Frank Lloyd Wright was born on June 8, 1867, in Richland Center, Wisconsin. Widely regarded as America’s most significant architect, Wright transformed twentieth-century residential design; his influential Prairie School houses and plans for public buildings proved simultaneously innovative, aesthetically striking, and practical. A social visionary, Wright’s commitment to a context-driven “organic architecture,” which harmonized with both its occupants’ needs and the surrounding landscape, underscored his creative genius across a long and productive career.
Wright sought universal meaning through attachment to place, varying his geometries not only to establish an indivisible bond with each specific location, but, more importantly, to complete that location’s underlying structure.
David G. De Long, Frank Lloyd Wright: Designs for an American Landscape, 1922-1932
Trained briefly in engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Wright did not receive an academic degree, but instead learned his craft on the job. After holding several junior positions in Chicago architectural firms, in 1888 he found a mentor in master architect Louis Sullivan. Wright worked with Sullivan for about five years, and was Sullivan’s chief assistant at the time he left to open his own firm in 1893.
Wright married Catherine Lee Tobin in 1889 and settled in Oak Park, Illinois, where before long the couple had six children. Oak Park was the site of many of Wright’s early residential commissions and of his monumental Unity Temple (1904).
By the turn of the twentieth century, Frank Lloyd Wright had emerged as the leading practitioner of Prairie School architecture. Constructed primarily in the Midwest during the first two decades of the century, his Prairie School houses, like others of the style, are typically two-story open-plan structures with extended single-story wings that emphasize the horizontal. Other typical features include ribbon windows, gently sloping roofs, prominent overhangs, and hidden gardens. Wright’s interiors, also carefully designed, likewise stress horizontal lines, the texture of natural materials, and functional built-in components. Wright’s Robie House (1906-10), lauded as the greatest achievement of his Prairie School work, drew considerable attention from European modernists in its time.
By the 1910s, Wright was a highly-regarded architect of international renown. Yet, some much-publicized personal difficulties, including a love affair, a murder, and eventually two divorces, alienated potential clients. In these years he began work on his own home, Taliesin, an ever-expanding project located on the site of a family farm in rural Wisconsin. He spent much of the 1920s in Europe and Japan, working on projects such as the Tokyo Imperial Hotel (1915-1923). He also took on a number of large-scale, speculative ventures that combined his growing interest in advanced use of technology with an exploration of geometric form. In 1928, Wright’s personal life stabilized with his marriage to Olgivanna Lazovich Hinzenberg.
Although Wright earned few commissions during this period, he lectured widely in the 1930s, published his Autobiography (1932), and expounded upon his philosophy of design in An Organic Architecture (1939). Responding to the decade’s nationwide economic hardship, Wright not only founded the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932 to provide training to young architects, but also began to design a series of houses that he called Usonian, short for United States of North American. Derived from his earlier Prairie School structures, the Usonian houses were streamlined in design and construction, emphasized individuals in harmony with nature, and were modestly priced to bring modern comforts to a broad range of Americans. Designed to explore these same ideals, his Fallingwater (1935-39), a vacation home suspended above a waterfall as if carved from the rock, both enchanted the public and helped to reestablish his professional career.
During the 1940s and 1950s, Wright designed colleges, corporate headquarters, museums, and private homes, notable among these the spiraling form of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Frank Lloyd Wright died April 9, 1959. He was ninety-two years old and had just completed a design for a mile-high office building.
- The Gottscho-Schleisner Collection includes forty-five interior and exterior photographs of Wingspread, a Wright-designed residence in Racine, Wisconsin. To locate these pictures, search the collection on Frank Lloyd Wright.
- Search across Library of Congress collections on Frank Lloyd Wright or Prairie School to see examples of architecture Wright created or directly influenced. Search Architecture, Design and Engineering Drawings on the same terms for a more focused set of results.
- American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920 External holds over thirty images of Wright’s work including photographs of Taliesin. The work of Wright’s mentor Louis Sullivan can also be viewed through this collection. Search the collection on the name of each architect.
- The online exhibition, Frank Lloyd Wright: Designs for an American Landscape, 1922-1932, features five remarkable projects from the Library’s collections, none realized, that embody Wright’s changing views of the fundamental relationship between building and land. The Library of Congress’ collections include both papers and drawings of Frank Lloyd Wright.
- Search on Frank Lloyd Wright in Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey. Prints & Photographs Division to find architectural surveys of Wright’s work. See, for example, Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, or the William H. Winslow House in River Forest, Illinois. A complete list of Wright works documented in the HABS/HAER/HALS collection is also available.
- For more architecture, read Today in History features on architects Daniel Burnham, Cyrus Eidlitz, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, and Louis H. Sullivan.