How Much Do You Really Know About: Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright… Ask the average citizen to name a famous American architect and you can bet that their answer will be Frank Lloyd Wright, I mean… There are many more American architects, but Wright was the epitome of American Architecture. Wright gained such cultural primacy for good reason: he changed the way we build and live. But… How much do YOU really know about him? Let’s put your knowledge to the TEST.

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Image credits: Wikipedia

According to Wright's autobiography, his mother declared when she was expecting that her first child would grow up to build beautiful buildings. She decorated his nursery with engravings of English cathedrals torn from a periodical to encourage the infant's ambition. In 1889, at age 22, Wright married Catherine Lee Tobin. Eager to build his own home, he negotiated a five-year contract with Sullivan in exchange for the loan of the necessary money. He purchased a wooded corner lot in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park and built his first house, a modest residence reminiscent of the East Coast shingle style with its prominent roof gable. It also reflected Wright’s ingenuity as he experimented with geometric shapes and volumes in the studio and playroom he later added for his ever-growing family of six children.

He was a great architect, designing over 1,000 projects… But how many do you think were actually built?

A) 532
B) 125
C) 750

Image credit: SC Johnson

A) 532

During his lifetime, Wright designed 1,114 buildings, but only 532 of them were actually completed. While some buildings have been demolished, you can still find Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture all around the world, including the United States, Japan and Canada. Wright’s designs include residential homes, commercial buildings, churches, museums, mausoleums and more. Although he had quite a few unfulfilled designs during his lifetime, many were realized years after his passing.

Despite his incredible success and notoriety, he strongly believed in individualism and did not affiliate with a certain type of organization… Even calling it "a harbor of refuge for the incompetent" and "a form of refined gangsterism".

What Architecture Organization did he strongly hate?

A) ASLA: American Society of Landscape Architects
B) AIA: American Institute of Architects
C) Alpha Rho Chi

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B) AIA: American Institute of Archtects

Frank Lloyd Wright's cynical attitude toward the American Institute of Architects, which he never joined, is still held by some architects. However, he even got a Gold Medal from them in 1949. When Wright accepted the AIA's Gold Medal, its top honor, in 1949, he said that architecture was "in the gutter." He believed the AIA was just a marketing ruse, and that architects should let their work do the talking. Wright was no novice when it came to manipulating the media himself, but he had the AIA pegged.

And even though he was a pretty hateful person… (Not many people liked him) He still got a lot of projects. He even hated New York City, (and all cities for that matter).

What was his first ever building in New York City?

A) The Guggenheim Museum
B) Mercedes Showroom
C) The Crimson Beech

Image credit: Guggenheim Museum Website

A) The Guggenheim Museum

He felt that they were cramped and crowded, lacking in cultural and social enrichment, and more over, badly designed. He once wrote, "To look at the plan of a great city, is to look at something like the cross-section of a fibrous tumour." Wright was particularly disenchanted with Solomon R. Guggenheim's choice of New York City as the location for his iconic museum. He described the city as possessing "a parasite of the spirit" and in 1949 wrote to Arthur Holden saying, "I can think of several more desirable places in the world to build this great museum, but we will have to try New York." Ironically the museum, completed six months after his death, went on to become Wright's most famous large-scale building.

Despite his fame, he didn't get the commission for this crown jewel until late in his career. Wright worked on it for 16 years, from 1946 up until his death in 1959. In the interim, he also designed a Mercedes Showroom on Park avenue and an iconic home on Staten Island.

He did many more residential works of architecture through, and one of his most famous one sits atop a mountain surrounded by trees. What is the name of this project? (Image below)

A) Kentuck Knob
B) Robie House
C) Fallingwater

C) Fallingwater

Arguably the most famous private home of the 20th century, this residence and its striking silhouette—appearing on a career-defining cover of Time magazine in 1938—created a sensation that propelled Wright through the final decades of his career. Set atop a waterfall in Bear Run, a summer camp in western Pennsylvania. Considered one of Wright’s greatest masterpieces and one of his most recognizable works, Fallingwater was designed in 1935 after Wright convinced the president of the Kaufmann department store chain that the home they were living in wasn’t worthy of their residence.

After surveying the land and considering the needs of the client, Wright realized the house would need to be bigger than the plot allowed, so he designed around his problems by using specially-designed anchors that would keep the house attached to the nearby grounds. The house was most recently renovated for a staggering $11.4 million–a far cry from the original price of $155,000. The concrete-and-limestone home, entwined with the body of water that gives it its name, is a symbolic masterpiece, instructive of both Wright’s philosophy and his single-mindedness.

Wright is considered the pioneer of all-American architectural style. But what style is it?

A) Art Deco
B) Prairie Style
C) De Stijl

Image Credit: Elle Decor

B) Prairie Style

Wright’s work from 1899 to 1910 belongs to what became known as the “Prairie Style.” With the “Prairie house”— a long, low, open plan structure that eschewed the typical high, straight-sided box in order to emphasize the horizontal line of the prairie and domesticity— Wright established the first truly American architecture. In a Prairie house, “the essential nature of the box could be eliminated,” Wright explained. Interior walls were minimized to emphasize openness and community. “The relationship of inhabitants to the outside became more intimate; landscape and building became one, more harmonious; and instead of a separate thing set up independently of landscape and site, the building with landscape and site became inevitably one.”

Stylistic features of the Prairie-style home include flat roofs, open spaces, horizontal lines and local materials. The various elements helped blend the building with the flatness of the prairie, which is how the style also got its name. As a result of the natural landscape, Prairie-style homes are more commonly found in the Midwest. The Prairie style, both in aesthetics and objectives, was starkly opposed to European and classical architecture. Therefore, many young American architects promoted the development of Prairie-style homes as the first architectural style indigenous to the United States. Wright’s Robie House in Chicago is a prime example of the aesthetic.

FUN FACT: Wright was short and gave no cares about how tall other people were.

Aside from the great room at Taliesin, most hallways, bedrooms and other gathering spaces have very low ceilings. Wright was only 5-feet-8-inches tall — according to his passport — so he built his home to his size. He said he did it based on a principle of compression/expansion — people were compressed in hallways and entryways, which forced them to move into the great room and experience the expansion. However, this might NOT be true. If you ever go to one of his houses, you will see how low the ceilings are, and many of the railings as well, not abiding to building codes at all.

Wright had his reasons for low ceilings and furniture in his houses. In the first version of his autobiography he states, “Taking a human being for my ‘scale’, I brought the whole house down in height to fit a normal one – ergo, 5ft 8in tall, say. Believing in no other scale than the human being, I broadened the mass out all I possibly could, brought it down into spaciousness. It has been said that were I three inches taller (I am 5ft 8½in tall) all my houses would have been quite different in proportion. Perhaps.” — Stenwey & Sons Interview

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