Named ‘the greatest American architect of all time’ by the American Institute of Architects in 1991, Frank Lloyd Wright may be one of the most notable and recognized contributors to design. He designed around 1,000 buildings of which over 50% were completed. He was the pioneer of the Prairie School movement of architecture and he also developed the concept of the Usonian home, his unique vision for urban planning in the United States.
A home he designed in 1935 in Pennsylvania is also called "the best all-time work of American architecture". The home sat partly above a waterfall and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1966. It was a multi-level building with cantilevered terraces and floors, each having its own support system. This is emblematic of Wright’s way of thinking; he always wanted the person in the building to feel free, unrestricted and close to nature while continually innovating and finding new ways to experiment with design.
Crystal Bridges Museum
Wright might be best known for coining the term ‘organic architecture’. This concept was multi-faceted and at the root, it promoted the harmonious cohabitation of humans and the natural environment. The literal relationship between buildings and the environment also encompassed the idea that design should be thought about in a unified, holistic way. In Wright’s designs, you can see that he always had a central theme which he then built on. This way of design reflects nature and recognizes the natural order of being.
Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
Wright was not only an architect but also an interior designer, he would often choose the furniture, lighting, and décor for buildings he designed. He was fascinated by glass as it was not only versatile but adhered to his philosophy of organic architecture. He was one of the first designers to experiment with custom light fittings and also used Pyrex glass as a tubing element. He was a huge fan of geometric shapes and used glass to create artistic and ornate windows that became both design elements and allowed viewers to connect with nature more directly. Central fireplaces, skylights, the use of natural materials and curved silhouettes are key elements in his interior design.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings have received critical acclaim with many of them being marked as architectural treasures. One of his most notable designs is the Unity Temple which he designed in 1908. Wright designed many churches and temples and was able to elevate these spiritual buildings from places of worship to objectively beautiful spaces. For the Unity Temple in Illinois, Wright used poured concrete for the structure which was an incredibly forward thinking move at the time. Upon entering the temple, you will find things that are central to his design philosophy such as large, open areas without any partitions. Oriental-inspired lighting pendants hanging from the ceiling complemented by lots of natural lights and a sense of serenity. He explained this in Architectural Forum’s January 1938 issue, “The reality of the building is not in the four walls and roof but in the space enclosed by them to be lived in.”
Taliesin was the site of some of Wright’s most daring innovations and also of tragedy. Completed in 1912, Wright had the building constructed for himself and his mistress Mamah Borthwick. He used it as a home, studio, and office. Designed in his famous Prairie style, this is where he would sketch out designs for Fallingwater and the Guggenheim among others. The estate grew to over 600 acres as Wright continued to buy land and build more extensions to Taliesin. The tragedy we mentioned took place in 1914 when a servant set fire to the building and murdered Mamah Borthwick.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which Wright built in 1959 is still considered one of the world’s most special buildings. The central Rotunda might be one of the most photographed interior spaces as it is not only designed in a unique way but creates a feeling of community tied in with being singularly alone in that space. The six levels swirl together to tie the museum together while the central skylight illuminates the entire building. Wright disliked the feeling of being enclosed in a space which is why elements like light, skylights and open spaces were so central to his design.
Though many of Wright’s buildings have fallen into disrepair, those that have been maintained really transport you to another time and place. The designs are modern while at the same time retaining the charm and nostalgia of the time during which he lived. Never a man to back down from an argument, it is said that Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead was based on Wright and his way of working. An icon of the design world that we will never forget.
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