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Frank Lloyd Wright part of the Prairie School of Architecture

Frank Lloyd Wright was a very influential American architect who could also be quite controversial.  A great book to read about the life and personal affairs of Frank Lloyd Wright is Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank. He certainly had a colourful personality in addition to his artistic talents. 

Frank Lloyd Wright designed more than 1,000 structures, 532 of which were completed. He was a proponent of “organic architecture”, a belief that buildings should be in harmony with their natural surroundings. His most famous creation was Fallingwater (1935), a home in southwestern Pennsylvania, that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and open to the public as a museum.  The building was designed for the family of Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar J.Kaufmann, Sr. and there is both architectural history and Kaufmann family history woven into the story of the making of Fallingwater. This striking building is layered into the waterfall and has intricate details throughout. Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic architecture philosophy has influenced many architects. He was a key member of the Prairie School movement of architecture in North America which paralleled  and shared some elements with the Arts and Crafts movement in England.

Another concept Wright developed was the Usonian house, whose simplicity was in direct contrast to the grandeur of Fallingwater. These homes were utilitarian in design, but with a modern twist.  Wright wanted to appeal to the average American in addition to the ultra wealthy for design work. 1937 was the thick of the great depression and Americans wanted to live simply. This article by ThoughtCo does a wonderful job describing these homes.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of visiting Hollyhock House in Los Angeles. It is a spectacular site on a hill in Barnsdall Art Park, overlooking the city skyline. Hollyhock House is a fine example of his work, including the sad reality that it was never actually finished as a result of a dispute with the owner over a theatre room. One of Wright’s key concepts was the principle of “compression and release”. The idea was to have low ceiling heights in hallways leading to a great room that opens up with high ceilings. The living room in the home has a massive fireplace with a moat around it that was fed by an outdoor fountain, although apparently it never actually worked properly.  Every detail of this home had Wright’s touch, including furniture and intricate geometric stained glass windows. He could be slow to complete his jobs as he was forever customizing every detail which often frustrated the homeowners and led to friction. 

The Guggenheim Museum in New York is another famous landmark created by Frank Lloyd Wright. Visitors walk up its iconic spiralling ramp to explore the exhibitions. As with a number of Wright’s buildings, form and function were at cross purposes and there have been issues with water and window seals that had to be overhauled over the years.  The building itself is very striking from streetscape and its unique layout makes for a very different way to experience a museum.

On a recent visit to the newly curated MoMA we saw A Model Of St Mark’s Tower, a highrise tower designed by Frank Lloyd right that was never actually built. Unfortunately, plans and budgets sometimes change and projects get abandoned as was the case with this one. 

Another spectacular example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work is his own personal estate Taliesin (Welsh for shining brow) in Spring Green, Wisconsin, a sprawling 600-acre property that originally belonged to Wright’s maternal family. Loving Frank gives more insights into his life at Taliesin including details of his mistress Maman Borthwick, who he began seeing after leaving his first wife in Illinois. His design principles from the Prairie School come into play throughout the compound, where locally-sourced limestone was used to blend into the landscape of limestone outcroppings on the Wisconsin plains.

Wright also created Taliesen West in Arizona as his winter home, and he continued his theme of organic architecture and the use of locally-sourced materials there as well. The site became home to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, though, sadly, it was just recently announced that the school will be shut down due to lack of funding. I am sure it was a privilege for students to study in the presence of exceptional architecture while surrounded by Wright’s details and principles on a daily basis. A shame that the learning environment will close. 

For those interested in learning more about Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings and his design elements there are architecture tours offered in both Los Angeles and Chicago.  Fallingwater and both Taliesin sites offer property tours that will resume once we recover from the COVID-19 crisis. As we quarantine at home during this pandemic we do have the good fortune to be able to enjoy his architecture remotely via this site: 5 Frank Lloyd buildings you can explore remotely!

COVID-19 has changed the economic landscape for now so we shall see what unfolds with architecture as it relates to new construction. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the elements of Usonia will come into play as a possible recession unfolds and we perhaps move to a simpler, more modest aesthetic and way of living.

Happy May!  Stay home and we will soon be through this.


Helen Braithwaite

Real Estate Representative, Chairman’s Award 2017-2019

Chestnut Park Real Estate Limited