesin. Through the Taliesin Fellowship, Wright created masterpieces such as Fallingwater (the Kaufmann House) in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, and the SC Johnson and Son Wax Company Administration Center in Racine, Wisconsin. During this time, he married and separated from Miriam Noel and met his third wife, Olivanna Milanoff. The two lived happily at Taliesin for five years and raised a child there. As the couple grew older, the Wisconsin winters became too much for them. In 1937, Wright moved his family and fellowship to Phoenix, Arizona where he built Taliesin West and spent the last twenty years of his life.

At Taliesin West, because of the comfortable year-round climate, Wright was able to integrate the outdoors with his indoor spaces. He designed high sloping roofs, translucent ceilings, and large, open doors and windows that created a subtle distinction between the home and the environment. Both Taliesin and Taliesin West were continuous living experiences for Wright as they constantly remained under construction. As his fellowship grew and the need for a larger facility became necessary, Wright continued to create additions and expansions on both homes.

On April 9, 1959 at age ninety-two, Wright died at his home in Phoenix, Arizona. By the time of his death, he had become internationally recognized for his innovative building style and contemporary designs. He had created 1,141 designs, of which 532 were completed. His name had become synonymous with great design, not only because of the form of his designs, but also because of the function. In the end, he showed not just what to live in, but more importantly he influenced the very nature of how we lived.


·        'Youth is a quality, not a matter of circumstances.'

·        'An expert is a man who has stopped thinking-he knows!'

·        'Give me the luxuries of life and I will willingly do without the necessities.'

·        'The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes.'

·        'Early in life, I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.'

·        'Form follows function- that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.'

·        '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.'

·        'Architecture is life, or at least it is life itself taking form and therefore it is the truest record of life as it was lived in the world yesterday, as it is lived today or ever will be lived.'

·        'The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.'

·        'If you foolishly ignore beauty, you'll soon find yourself without it. Your life will be improverished. But if you wisely invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.'


The Home and Studio

To his personal residence in Oak Park, Wright added a studio in 1898. The extraordinary Home and Studio complex served as Wright's architectural laboratory from 1889 to 1909, the years that launched his career. Here he conceived the Prairie style of architecture, testing ideas that found their fullest expression in many of the surrounding homes he designed for clients.

The Home and Studio served as the private residence and architectural office of Wright during the first 20 years of his professional career. In 1889, Wright borrowed $5,000 from his employer Louis Sullivan to build the home where he and Catherine Tobin began their married life and raised six children.

Wright used the Home and Studio as a laboratory in which to experiment with space, form, light, materials, furnishings and decorative arts. The building was constantly in transition, showcasing the architect's evolving design philosophy. In 1895, Wright expanded the living space of the home, and in 1898, he added the studio.

From the studio complex, Wright designed more than 150 structures over the next decade. During this time, Wright developed a uniquely personal approach to residential design and imparted his principles to the architects who worked with him, ultimately fostering the Prairie School of Architecture.

Although Wright left Oak Park in 1909, he did not sell the Home and Studio until 1925. Subsequent owners divided the complex into as many as seven apartments, and by 1974, the building had seriously deteriorated. In the same year, The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Foundation was formed to acquire, restore and operate the property as a historic house museum and centre for education on Wright. A committee of preservation architects developed a master plan for restoration for the building. In consultation with architectural historians, this committee selected 1909 as the restoration target date.



The project was an enormous undertaking, comprising some 15 planning, design and construction phases. The foundations, masonry, sheathing, shingles, trim, art glass, skylights, roofing and other components were substantially deteriorated, in some cases required replacement, in others, restoration and repair. In addition, the electrical and heating systems needed to be modernized. As many as 28 coats of paint covered the original plaster and some of the woodwork, while 10 layers concealed the murals decorating the interior walls.

During the exterior restoration, the rubblestone foundation walls of the home were excavated and waterproofed. The studio was raised on concrete caissons to excavate a basement, and a concrete foundation was poured to support the structure. The rotted exterior walls were reframed and sheathed. The varied texture of the home's exterior was recreated with cedar shingles, brick and limestone, as was the intricate, board-and-batten styling of the studio facade. The cedar shingled roof of the home and the flat roofs of the studio were replaced. Handicapped access to the studio was facilitated by the addition of a ramp.

The restoration of the interior included inserting steel-and-wood beams between the first and second floors to reinforce the framing. The sand-finished texture of the original plaster was recreated on all the wall surfaces. Wright used wood extensively throughout the building for trim, built-in seating and storage. Recreating these elements required the reconstruction of historic sections of oak, basswood and pine. The Wright-designed lighting fixtures and decorative arts were reproduced. Ninety four art glass windows were recreated, using the original glass whenever possible; one skylight alone required 350 hours to restore.

Three semicircular murals in the home were conserved. The studio's chain-harness tension ring, a unique structural support system was uncovered and restored. Modern electrical and heating systems were integrated into Wright's original design to conform with present-day standards and codes.

Overall, the project involved some 30 architects and other design professionals, 80 contractors, craftsmen and major suppliers, more than 350 individuals from the building industry, the support of 100 board members, 50 staff members, in excess of 1,000 volunteers, and the financial contributions of more than 300,000 visitors, members and other donors since 1974. The structure was open for daily tours throughout the restoration process. In 1987, the American Institute of Architects recognized this exemplary restoration effort with a prestigious National Honor award.





SC Johnson Administration Center

Since its opening on April 22, 1939, the SC Johnson Administration Center has been a 'Mecca' for tourists, architects and Frank Lloyd Wright devotees from all over the world. Artists and photgraphers have captured the building's sweeping curves and geometric designs on canvas and film. And thousands of people have delighted in the spectacular 'bird-cage' elevators. What began as a new office building for SC Johnson Wax has become a testament to the foresight of H. F. Johnson, Jr. and the vision of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright decided the Administration Center to be a functional building. He studied the daily work flow and believed that the most important criteria for his designs were the people. Wright also considered the corporate hierarchy. The clerical staff had office areas on the main level, the manager's offices were on the mezzanine level surrounding the clerical staff, and the executive offices on the third or Penthouse level, over-seeing everyone below.

The Great Workroom, which covers nearly one-half acre, is the main office area. Though it has many unique features, two of the most prominent are the slim, dendriform columns which support the roof and the glass tubing which replaces conventional windows. Neither of these features had been used before.

The bricks used in the building are also unusual. More than 200 sizes and shapes of bricks were made to form the angles and curves used by Wright. Even their color, Cherokee Red, was specified by Wright. To complement the warm tone of the brick, a lighter colored Kasota stone was used as trim. And to continue Wright's idea of fluidity and movement, the mortar in the horizontal brick joints was recessed or raked out.

Johnson's interest in Frank Lloyd Wright continued, and in 1947 construction began on the Research and Development Tower. The 14-floor tower is one of the tallest structures ever built where there is no visible support under the outer walls. Wright designed the Tower using the cantilever principle which is similar to the root, trunk and branch system of a tree. This design allows the tower to appear to hang, suspended in the air. The interior levels alternate round and square floor levels. Wright's intention was to allow for easy communication between floors via the 'open corners.' The architect again used glass tubing instead of windows to allow for even, shadowless light and to prevent any view of outside distractions.

Connecting the Administration Center to the Research Tower, is a Wright designed bridge, enclosed completely by plate glass and glass tubing. And to further ensure the comfort of the employees in the cold Wisconsin winters, he also created a system of interconnected, underground tunnels to access each building.

The genius of Wright did not stop with the design of the building. He also designed the furniture, again, to complement the work flow and needs of the employees. The now-famous three-leg chairs prompted good posture.


Fallingwater is recognized as one of Wright's most acclaimed works, and in a 1991 poll of members of the American Institute of Architects, it was voted 'the best all-time work of American architecture.' It is a supreme example of Frank Lloyd Wright's concept of organic architecture, which promotes harmony between man and nature.

For Fallingwater, designed in 1935 for the Edgar J. Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh, Wright responded to the family's love for a waterfall on Bear Run, a rushing mountain stream. Mimicking a natural pattern established by its rock ledges, Wright placed the house over the falls in a series of cantilevered concrete 'trays,' anchored to masonry walls made of the same Pottsville sandstone as the rock ledges. Although the house rises over 30' above the falls, strong horizontal lines and low ceilings help maintain a sheltering effect. Almost as much floor space is taken up by outdoor terraces as indoor rooms.

Fallingwater is the only great Wright house open to the public with its setting, original furnishings, and art work intact. Almost all of the original Wright-designed furnishings are still in place. Fine art, textiles, objets d'art, books, and furnishings collected by the Kaufmann family from the 1930's through the 1960's are on view, and represent the eclectic tastes of a sophisticated, world-traveled family. Included in the collections are works by Audubon, Tiffany, Diego Rivera, Picasso, Jacques Lipchitz, Richmond Barthe, and woodblock prints by Japanese artists Hiroshige and Hokusai - gifts from Frank Lloyd Wright to the aufmanns.

'There in a beautiful forest was a solid, high rock ledge rising beside a waterfall, and the natural thing seemed to be to cantilever the house from that rock bank over the falling water.Then came (of course) Mr. Kaufmann's love for the beautiful site. He loved the site where the house was built and liked to listen to the waterfall. So that was a prime motive in the design. I think that you can hear the waterfall when you look at the design. At least it is there, and he lives intimately with the thing he loves.' -- Frank Lloyd Wright in an interview with Hugh Downs, 1954.

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