When considering modern architecture and modern living spaces, one must include Frank Lloyd Wright among the strongest influences of all time. Deemed by many as the greatest architect ever, Mr. Wright had it in the bag across the board! While he was many things: architect, interior designer, educator, writer and trend setter—he is most remembered for his contribution to modern architecture. Wright’s organic approach to placement and keen eye for clean lines continues to inspire interior and exterior style and construction methods among designers and architects alike. He shared his interpretation of beauty with us through a breathtaking marriage of nature and geometry with timeless designs that remain works of art. They are both utilitarian and pleasing to the eye, and possess style and clarity that remains unmatched.
A visionary quite ahead of his time, Wright was considered a controversial man with strong convictions and a clear philosophy. He felt a deep connection with nature which molded his belief that structures should be in harmony with both humanity and their environment—the ‘organic architecture’ philosophy is evident in his works.
Wright believed there should be as many home styles as there are kinds of people—that homes should be as individual as the folks who live in them, and that individuality has a right to expression in its own environment. In fact, of the many structures he designed, no two homes or buildings are alike.
With his functional approach, Wright’s designs were a welcome departure from the ornate and decorative Victorian style common to his day. These designs used fresh, innovative manipulation and scale of interior space, and become a hallmark characteristic. A true advocate of the ‘form meets function’ philosophy, Wright’s architectural works are indeed practical and simplistic, yet quietly decorative and ornate in their own right.
He had a hand in nearly every design element and feature for his projects from furniture selection and placement to internal fixtures which accounts for the vivid cohesion of his concept. What dedication! Pairing simple and mature geometric shapes with interesting materials became a complementary and recognizable feature in his designs. Wright’s clever use of windows invited the outdoors in, allowing yet another connection with his beloved Mother Nature, and implied the influence Japanese architecture had on his designs as well.
While Wright conceived many innovative design elements in his lifetime—both commercial and residential—the two more notable dwelling styles were the ‘Prairie home’ and the ‘Usonian home’.
Prairie style homes were extended, low elevation buildings with clean, horizontal lines and featured cantilevered roof lines with a low pitch, varied horizontal elevations, central fireplaces with suppressed chimneys, and clerestory windows. These homes made abundant use of natural materials such as brick, wood and stone and were the first to present ‘open style’ floor plans which Wright felt encouraged families to gather and interact.
The development of the Usonian style home came in the mid-1930’s, after World War II, when cost-effective practices were prudent for the average Joe. This economical offspring of the Prairie home was intended to be more sensible for the middle-class but featured many of the same visual design elements. Usonian homes were typically smaller, single-story dwellings built on a concrete slab, while the Prairie style was often multiple stories or split-level with a raised foundation. It is easy to recognize how and where Wright’s influence endures in modern design even today when examining shapes and placement. Outside, we see it in clean exterior lines, use of materials, and location. Indoors it’s the airy loft-style spaces, use of windows and even fabric patterns that are evidence of his vision.
While we know very little about the people who influenced Wright, the inspiration he found in nature and practical function are evident. Can you imagine the progress and evolution he witnessed in this country during his 92-year life span? From The Gilded Age through The Atomic Age, Wright saw significant changes in politics, industry, fashion, social behaviors, technology… and the list goes on. These things shaped who he was, who he became and what he shared with us. It takes courage and inordinate conviction to be one of the movers and shakers responsible for changing the shape of our world. People like Frank Lloyd Wright are often unaware of their contribution to humanity—and perhaps their humility is what makes them even more memorable, admirable, important. We must be truly thankful for what he as given to our modern living style.
Consider the design choices we make that exhibit Wright’s influence on our livings spaces even today… Quite funny when you think about it—he was fiercely devoted to expressing individuality, yet we continue to duplicate his style vision decades after his death. They say the greatest form of flattery is to be copied—hopefully he’d be honored to know there is a bit of Frank Lloyd Wright in all of us. So get out there and find the right space for you, then create your masterpiece!
In his lifetime, Wright designed over 1,000 structures and completed 532 of them—among his most notable works are:
Fallingwater – (1934, 1948, Pennsylvania)
Graycliff (1926-1929, New York)
Taliesin (1911 & 1925, Wiconsin)
Talisin West (1937, Arizona)
The Robie Home (1909, Chicago)
Price Tower (1956, Chicago)
The Guggenheim Museum (1959, New York)
Article by MyNewPlace guest writer, M. Jessica Rankin