Of his almost 92 years of life, Frank Lloyd Wright spent 72 as an architect. Unlike many of his colleagues, this devoted family man built above all houses. This self-selected focus did not, however, prevent him from designing one of the best-known museum buildings in the world: MoMA in New York.
For his plans, Wright at an early stage chose the keyword “organic.” Organic architecture fits into its context—into its natural surroundings, and into its time- A new building in the 20th century, the young architect concluded, should not imitate anything old, but should reflect the present with modern materials and new technology. Wright adopted one further principle: the standard for his buildings was the human being, whose needs determined his designs.
Thus the father of six children designed for his own home in Oak Park, Chicago, an enormous playroom with child-friendly low windows, wide window seats and, above all, plenty of room. Residential houses, and by no means exclusively those in the luxury bracket, remained Wright’s primary task.
Harmony with Nature
For Wright, a building seemed in harmony with its surroundings when it fitted in as well as possible into its specific natural environment. His “prairie houses,” for example, were designed against the background of the endless horizontals of the open prairies of the Midwest. The three-story Falling-water House takes the harmony between building and landscape to the limit: walls and floors are of wood and natural stone, while the ceilings, traversed by glass courses, allow nature to enter the interior. Seen from the outside, the waterfall that gives the house its name seems to arise from within the house itself, so perfectly does it fit into the landscape.
The Washing Machine
Wright’s rejection of detail is found in the open, generously flowing room designs which he presented in 1943 to the industrialist Solomon Guggenheim, who was looking for suitable spaces in New York for his collection of abstract art. The building that finally took shape on Fifth Avenue—the Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA—in the middle of Manhattan was described by some critics as a “washing machine.” But Wright was not deterred. His Guggenheim Museum looks like an ivory-colored sculpture. On the modest substructure rests a stack of round discs, whose diameters increase as we move upwards. In the interior, a spiral ramp winds along the outer wall from the ground floor up to the top story; visitors, Wright said, should first to go up the top of the building in the elevator and from there explore the artworks step by step as they move downwards.
It was not just critics and fellow architects who voiced concerns: artists wondered how their works could be shown to effect on the curved walls of the building. It was clear at the opening that they had no reason for doubt. Sadly, Frank Lloyd Wright was not able to enjoy the success of his extraordinary building, dying only a few months before the completion of this architectural icon.
Major works of Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Oak Park, Illinois, 1889–1909
William H. Winslow House, River Forest, Illinois, 1894
Ward Winfield Willits Residence, and Gardener’s Cottage and Stables, Highland Park, Illinois, 1901
Dana-Thomas House, Springfield, Illinois, 1902
Larkin Administration Building, Buffalo, New York, 1903 (demolished, 1950)
Darwin D. Martin House, Buffalo, New York, 1903–1905
Unity Temple, Oak Park, Illinois, 1904
Frederick C. Robie Residence, Chicago, Illinois, 1909
Taliesin I, Spring Green, Wisconsin, 1911
Midway Gardens, Chicago, Illinois, 1913 (demolished, 1929)
Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Japan, 1923 (demolished, 1968; entrance hall reconstructed at Meiji Mura near Nagoya, Japan, 1976)
Hollyhock House (Aline Barnsdall Residence), Los Angeles, 1919–1921
Ennis House, Los Angeles, 1923
Taliesin III, Spring Green, Wisconsin, 1925
Graycliff. Buffalo, NY 1926
Westhope (Richard Lloyd Jones Residence, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1929
Fallingwater (Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. Residence), Bear Run, Pennsylvania, 1935–1937
First Jacobs House, 1936–1937
Johnson Wax Headquarters, Racine, Wisconsin, 1936
Herbert F. Johnson Residence (“Wingspread”), Wind Point, WI, 1937
Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona, 1937
Usonian homes, various locations, 1930s–1950s
Child of the Sun, Florida Southern College, Lakeland, Florida, 1941–1958
First Unitarian Society of Madison, Shorewood Hills, Wisconsin, 1947
V. C. Morris Gift Shop, San Francisco, 1948
Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, 1952–1956
Beth Sholom Synagogue, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1954
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1956–1961
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, 1956–1959
Kentuck Knob, Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania, 1956
The Illinois, mile-high tower in Chicago, 1956 (unbuilt)
Marshall Erdman Prefab Houses, various locations, 1956–1960
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, 1956–1961
Marin County Civic Center, San Rafael, CA, 1957–1966
Gammage Auditorium, Tempe, Arizona, 1959–1964