The Genius of Chicago: Frank Lloyd Wright


Toward the end of the 20th Century, the American Institute of Architects named Frank Lloyd Wright the Greatest American Architect of All Time. Most of the buildings that Frank Lloyd Wright designed continue to this day to be listed at the top of all architectural lists of excellence. For instance, four of his buildings featured the AIA’s list of their top ten favorite buildings of the 20th century. They are all still functional and timeless tributes to his designing genius.

Next time you travel across the country, pay tribute to the artist and visit America’s most fabulous architectural masterpieces: The Falling Water, the Robie House, the Johnson Administration Building, and the Guggenheim Museum.

Frank Lloyd Wright - Greatest American Architect of all times
Photo credit: Scott Johnson via Flickr CC

From birth to Chicago

Frank Lloyd Wright was born in this town on June 8, 1867. The family moved around for much of Wright’s early childhood before settling in Madison, Wisconsin in 1878. After his parents’ divorce in 1885, Wright supported the family by working for the dean of the University of Wisconsin’s department of engineering.

Win a trip for two to Chicago.

Wright left Madison and arrived in Chicago in 1887 determined to become an architect. Tired of the imported European building styles favored at this time, Wright was inspired by the democratic spirit of America and the advances of the Industrial Revolution. It was his goal to create architectures that addressed the needs of the modern American citizen.

Falling Water designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Photo credit: James Vaughan via Flickr CC

First steps

In 1888, Wright began working at the prestigious architectural firm of Adler & Sullivan. The partnership was responsible for building Chicago’s earliest commercial projects and tall buildings. This included the Auditorium Building for which Wright served as draftsman. Firm partner Louis Sullivan noticed Wright’s talent and began to mentor him. Sullivan’s idea of a uniquely American architecture reflecting the Midwestern landscape and suited to a modern American way of life had a profound effect on Wright. It heavily influenced the Prairie style architectural aesthetic that Wright would become well-known for over the next twenty years.

It was with these ideals in mind that Wright designed and constructed his first residence in 1889 in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. It was originally built as a modest home for Wright and his new wife, Catherine Lee Tobin, but required renovations as their family grew. The additions of a home studio and children’s playroom reflected the originality of Wright’s designs through the employment of geometric shapes and volumes. The Wrights lived at this residence until 1909.

So Long Frank Lloyd Wright
Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Flickr CC

Rise to fame

After leaving his position at Adler & Sullivan in 1893, Wright established his own practice with offices in downtown Chicago and in his studio in Oak Park. It was in the suburbs of Chicago that Wright found a client base receptive of his bold, simple architecture. The residential commissions still in existence include the Arthur Heurtley House (1902), the Avery Coonley House (1907), and the Frederick C. Robie House (1910). The Robie House is widely considered Wright’s Prairie style masterpiece.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. In 1974, the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust was established to acquire and preserve Wright’s home and studio in Oak Park. After being restored to its appearance in 1909, the last year Wright lived there with his family, the Wright Home and Studio was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. It is open to the public for tours, programs, and events. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust also provides these services for other famous Wright commissions including The Rookery Light Court (1905-07) in downtown Chicago, the Unity Temple (1905-08) in Oak Park, the Robie House in Chicago’s Hyde Park, and the Emile Bach House (1915) in Chicago’s Rogers Park.

Robie House by Frank Lloyd Wright
Photo credit: David Arpl via Flickr CC

About the author

Joanna works for 1000Museums, the premiere web source for discovering museums around the world and shopping for fine art prints. She supports the exhibitions, sales, and marketing departments. Joanna has a Master of Arts degree in Art History. She wrote her thesis on the Sistine Chapel ceiling and hopes to see it in person one day.