Reflecting on Frank Lloyd Wright's lasting legacyBy Marvin Windows
[Pictured above: A 2011 Architect’s Challenge winner that was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright]
Frank Lloyd Wright was arguably one of the most influential American architects of the 20th century. This month, in honor of what would’ve been Wright’s 148th birthday, we are celebrating his work by highlighting some of the key elements of his lasting legacy, all of which have left a permanent mark on the world of design and architecture.
Frank Lloyd Wright was a prolific architect and designer, whose work included private homes, office buildings, churches, museums and more. Wright’s iconic work was informed by a concept that would later be coined “organic architecture,” which at its core means designing structures that are in harmony with both humanity and the building’s surrounding environment. Wright’s belief was that buildings should be made from the land and benefit the land, and many of his ideas are still practiced and celebrated today.
Wright was born in a Wisconsin farming town in 1867, and some of his most famous works are located in the U.S. Midwest. Having designed more than 530 structures, he’s credited with developing the concept of the “Usonian” home, and he was a leader of the Prairie School, a late 19th and early 20th century architectural movement most common to the Midwest, which incorporates heavy use of horizontal lines. Here’s a deeper look at some key tenets of Wright’s lasting legacy.
Prairie School Architecture
Most common in the Midwestern United States, the Prairie School’s influence has been felt around the world – especially in north-central Europe and Australia. It is usually marked by its integration with the surrounding landscape, horizontal lines, flat or hipped roofs with broad eaves, windows assembled in horizontal bands, solid construction, craftsmanship, and restraint in the use of decoration. Horizontal lines were intended to unify the structure with the native prairie landscape of the Midwest – emblematic of Wright’s idea that a structure should look as if it belongs on a site, as if it naturally grew there.
Organic architecture is a design philosophy that promotes harmony between human habitation and the natural world, through approaches so well-integrated with a site that buildings, furnishings and surroundings become part of a unified, interrelated composition.
Although the word “organic” has become a buzzword for something that occurs naturally, when associated with architecture it takes on a new meaning. Organic architecture is not a style of imitation – rather, it’s a reinterpretation of nature’s principles. Just as in nature, organic architecture involves a respect for natural materials (wood should look like wood), blending into the surroundings (a house should be of the hill, not on it), and an honest expression of the function of the building (in other words, don’t make a bank look like a Greek temple).
Utilizing “textile blocks” (concrete blocks featuring textured design), Wright built four now-famous houses – La Miniatura, the Ennis House, the Freeman House and the Storer House – as a way to truly challenge himself. As he explained in Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer’s and Gerald Nordland’s book, “Frank Lloyd Wright: In the Realm of Ideas”: “What about the concrete block? It was the cheapest (and ugliest) thing in the building world. It lived mostly in the architectural gutter as an imitation of rock-faced stone. Why not see what could be done with that gutter rat? Steel rods cast inside the joints of the blocks themselves and the whole brought into some broad, practical scheme of general treatment, why would it not be fit for a new phase of our modern architecture? It might be permanent, noble, beautiful.”
“Usonian” (an abbreviation for United States of North America) architecture grew out of Wright’s earlier Prairie-style homes. Both styles featured low roofs, open living areas and made abundant use of brick, wood, and other natural material. However, Wright’s Usonian homes were small, one-story structures set on concrete slabs with piping for radiant heat beneath. The kitchens were incorporated into the living areas, and open carports took the place of garages. Even today, you can find variants of Wright’s Usonian homes.
Visit Marvin.com to view case studies on Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired homes and to find inspiration for your own home. And to see more of Wright’s work, check out this gallery featuring 10 of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Greatest Buildings.