In 1991, the American Institute of Architects called him, quite simply, “the greatest American architect of all time.” Over his lifetime, Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959) completed more than 500 architectural works; many of them are considered masterpieces. Thanks to the wide dissemination of his designs and his many years spent teaching at the school he founded, few architects in history can claim to have inspired more young people into joining the architecture profession.
Wright is particularly interesting because of the unique period in history which he occupied: as a disciple of Louis Sullivan (“form follows function”) in the late 19th century, his work forms something of a bridge between the traditional architecture of that era and the modernists which began to appear in the early 20th century. Some of his later work is formally modernist, yet still retains a sensibility rooted in that earlier period.
In many of his works, Wright sought to define a quintessentially American architectural style. This was perhaps expressed most clearly through his houses: in his early career, Wright was often identified with the “Prairie Style,” with buildings such as his Robie House featuring horizontal lines and long, low roofs which reflected the landscape of his country. Later, this ideal evolved to become the basis of his Usonian Houses–“Usonian” being a mostly-forgotten moniker coined by writer James Duff Law in 1903 to distinguish people of the USA from the other Americans of Canada and Latin America. In these designs Wright kept the low, horizontal lines of the Prairie Style, but integrated modernist features such as flat roofs and open-plan spaces.
Wright’s designs were also driven by the desire to nurture the lives of their occupants. He referred to his architecture as “organic”–in complete harmony with itself and its surroundings, as if it had developed as naturally as a tree–but without necessarily resorting to formal imitation. This approach can be seen in his famous Fallingwater house, where balconies mimic the stratified rock of the waterfall below, and also in his research tower for SC Johnson, where the internal floors are cantilevered off the building’s central trunk. His love of nature and the American landscape was also visible in the urban planning vision of Broadacre City, his proposal for sprawling, pastural landscape of incredibly low population density.
For many people, Wright is the quintessential vision of the architect: he presented himself as a lone genius, fastidious down to the smallest details of his design, and his personality was often rather brash. But there is no denying his vision–and the timelessness of his designs continues to reveal just how strong that vision was.
See all of Frank Lloyd Wright’s classics featured on ArchDaily via the thumbnails below, and more coverage of his work through the links beneath those: