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Frank Lloyd Wright

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Frank Lloyd Wright is recognized as one of the greatest architects of all time. From his early career with the firm of Adler and Sullivan to his final projects, Wright produced a wide range of work numbering almost 1,000 structures, about 400 of which were built. His innovative designs include the prairie house and the Usonian house. The young architect's first work was nominally a Silsbee commission --the Hillside Home School built for his aunts in 1888 near Spring Green, Wisconsin.

While construction was underway on the Hillside Home School, Wright went to work for the Chicago firm of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, working as a draftsman on the Auditorium Building, which, at the time of completion in 1890, was the largest building in Chicago. He remained with that firm until 1893, during which time he absorbed Sullivan's influence and designed several houses, including one for himself in Oak Park, Illinois that was constructed with Sullivan's financial assistance.

"Moonlighting" on his own commissions led to a break with Sullivan in 1893, and Wright set up a separate practice. His first commissions were primarily for the design of private homes in the more affluent suburbs of Chicago and include the W. H. Winslow house of 1893-94 in River Forest, Illinois --considered by Wright to be his "first." Unfortunately, many of the buildings he designed around the turn of the century have not survived. (FranklloydWright.org)

Through the turn of the century, Wright's distinctively personal style was evolving, and his work in these years foreshadowed his so-called "prairie style," Prairie houses were characterized by low, horizontal lines that were meant to blend with the flat landscape around them. Typically, these structures were built around a central chimney, consisted of broad open spaces instead of strictly defined rooms, and deliberately blurred the distinction between interior space and the surrounding terrain. Wright acclaimed "the new reality that is space instead of matter" and, about architectural interiors, said that the "reality of a building is not the container but the space within." The W.W. Willits house, built in Highland Park, Illinois in 1902, was the first house that embodied all the elements of the prairie style. His masterpiece of the prairie style is the Robie House, built in Chicago in 1909.

Wright did not aspire simply to design a house, but to create a complete environment, and he often dictated the details of the interior. He designed stained glass, fabrics, furniture, carpet and the accessories of the house. Legend has it that, in at least one case, he even designed the gowns of his client's wife.The controlling factor was seldom the wishes of the individual client, but Wright's belief that buildings stongly influence the people who inhabit them. He believed that "the architect is a molder of men, whether or not he consciously assumes the responsibility." (www.paconserve.org)

Wright's basic philosophy of architecture was stated primarily through the house form, and he had few major commissions for public buildings, office buildings or skyscrapers in the early years. The Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, New York was his only large-scale structure prior to the Midway Gardens in Chicago and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. None of these buildings is standing today.

Nevertheless, two of Wright's non-residential works of this period are among the most widely admired and imitated architectural works of the century. The Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo and Unity Church in Oak Park, Illinois are considered highly important works, and, with the prairie houses, earned him acclaim in Europe where exhibitions of his work hastened the demise of Art Nouveau and stimulated younger architects to seek a new direction.

In the decade following World War I, Wright's level of production declined. Although he worked on a series of projects, some of which later provided the basis for executed buildings, the number of buildings actually constructed during this period was minimal when compared to the work of the preceding years.

In the 1920's, Wright explored the use of poured concrete and abstract sculptural ornamentation in residential construction. He developed a type of construction using precast "textile" concrete blocks which were bound together by steel rods and poured concrete. This "textile-block" construction method found its best expression in a series of four houses built in the hills around Los Angeles, California.

Despite the Depression, Wright began to secure important commissions and to make a contribution in the field of low-cost housing. During the early 1930's, when commissions were few, he turned to writing and lecturing for income and developed his plan for Broadacre City, an integrated and self-sufficient community of detached housing with built-in industries. (www.paconserve.org) The plan for Broadacre City was never executed, but it did enable Wright to advance his ideas on city planning and to develop the concept of the "garden town" with detached houses within natural surroundings.

The small Malcolm E. Willey House, designed in 1933 and constructed the following year in Minneapolis, marked the beginning of what amounted to a second career for Wright. Modest in size, the Willey House was low and L-shaped with little ornamentation and represented a revolutionary change in domestic planning; i.e., the living room and dining room were completely unified in a single space, and the kitchen ("workspace") was only separated from the living area by a range of shelves. This house is said to be the "bridge" between the prairie houses and the Usonian houses, the first of which was erected in 1937 near Madison, Wisconsin. With the Usonian houses, Wright achieved his goal of providing a small, modestly priced and easily built house for the average middle-class family that possessed the aesthetic, organic and spatial characteristics of the prairie style house.

Wright's most important buildings constructed in the 1930's were Fallingwater at Bear Run, Pennsylvania

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