A few towering figures stand out when it comes to the history of American architecture. Among them is Frank Lloyd Wright, arguably the most famous architect this country has ever produced and one whose work is celebrated worldwide.
You might not know his whole story, but you’ve likely spied his creations—some of which are heralded for their beauty, while others have caused a considerable uproar.
A perfect example of both is the Guggenheim Museum, a swirling white concrete spiral structure sitting grandly on Fifth Avenue in New York City, which some aggrieved critics liken to an “upturned oatmeal bowl.” Breakfast food or ground-breaking public space? You be the judge.
Another stunning Wright creation is Fallingwater, located in western Pennsylvania and designed for the Kaufmann family, who were clients of Wright’s.
To understand more about the impact Wright has had on this nation, read on for a look at his background, where fans can find his other famous buildings, and what exactly Usonian means.
What is Frank Lloyd Wright’s style?
Wright hailed from Wisconsin, where he studied civil engineering. But his destiny was determined when, as a college student, he assisted an architect with a project to build a chapel.
Wright became a proponent of organic architecture that came to be known as the Prairie School. Primarily a residential architectural movement, the Prairie School advocated for designs that echoed expansive landscapes. The discipline embraces natural, local materials, single-story structures with flat roofs, and rows (and rows) of windows.
“Wright believed that a home should literally flow from its surroundings to seem to be a part of the environment,” explains Beverly Solomon, a designer with the eponymous firm.
Livability and craftsmanship are also hallmarks of Wright’s style.
“He would start by visualizing how he wanted the home to feel in everyday life and what functions it needed to fulfill,” Solomon continues.
What does Usonian design mean?
Wright invented the word “Usonian” to describe his vision of the architectural landscape of the United States. And he used the term to describe his equitable and efficient designs that were organically rooted in nature yet still affordable for everyday folks.
“Many original Wright homeowners say he encouraged them to find a large piece of property to fit the home within the landscape and its natural curves,” explains Martie Lieberman, a real estate advisor with Premier Sotheby’s International in Sarasota, FL.
She notes that Wright built Usonian homes for the middle class as they were smaller, simpler, and could be built in a grid pattern.
“These designs were a forerunner for the ranch houses that later spread across the country,” adds Lieberman.
Famous Wright homes
Wright designed more than 1,100 structures, though just over 500 were built.
After Fallingwater and the Guggenheim, Wright’s work can mostly be found in Illinois, Wisconsin, and New York. But there are also sites open to the public in many other states. Check out the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust site for these locations.
Frank Lloyd Wright interiors
Wright also had a hand in the details of his interiors—which are as distinctive as his exteriors. Built-ins were common, obviating the need for excess furniture and clean lines. Custom millwork and lantern-like light fixtures were also part of his aesthetic.
“Wright believed in showcasing beautiful craftsmanship, often expressed by an open floor plan, generous use of warm woods, unique fireplaces, curved ceilings, clerestory windows, and glass French doors that extended living spaces to multiple terraces,” says Lieberman.
One of Wright’s major themes was the simplicity of form and function, Solomon adds, “which meant no unnecessary ornamentation.”
But was the man—and his methods—respected during his lifetime? Per Solomon, Wright had an almost “cult-like following of students and admirers.”
Should you buy a Wright home?
It’s not unusual for a Wright-designed property to come up for sale, but you’ll have to dig deep to afford one. The blocky Hollywood Hills manse above was recently listed for $4.25 million and is one of four similar homes in the Los Angeles area.
Known as the Freeman house, the structure comprises three bedrooms and one bath spread over 2,882 square feet.
The home boasts incredible views of the Los Angeles basin from its terraces and roof decks—but the fabulous vistas come with a price. Any restoration on the property must adhere to Wright’s vision, as the house is a protected monument (the tiles and concrete blocks needed extensive work when this home was listed last year).
Another example of a renovation challenge?
“Wright often didn’t think how owners would maintain his homes over time, so he put lights in a setting where you’d have to knock out a wall to change a bulb,” points out Solomon.
But if you’re a lover of architectural history and have unlimited funds, a Wright home might be right up your alley.
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