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Architect Focus: Frank Lloyd Wright

American Master of Architecture

Born June 8, 1867 in Wisconsin to Anna Lloyd-Jones, a school teacher and William Wright, musician and preacher. Moved to Rhode Island for a while then back to Wisconsin. He went to the University of Michigan. He took engineering classes because at the time there was no instruction in architecture. He was looking to Chicago where the design of the new buildings fascinated him. His architecture instruction started by working in Chicago for J.L. Sillsbee doing architectural detail drawings then to Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. Eventually he opened his own architecture firm. During this time he married Catherine Tobin and eventually the had 6 children. As his family grew, his firm also grew. He received commissions for religious buildings and homes, all with his Prairie design style. He was inspired by nature and line. The “Prairie style” architecture defied what was the normal box like homes usually built. It focused on bold, plain and roomy comfortable spaces. The use of space was not compartmentalized as it once was. His designs were noticed by other architects such as Daniel Burnham of Chicago who offered to subsidize him to train in Europe. Frank turned him down and focused on American style of architecture focused on creating an American style of architecture.

Robbie house

Emil Bach House

Unfortunately, like his father before him, he abandoned his family, leaving his wife with their 6 children, and started a relationship with a wife of a client, Mamah Cheney. This action ruined his reputation and people refused to work with him anymore so the commissions were few and far between. Eventually, he was able to reestablish himself and he started getting commissions again. One of these commissions was the summer home for the Kaufman family in Mill Run, Pennsylvania.


Fallingwater was built on the spot in Mills Run along the river that the Kaufman family would take summer vacations. Edgar Kaufman, Sr, a department store magnet, was introduced to Wright through his son, Edgar Kaufman, Jr who took part in Wright’s Taliesin fellowship. During the financial difficulties and personal tragedies he started this fellowship at his home to train students in architecture and building. He procrastinated this commission. The story is that the same day Wright was to meet Kaufman, Sr after having received the commission for quite a while, he sat down and drew the concept drawing for the home that was to become the famous Fallingwater. A cantilevered home right on the water.

Fallingwater – exterior and interior

The design of the home is often thought of as genius. The design demonstrated his signature style of low ceilings that was meant to push people out into nature, open floor plans with all natural materials and built in furniture. The sound was ever present throughout the home, the home become part of the landscape. I personally love the cantilevered patios that jutted out over the water where you can enjoy the sun and refreshing breeze from off the water. The flooring in the living areas mimicked the rocks of the waterfall and there is a stairway that leads down to the water. It was difficult but all the materials used in the building was locally resourced. 

After the death of the Kaufman parents in the 1950s, their son, acting on the desires of his parents, donated the building and all the contents to the western Pennsylvania conservancy in 1963. It is now a museum open to tours that welcomes around 150,000 visitors per year. In 2019, this home along with other buildings designed by Wright was designated UNESCO world heritage sites. It is on my list of places to visit in the future.

In my opinion, his abandonment of his family was a toxic part of is personality that made me a bit upset. Not a good move as a husband and father.

As an architect, he was a man ahead of his time. There are still over 300 buildings that he designed and built that are still around and are a significant part of the history of architecture in the United States. There is so much more to know about the man and his legacy that I didn’t include in this post. To learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright and his buildings please visit the below links.

Peace to you and your family.

Frank Lloyd Wright, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Frank-Lloyd-Wright

Fallingwater conservancy, https://fallingwater.org

Falling water information, https://www.britannica.com/place/Fallingwater

All images from open sources.