Wright, Frank Lloyd (1867-1959), American architect, considered one of the greatest figures of 20th-century architecture. However, both the man and his work were controversial during his lifetime.
Wright was born either in Richland Center, or in nearby Bear River, Wisconsin, and grew up largely under the tutelage of his mother, Anna, and his aunts and uncles on farmland near Spring Green, Wisconsin. His father, a musician, abandoned the family in 1885. Wright briefly studied engineering at the University of Wisconsin, displaying a knack for drawing, and in 1887 he moved to Chicago, Illinois. From 1888 to 1893 he worked as an assistant at the Chicago architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan, learning much before embarking on an independent architectural path in 1893.
Wright's life was marred by marital problems, and the scandals connected with them scared away many potential clients. He left his first wife, Catherine, and their six children in 1909, after 20 years of marriage, and went to Europe with Mamah Cheney, the wife of a client. Still married to Catherine, he returned to Spring Green in 1911 with Cheney. There, he built a home and studio that he called Taliesin after a Welsh word meaning “shining brow,” a reference to the building's situation, clinging to the brow of a hill. Tragedy struck in 1914, when a servant at Taliesin murdered Cheney, her two children, and four other people, and set the house on fire. Wright began rebuilding Taliesin soon afterward.
After Catherine granted him a divorce in 1922, Wright married Miriam Noel, an emotionally unstable woman from whom he soon separated. In 1927 he obtained a divorce from Miriam. Only with his third wife, Olgivanna Milanoff, whom he married in 1927, did he find the restful environment he needed to foster his creativity. Wright and Olgivanna lived at a rebuilt Taliesin, which became his studio and a center for training apprentices in his architectural principles. Those who came to study with Wright at Taliesin also helped farm the land. In the mid-1930s Wright built Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, and from then on, the studio and apprentices moved to Arizona for the winter.
Wright also supported himself by lecturing and writing. Among his writings are An Autobiography (1932, revised 1943) and The Future of Architecture (1953), a collection of his articles from the 1930s.
Wright avoided anything that might be called a personal style. Through all his designs, he was guided by principles that he termed organic architecture. By this he meant that every building should relate harmoniously to its natural surroundings and that a building should not be a static, boxlike enclosure but a dynamic structure, with open, flowing interior spaces. To achieve this organic design, he used geometric units, or modules, that generated a grid. The first modules were squares, but Wright later used diamonds, hexagons, and other geometric shapes, upon which he laid a free-flowing floor plan. Another device Wright favored was the cantilever-a long projection (often a balcony) that was supported at only one end. The grid and the cantilever freed Wright's designs from being merely boxes with openings cut into them.
A. Prairie Houses
Experimenting in many styles during the 1890s, Wright proved his mastery of the architectural ideas of the time. Instead of pursuing those ideas, however, he chose to use his principles of organic architecture to develop the prairie house-a long, low structure that hugged the Midwest prairie. A shallow roof emphasized its horizontal lines. Wright disliked basements, and beginning with the William Winslow house (1893) in River Forest, Illinois, his earliest independent commission, his buildings were set firmly on the earth, rather than in it.
The first prairie house, the Ward Willits residence (1901) in Highland Park, Illinois, followed a cruciform (cross) plan based on a grid of 39-in (99-cm) squares. A fireplace facing into the living room is at its center or core. The entry forms one arm of the cross. Opposite it is the dining room. The living room projects to one side, the kitchen and servants' quarters to the other. The cross, or a variation of it, was Wright's favorite plan of this period.