Frank Lloyd Wright - A Genius of Architecture

Frank Lloyd Wright - A Genius of Architecture

Architecture
By Mateos Glen Hayes June 07, 2022

Widely considered to be one of the best architects to have ever lived, Frank Lloyd Wright was a Welsh-American prodigy who designed over one thousand structures of all kinds over a period of seventy years. He was noted for his unique and innovative designs that went on to influence architectural movements throughout the world in the twentieth century. He was also a prominent educator, and, at the height of his career, became a popular lecturer throughout North America and Europe. He set up his own educational program in 1932 known as the Taliesin Fellowship, a private architecture school where aspiring architects could develop their skills under his tutelage.

Starting off as a curious kid in rural Wisconsin, Wright became an American success, and his design philosophy is one that is highly ambitious and has proven quite influential in contemporary design trends. As a pioneer of a new kind of design philosophy that he called organic architecture, Wright attained mass fame and recognition for his unique innovations in building design; the precedent he set has come to define modern design trends, especially in American suburban development. A selection of his structures was designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2019. From Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater to the Guggenheim in New York, read on to learn about his genius in modern architecture.

Organic Architecture

This is an abstract philosophy of architecture that is meant to emphasize architectural designs that are harmonious with nature and coexist with it in a symbiotic manner. The philosophy itself was pretty broadly articulated by Lloyd himself, meaning that there are no specific tenets of it, but rather some general ones. For example, Lloyd broadly rejects a blind adherence to traditions of the past, decreeing that architects must not cherish “any preconceived form fixing upon us either past, present, future, but instead exalting the simple laws in common sense [...] determining form by way of the nature of materials.”

Wright’s structures emphasize the fluid forms of nature.

Wright’s structures emphasize the fluid forms of nature.

In addition, organic architecture is an articulation of the wholistic nature of Frank Lloyd Wright’s design process, which makes typical architectural considerations concerning materials, structure, and motifs, but also considers the relationship of the building to its natural surroundings geometrically, aesthetically, and symbiotically.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because it sounds a lot like post-modernist philosophies of architecture, and this is not a coincidence. In fact, there were many other architects throughout the globe with similar and competing philosophies, such as the futurist architect Buckminster Fuller. The most prominent example of organic architecture is arguably Fallingwater. 

Fallingwater

Around seventy miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is an extremely unusual and picturesque house. This house is Fallingwater, one of the most iconic of Lloyd’s creations and currently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although it was originally built as a weekend house for a wealthy Pittsburgh businessman it is today a tourist attraction that can be visited and admired. The home’s striking design is the epitome of Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic architecture philosophy as the building is designed to exist harmoniously with its natural surroundings.

Fallingwater is one of Wright’s most famous designs.

Fallingwater is one of Wright’s most famous designs.

As the name implies, the home’s gorgeous facade is built around a waterfall and natural stream which flow through and around the house. It also includes expansive decks, balconies, and common areas such as the modern kitchen. This makes for a house that is intimately connected to nature, allowing its residents to be exposed to the pleasant sounds and beauty of rural Pennsylvania while also enjoying the luxuries of a modern mansion. The home’s design integrates natural rock and boulders from the surrounding area, meaning that the Frank Lloyd Wright house is literally of nature as well as integrated into the landscape.    

Broadacre City

Another major concept articulated by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1932 was Broadacre City, a suburban development plan that was meant to detail what the communities of the future would look like. According to Wright, the city as it then existed was destined to disappear and be replaced by a collection of low-density mixed-use suburbs where most housing would consist of single-family homes on one-acre garden plots.

Wright pioneered car-centric planned communities.

Wright pioneered car-centric planned communities.

Although this concept did include apartment buildings, office towers, and even a train station, Broadacre City was specifically designed to not be mass transit-friendly. Instead, this concept emphasized the car as the main form of transportation and discouraged living in high-density housing such as apartments.

Walking to most destinations would not be possible in this plan, and all major transportation would be done via cars. This utopian vision was criticized by several city planners from Wright’s time, but it proved to be immensely influential in the development of America’s suburban sprawl.

Of course, Wright was not the only person to envision such a concept, and many of his contemporaries were developing similar designs as more and more people began owning cars. Ultimately, some elements of the broadacre plan made it into planned communities throughout the country, especially in the post-WWII housing boom. Mass-produced car-centric suburbs such as Levittown, New York ultimately owe much to the Broadacre plan.    

Legacy

Although Wright died in 1959, his philosophy proved greatly influential to future architects in the 20th and 21st centuries, with some of the most famous architects of our times taking inspiration from Wright. 

Hadid 

As one of the most influential architects of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Hadid’s distinctive architectural style has clear connections to Wright’s organic philosophy. An Iraqi-born British architect that has completed many groundbreaking projects, Hadid was greatly inspired by neo-futurism among other neo-modernist philosophies of architecture.

Neo-Futurism rejected the rigid symmetry of futurism and embraced more fluid designs instead (Böhringer Friedrich/Wikimedia Commons).

Neo-Futurism rejected the rigid symmetry of futurism and embraced more fluid designs instead (Böhringer Friedrich/Wikimedia Commons).

As such, her distinctive structures are in many ways modern interpretations of Wright’s emphasis on symbiosis with nature as many of them echo natural forms and integrate eco-friendly technologies that allow them to exist more harmoniously with nature. In fact, some of her most famous works stand out quite prominently due to their organic freeform shapes that eschew traditional forms and are usually quite abstract.    

Calatrava

Another notable neo-futurist architect who draws inspiration from Wright’s philosophy is Santiago Calatrava. As with Hadid, Calatrava’s work rejects traditional forms and almost never features straight lines or right angles, preferring instead fluid shapes that are lighter, airier, and more natural. This is especially evident in bridges designed by the architect. 

The Alamillo bridge embodies aspects of Wright’s philosophy.

The Alamillo bridge embodies aspects of Wright’s philosophy.

Calatrava’s designs effectively work with natural forces to produce structures that are striking in appearance and which appear to exist effortlessly and perfectly in their environment. A great example of this is the Alamillo Bridge in Seville, Spain, designed by Calatrava in such a way that it requires cables on only one side to hold up the pylon since the weight of the pylon eliminated the need for cables on the other side. In effect, the structure appears to balance itself effortlessly, evoking the effortless balance of Wright’s structures such as Fallingwater.    

Burj Khalifa 

Another huge example of Wright’s legacy is the Burj Khalifa. Although Wright of course had no direct hand in the building of the world’s tallest building he did indirectly contribute to its iconic design. In fact, the Burj Khalifa’s basic design had been envisioned by Wright in his 1957 book The Testament. However, Wright’s plan was dubbed The Illinois and called for a mile-high skyscraper that would have been built in Chicago.

Artist’s impression of Wright’s design (Milkomède/Wikimedia Commons).

Artist’s impression of Wright’s design (Milkomède/Wikimedia Commons).

Had it been built, this tower would have been nearly twice as tall as the Burj Khalifa at over a mile in height, with over eighteen million square feet of interior space, fifteen thousand parking spaces, and even room for one hundred helicopters. The basic design of the tower is very similar to Burj Khalifa’s distinctive tapered needle-like design. Adrian Smith, the Burj Khalifa’s designer, has said that his design for the Dubai landmark was inspired by The Illinois concept.

Smith also drew the designs for the Jeddah Tower, a skyscraper still under construction that is planned to be 3,281 feet (meaning over half a mile) high, bringing us closer still to seeing a real-life example of the mile-high tower Wright envisioned. The Jeddah tower is also claimed to have been inspired by Wright’s design. Truly there are few better testaments to Wright’s legacy than these two soaring monuments.

MG

Written by
Mateos Glen Hayes

Written by Mateos Glen Hayes

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