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[Detail] Coos Bay Bridge, North Bend, Oregon.

Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Frank Lloyd Wright and Organic Architecture

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was one of the nation's most famous and influential architects. In the late nineteenth century, he began amending mentor Louis Sullivan's classic design maxim, "form follows function," with the notion, "form and function are one."

Wright's organic architecture attempted to reinterpret principles found in nature by creating a harmonious relationship between the design of a building and its purpose. His work included banks, resorts, office buildings, a gas station, synagogue, beer garden, and art museum. A search on Frank Lloyd Wright produces examples spanning his seventy-year career.

The 1889 house and studio in Oak Park, Illinois, includes the first residence Wright built for himself. The documents accompanying the photographs in this collection explain that "the House and Studio are a source and proving ground for ideas and forms which were put to dramatic use throughout Wright's career," (page 2).

Wright created his largest collection of buildings for the campus of Florida Southern College. After going over budget for the first building, college President, Dr. Ludd Spivey, and Wright agreed to build the campus with student labor. Wright’s students designed the campus while "Dr. Spivey's students would then take time from their classes to build the buildings," (page 2). The architect called for the construction of promenades to allow movement through a citrus grove. They were placed at ninety, sixty, and thirty-degree angles to preserve the trees and to protect students from rain showers. However, "Mr. Wright's ecological consideration . . . was thwarted by a heavy freeze which killed the citrus in one night," (page 4).

During the Great Depression and World War II, Frank Lloyd Wright attempted to improve the design of houses for middle- and upper-class homeowners. Descriptions of the Walter Lowell House (1950) in Iowa explains how occupants and nature harmonized "psychologically and spiritually" through a design that employed natural light and reduced the amount of furniture needed: "Tables, shelving, cabinets, and some seating are built into the house. . . . This room is skillfully subdivided so that one portion provides the space and built-in shelving, sideboard, and tables needed for dining," (page 4).

Additional information on Frank Lloyd Wright is available in the Library of Congress exhibit, Designs for an American Landscape, 1922-1932.

  • How did Frank Lloyd Wright's different designs embody the principles of organic architecture?
  • What types of projects did he take on during his career?
  • How do you think that Frank Lloyd Wright's style developed over time?
  • How do you think that his designs influenced other architects in the United States?