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Frank Lloyd Wright:

Thinking Outside the Blueprint

His is a name that most people recognize; one that represent new ideas and ambition. Originally his name was Frank Lincoln Wright, but he assumed a new middle name, along with a new persona, when his parents divorced. When he was twelve years old, he moved with his family to Madison, Wisconsin where he attended Madison High School. He spent many summers on the farm of an uncle in Wisconsin. It was there that the first thought of architecture crossed his mind.

In 1885, he left Madison without his diploma to work for the University of Wisconsin's Engineering department. While at the University, Wright spent two semesters studying civil engineering before moving to Chicago in 1887.
In Chicago, he worked for an architect named Joseph Lyman Silsbee and and a year later joined the firm of Adler and Sullivan, directly under Louis Sullivan. Wright adopted Sullivan's maxim that "Form Follows Function" and made it applicable to his own ideas. Wright’s revised theory was that "Form and Function Are One." Wright was never one to praise highly, or admit to role models or influence, but he often mentioned Louis Sullivan as a particularly influential person in his life.

While working for Sullivan, Wright forged a relationship with Catherine Tobin. Predictable, when they settled down they built their own home in which to raise their five children. In 1893, Sullivan and Wright ended their business relationship. Wright began a new chapter in his life by opening his own firm in Chicago, which he operated there for five years before transferring the practice to his home.

Over the next 20 years Wright's innovative ideas continued to grow in popularity in the United States and Europe. Eventually his unique building style spread overseas. In 1915, Wright was commissioned to design the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. It was during this time that Wright began to develop and refine his architectural and sociological philosophies.
Though he came from humble beginning in Richland Center, Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright evolved into one of the more prominent architects of the early 20th century. He designed innovative structures to express his theory that aesthetics and function should work together. Wright's houses had a unique style, on a horizontal plane with no basements or attics. They were built of natural materials, were never painted, and had low pitched roofs and deep overhangs and walls of windows, all conveying a sense of the horizontal expanse and being in tune with the landscape. His rooms opened out to each other and the homes were centered on their large stone or brick fireplaces. Some of Wright’s best-known designs include the Robie House in Chicago, Illinois; the Martin House in Buffalo, New York; the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin; and the Guggenheim Museum in New York; they are internationally recognizable icons of innovation. He is also credited with the Art-Deco motif of the decorative blocks of the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona.

Because Wright disliked the urban environment, his buildings also developed a style quite different from other architects of the time. He utilized natural materials, skylights and walls of windows to embrace the natural environment. He built skyscrapers that mimicked trees, with a central trunk and many branches projecting outward. He proclaimed that shapes found in the environment should be not only integrated, but should become the basis of American architecture. According to one story, Wright had learned about shape as a child using his building blocks as tools to create.

Not all architects agree that found environmental shapes are the single most integral part of any design. However, the fact remains that Frank Lloyd Wright, who invented that theory, is the most iconic American architect today.

Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids, by Kathleen Thorne-Thomson
Architecture and Environment, by Mary Erickson, Ph.D. and Michael Delahunt