Today is the birthday of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, born in Richland Center, Wisconsin (1867). His life spanned an era full of dramatic changes: he was born two years after the Civil War ended, and died in 1959, a year and a half after the first Sputnik launch.
His first professional mentor was architect Louis Sullivan. Sullivan coined the saying “form follows function,” and he believed that American architecture should have its own unique qualities and not simply try to replicate old European standards. Sullivan’s philosophy greatly influenced Wright, who took it one step further with his own theory that form and function should be one. His simple, clean designs inspired the Prairie School architects, and “Taliesin,” his Wisconsin home, was the perfect example of the Prairie Style. When it came to designing homes on commission, he always claimed that the clients’ wishes came first — but was plainly of the opinion that his clients didn’t really know what they wanted. “It’s their duty to understand, to appreciate, and conform insofar as possible to the idea of the house,” he once said.
Wright would often tell his students: “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” His aim was to design buildings that complemented — even seemed part of — nature. He used building materials like wood and stone, and never painted them. His designs were horizontal, with low rooflines, so that the buildings blended in with the landscape as much as possible. He incorporated walls made almost entirely of windows, to blur the line between the outdoors and the indoors. The glass walls were also functional, using winter sunlight to help heat the house. “No house should ever be on a hill or on anything,” he said. “It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.” Even when he designed skyscrapers and other urban buildings, he always tried to incorporate elements inspired by natural structures. One of the most famous of these is New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which resembles a giant white snail shell.