Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin on June 8, 1867. His parents, William Cary Wright and Anna Lloyd-Jones, originally named him Frank Lincoln Wright, which he later changed after they divorced. When he was twelve years old, Wright's family settled in Madison, Wisconsin where he attended Madison High School. During summers spent on his Uncle James Lloyd Jones' farm in Spring Green, Wisconsin, Wright first began to realize his dream of becoming an architect. In 1885, he left Madison without finishing high school to work for Allan Conover, the Dean of 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 architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee. Wright drafted the construction of his first building, the Lloyd-Jones family chapel, also known as Unity Chapel. One year later, he went to work for the firm of Adler and Sullivan, directly under Louis Sullivan. Wright adapted Sullivan's maxim "Form Follows Function" to his own revised theory of "Form and Function Are One." It was Sullivan's belief that American Architecture should be based on American function, not European traditions, a theory which Wright later developed further. Throughout his life, Wright acknowledged very few influences but credits Sullivan as a primary influence on his career. While working for Sullivan, Wright met and fell in love with Catherine Tobin. The two moved to Oak Park, Illinois and built a home where they eventually raised their five children. In 1893, Sullivan and Wright ended their business relationship. Wright opened his own firm in Chicago, which he operated there for five years before transferring the practice to his home in Oak Park.
Wright's early houses revealed a unique talent in the young, aspiring architect. They had a style all their own, mimicking that of a horizontal plane, with no basements or attics. Built with natural materials and never painted, Wright utilized low-pitched rooflines with deep overhangs and uninterrupted walls of windows to merge the horizontal homes into their environments. He added large stone or brick fireplaces in the homes' heart, and made the rooms open to one another. His simplistic houses served as an inspiration to the Prairie School, a name given to a group of architects whose style was indigenous of midwestern architecture. Later he became one of its chief practitioners. Some of his most notable creations include the Robie House in Chicago, Illinois and the Martin House in Buffalo, New York.
In 1909, after eighteen years in Oak Park, Wright left his home to move to Germany with a woman named Mamah Borthwick Cheney. When they returned in 1911, they moved to Spring Green, Wisconsin where his mother had given him a portion of his ancestors' land; it was the same farm where he had spent much time as a young boy. In Spring Green he constructed Taliesin. They lived there until 1914 when tragedy struck. An insane servant tragically murdered Cheney and six others, then set fire to Taliesin. Many people thought this horrific event would be the end of Wright's career. He proved them wrong however, with his decision to rebuild Taliesin.
Over the next 20 years Wright's influence continued to grow in popularity in the United States and Europe. Eventually his innovative 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. 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. A great example is the Larkin Company Administration Building in Buffalo, New York (1903), and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City (1943), which resembles the structure of a shell or a snail.
In 1932, Wright opened Taliesin up as an architectural fellowship where young students could pay to work with and learn from him. Thirty apprentices came to live with him at Taliesin. Through the Taliesin Fellowship, Wright created masterpieces such as Fallingwater (the Kaufmann House) in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, and the SC Johnson and Son Wax Company Administration Center in Racine, Wisconsin. During this time, he married and separated from Miriam Noel and met his third wife, Olivanna Milanoff. The two lived happily at Taliesin for five years and raised a child there. As the couple grew older, the Wisconsin winters became too much for them. In 1937, Wright moved his family and fellowship to Phoenix, Arizona where he built Taliesin West and spent the last twenty years of his life.
At Taliesin West, because of the comfortable year-round climate, Wright was able to integrate the outdoors with his indoor spaces. He designed high sloping roofs, translucent ceilings, and large, open doors and windows that created a subtle distinction between the home and the environment. Both Taliesin and Taliesin West were continuous living experiences for Wright as they constantly remained under construction. As his fellowship grew and the need for a larger facility became necessary, Wright continued to create additions and expansions on both homes.
On April 9, 1959 at age ninety-two, Wright died at his home in Phoenix, Arizona. By the time of his death, he had become internationally recognized for his innovative building style and contemporary designs. He had created 1,141 designs, of which 532 were completed. His name had become synonymous with great design, not only because of the form of his designs, but also because of the function. In the end, he showed not just what to live in, but more importantly he influenced the very nature of how we lived.
Recipient of the 2004 Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Awards