Frank Lloyd Wright
When was the last time you had enough clout to name a house? Most people have barely enough confidence to name their price when they haggle. You may have heard of Falling Water, but what about Graycliff, Wingspread, and Eaglefeather? Percy Bysshe Shelley couldn’t have gotten away with names like those, and he was writing odes to birds and the wind. Frank Lloyd Wright was an architectural magician, designing over four hundred houses, apartments, pavilions, churches, and business structures in a career spanning over fifty years. Wright didn’t sketch the same forms over and over again. His houses don’t look like the hand-in-hand paper doll chains of repetition you find on suburban streets across America today. He let his convictions on design and his previous works inspire his current piece, so his craft was always evolving. Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the great American architects, and he established his first independent firm right around the corner in Oak Park, the first suburb to the West of Chicago.
The largest collection of Wright’s works can be found scattered around Illinois, most dense in the greater Chicago area. Take a stroll through Oak Park and you can still see Wright’s works, many of which are now private residences. Particularly full roads include Chicago, Forest, Fair Oaks, and Euclid. Wright’s own residence, named the Frank Lloyd Wright House — he wasn’t quite a big enough rock star yet to name it something insane like he would with his future works — still stands at 428 Forest Avenue in Oak Park. It looks almost normal, like it could have been conceived by a regular mortal. Wright would soon break away from the pack. His philosophy was one of organic design. He thought a structure should fit into the environment in which it’s placed, that buildings should not stick out like a blemish but instead be integrated into the greater design of nature. This is what pushed Wright’s work into what came to be known as the Prairie school of architecture.
Wright’s Prairie homes are perhaps his most well-known and are defined by their use of multiple levels of horizontal structures, overhanging roofs, asymmetry and secluded entrances and living spaces. Falling Water employs this structure, and the Robie House in Hyde Park is one of the strongest examples of this style. The Robie House still offers tours, and many more Prairie style houses can be seen around the city and our suburbs. There were other architects in the Prairie school but none as well known as Wright. Want proof? Here are some names of other Prairie school architects: John S. Van Bergen, Marion Mahoney Griffin, William Gray Purcell, Henry John Klutho. Recognize any of them? Of course you don’t. None of them were mad scientists or maniacs like Wright. Another by-product of Wright’s obsession with organic design was his penchant for designing the interior as well as the exterior of his houses. That sounds innocent enough, but it wasn’t just the design of interior space and walls; Wright would actually design and build the furniture, light fixtures, and windows so that they fit with the rest of the house. Basically, Frank Lloyd Wright could not allow his beautifully shaped homes to be ruined when you filled them with your tacky garbage. Everything involved in the structure had to work together, and no ignoramus homeowner was going to spoil that.
Anyone familiar with Pink Floyd knows that it’s nearly pointless to listen to only one of their songs. Their music is best consumed in whole albums at a time; melodies and themes come back, weaving in and out of the tracks, evolving the record as a whole. Frank Lloyd Wright’s body of work is similar. Sure, each house of his shows inspiration, but look across his career timeline and you find something more satisfying. Every house he built grew organically from what he had already learned. When something worked he would incorporate it into future homes. This is why you can identify a work as belonging to Wright but not become bored by his pieces. Each is unique but clearly belongs to the same record. They want each other. The elements are cohesive from the beginning of his career to the end, and luckily for us, much of his album can be listened to in the comfort of our Chicago neighborhoods.