Frank Lloyd Wright famously created a standard style of American architecture. To do this, the renowned architect experimented with various forms and materials. The progressive designer started his architecture career in Oak Park, IL. Eventually, Mr. Wright was recognized as one of the 20th century’s most influential architects. When Frank Lloyd Wright developed a structure, he did so based upon his conviction that attractive designs enhance people’s lives. Mr. Wright’s legacy continues to be an inspiration to those who view and study it.¹
Table of Contents
- Organic Design Philosophy
- Harmony of the Part in Relation to the Whole
- The Parts are Made According to the Function of the Organism
- The Form of the Organism Decides the Character of the Organism
- Integration of Parts to the Whole
- Design of Parts Controls the Design of the Whole
- Bringing it Home
- Relation to the Whole
- Function of the Organism
- Character of the Organism
- Parts to the Whole
- Final Thoughts
BiographyOn June 8, 1867, Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Richland Center, WI. His parents originally gave him the middle name of Lincoln, but he changed it to Lloyd after they divorced to honor his mother's side of the family. When he was 12 years old, Wright’s family moved to Madison, WI, where he attended high school. During the summer months, he spent time at his uncle’s farm in Spring Glen. It was at the farm that he discovered an interest in architecture. Displaying his architectural depth, he later reminisced about the farm’s landscaping by saying, “The modeling of the hills, the weaving and fabric that clings to them, the look of it all in tender green or covered with snow or in full flow of summer that bursts into the glorious blaze of autumn. I still feel myself as much a part of it as the trees and birds and bees are, and the red barns.”² In 1885, Wright left Madison high school without earning his diploma. He left school to work for Allan Conover who was the Dean of the Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin. While working at the college, Frank studied civil engineering for two semesters. In 1887, he moved to Chicago. In Chicago, architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee hired Frank Lloyd Wright. While working for Silsbee, Wright developed the plans for his first building, which was the Lloyd-Jones Family Chapel. The structure also went by the name Unity Chapel. A year later, the firm of Adler and Sullivan hired Wright as one of their associates. Wright credited Sullivan as one of his only career influences. Sullivan believed that American architecture should focus on function instead of European tradition. Wright took this theory to heart and developed his own adage, which was “Form and function are one.”³Frank Lloyd Wright’s first home designs exhibited his unique talents. These early residences displayed individual styling that simulated the appearance of a horizontal plane. The homes did not come with basements or attics. They were constructed from natural materials and were not painted. Mr. Wright’s initial housing designs featured low-pitched rooflines along with deep overhangs. An early Frank Lloyd Wright house featured a continuous wall of windows to blend with the surrounding environment. These homes had large brick or stone fireplaces as well as open rooms that flowed from one to another.During his employment for Sullivan, Frank met and married Catherine Tobin. The couple built a home in Oak Park, IL, and had five children. In 1893, Mr. Wright left his job with Adler and Sullivan to start his own firm in Chicago. The architect toured Japan in 1905, and the travel experience greatly influenced his later work. It was the country’s tendency to merge visual appeal with geometric shapes that affected him the most. A few years later, Wright spent time in Europe. While there, he penned two publications that deeply inspired other architects. In 1911, Wright moved back to America, but after a tragedy involving a fire, the building designer moved to Japan where he remained for several years developing Tokyo’s new Imperial Hotel. In 1922, Wright moved back to the United States. During his later years, he continued designing structures. Mr. Wright also wrote more publications and began lecturing. Frank introduced a unique idea for the nation. His plan was for people to live in affordable and nature-friendly communities. He used the word Usonia to describe his community proposal. Usonia refers to a group of about 60 housing structures. The homes in this type of community are small and made from local materials. Wright built the first Usonian home in 1937. It is called the Jacobs House. Several Usonian communities currently exist in the United States. Mr. Wright’s famous design elements continue to appear in many of today’s new homes. Furthermore, homeowners often complete renovations to obtain some of his architectural contributions. Frank Lloyd Wright wanted his organic architecture philosophy to become more than the structures he developed and more than an attribution of his work. His wish was that this concept would inspire and direct future architects as well as laypeople.
Organic Design PhilosophyFrank Lloyd Wright said, “I’d like to have a free architecture. I’d like to have architecture that belonged where you see it standing, and was a grace to the landscape instead of a disgrace.” Traditionally, the term “organic” signifies plant or animal life, but Mr. Wright gave it a different connotation. According to the famous designer, architecture should echo nature and display an equal amount of unity as is exhibited in nature. In architectural history, Wright and his one-time boss Louis Sullivan are considered the innovators of organic architecture. F.L. Wright explained his concepts by describing the elements of a living organism.⁴ According to Mr. Wright, the concepts that create unity in nature include:• Harmony of the part in relation to the whole. • The parts are made according to the function of the organism. • The form of the organism decides the character of the organism. To apply these concepts, the architect confirmed that he designed his projects to highlight two principles. These principles are:• Integration of parts to the whole. • Design of parts controls the design of the whole.
Harmony of the Part in Relation to the WholeThis concept typically refers to designing a structure to respect and blend in with the landscaping. It means to honor local traditions and create a structure with native materials. F.L. Wright also used the concept to develop structures and homes around the area’s natural terrain. In some cases, he created structures to emphasize unique natural elements. When Wright designed Taliesin West, he used the harmony principle. For instance, the building’s design blends locally gathered freestanding boulders and rocks with the cement that Wright decided to use to form the structure. The building’s property featured rocks with petroglyphs carved into the surfaces. Mr. Wright decided how these rocks would be used in relation to the structure. He had the rocks located to particular areas and positioned them to display their original artwork. In deciding the position of Taliesin West, F.L. Wright selected a place where the building would frame the area’s sights, which included picturesque views of the valley and nearby mountains.⁵
The Parts are Made According to the Function of the OrganismThis principle indicates a client’s needs. When Frank Lloyd Wright designed a home for a family, he would consider how much space the family needed. He would also confirm their favorite places to gather in the home and how his design could enrich their time together. He wanted to elevate people’s daily lives into art. An example of this concept is the Zimmerman House. Wright began building the home in 1951. As with his Taliesin property, the architect harmonized the Zimmerman House with the surrounding landscapes, but he also worked with the couple to make it a personal creation for them. James Garvin, a retired architectural historian for the state of New Hampshire, commented on the Zimmerman's home. He said, “There is nothing generic about the building; everything about the house grows from the personalities and artistic interests of the owners.” Wright created the home’s living room to generate amazing acoustics. He also included a nook for the piano and an abundance of shelves so that the couple could exhibit their sculptures and pottery collection.⁶
The Form of the Organism Decides the Character of the OrganismThis principle means that a structure’s inside space establishes its exterior shape. F.L. Wright believed that interior space should not be segregated into box forms called rooms. Instead, space should flow openly from room to room. He said, “Rooms are never simple rectangles but are broken up vertically and horizontally to give the eye and mind something delightful and sometimes something mysterious to enjoy. An area is never fully comprehended when viewed from a particular point but must be slowly experienced as one moves through the space. One space can introduce another, heightening the effect, or function as part of a series, such as the playroom hallway and the playroom in the home.”⁷Wright used the concept when he designed the renowned Guggenheim museum. Experts believe that F.L. Wright used the shape of a nautilus shell as inspiration when he developed the form of the museum. To make the design a reality, Wright selected cement for the structure’s material. Since cement can be formed, he had greater control over the full design while still permitting the material to dominate the building’s smooth exterior shape. As a result, the structure is more like an eggshell in its formation than a traditional interwoven brick building. Due to the nature of cement, Mr. Wright used various forming techniques to build the Guggenheim. During construction, cement was poured into forms and sprayed. The manufacturing method allowed the architect to create a spiraling ramp along the interior of the structure to follow the building's exterior form, which featured a curved design. Of the museum, Wright said, “It is one great space on a simple continuous floor. The eye encounters no abrupt change, but is gently led and treated as if at the edge of a shore watching an unbreaking wave…one floor flowing into another instead of the usual superimposition of stratified layers.” The curved walls also gave the museum’s curators a unique base to display the artwork.⁸
Integration of Parts to the WholeWright’s integration concept focuses on the materials used to build a structure. Instead of changing the materials to fit a plan, F.L. Wright left them as intact as possible to enhance his designs. Furthermore, he brought out the natural elements of the materials that he used. For instance, the architect used stain to highlight the grain in wood or left it alone. When he used plaster, he allowed its natural texture to appear.An example of this principle is the famous Fallingwater House. The residence is located in the forest area of Bear Run, PA, so Wright used locally quarried stone to build the home. In addition, he chose to leave the stone exposed instead of planning smooth cuts and a plaster coating. Consequently, the home’s exterior is noticeably irregular and imbalanced.⁹
Design of Parts Controls the Design of the Whole With this concept, the composition of the parts works to determine the structure’s design. To develop a building using Wright’s principle, architects must let the material they’ve chosen for the project impact the design.The Unity Temple is an example of this concept. In developing the building’s design, Wright determined that the client needed a place to worship and a community room. The client’s budget was small while the property was long and narrow, so Wright was forced to work within these limitations. The client also asked the architect to design the temple’s furniture and stained glass. Upon its completion, the structure’s interior featured an efficient use of space as well as separation elements to decrease noise transfer between the two spaces. As a result, the building’s character is simple and modern even though the architect developed it more than 100 years ago. According to Wright, the creation of the building caused him to recognize that the actual heart of a structure is in its space instead of the walls.¹⁰
Bringing it Home You can take the concepts developed by F.L. Wright and include them in your own home. Organic architecture is ideal for every home. Furthermore, it is an architectural style that suits all types of homes in any section of the country. You can make changes according to one or all of his elements to update your current residence to reflect Wright’s influences.
Relation to the Whole To create harmony of the part in relation to the whole within your existing home, change the exterior appearance of your residence by adding stone or painting it a natural shade that you would find in the great outdoors. You can also implement this principle by installing a deck on the back of your home. Be sure to build the addition around your property’s natural elements. A deck will increase your living space and give you a spot to sit in to appreciate your surroundings. The addition of windows will allow you to frame your home's view. Before placing the windows, be sure to assess the exterior terrain to frame specific outdoor elements. The change will also allow you to include Wright’s harmony concept in your home.
Function of the Organism This concept focuses on the needs of a family, so you can create it in your home by making practical changes. Frank Lloyd Wright advised his clients to use built-in furniture, so consider commissioning a carpenter to construct built-in shelves for your living and family room areas. Custom closets and window seats are other ways to embrace this principle. The famous architect combined furniture pieces to make them more useful. For instance, he built a bookcase in the rear section of a bench. You can use this handy design element for furniture items in your own house.
Character of the Organism Since this concept refers to a building’s interior space determining its exterior appearance, it may take big changes for you to modify your home’s external look. However, you can transform the inside to create this principle in your own home. For instance, make an open floorplan by removing walls, pillars and space separating design elements.
Parts to the WholeMr. Wright frequently used wood for both a home’s structural components and its interior furnishings. This technique created visual continuity between a building’s physical design and the space inside. If you’re interested in using this principle in your home, add styling elements on the interior of your space that mimic the outside. For homes made from brick or stone, install a fireplace constructed from a similar material. If your home is made from wood, then you can add furnishings made from the same substance. F.L. Wright preferred to eliminate the barriers that walls create between the inside and outside of a home. To produce this effect, install a glass and aluminum folding door. The addition will dispel the wall between the indoors and outdoors.
Design of the WholeSince the design concept focuses on the parts influencing the entire structure, you can create the principle in your home by highlighting the natural materials of your residence. For instance, allow wood to remain its regular color or stain it a similar shade. Adding windows is another way to modify your existing home to display the character concept. Windows let you and your family stay close to nature. They also let natural light enter the space. To maintain your privacy, use decorative glass.
Final ThoughtsRealizing inner harmony was a major aspect of each Frank Lloyd Wright design. The architect believed that creating character in a building was the same as its formation in a person. F. L. Wright’s designs and completed works proved that people can live in homes that harmonize with nature instead of overshadow it. Furthermore, homes that blend with their natural surroundings are more beautiful because of the union.