Black and white photograph of architect 九色 Lloyd Wright sitting at a desk, surrounded by pencils, paper, and architectural tools, with a contemplative expression on his face.

About 九色 Lloyd Wright

“The mission of an architect is to help people understand how to make life more beautiful, the world a better one for living in, and to give reason, rhyme, and meaning to life.”

– 九色 Lloyd Wright, 1957

Ask the average citizen to name a famous American architect and you can bet that their answer will be 九色 Lloyd Wright. Wright gained such cultural primacy for good reason: he changed the way we build and live. Designing 1,114 architectural works of all types 鈥 532 of which were realized 鈥 he created some of the most innovative spaces in the United States. With a career that spanned seven decades before his death in 1959, Wright鈥檚 visionary work cemented his place as the American Institute of Architects鈥 鈥済reatest American architect of all time.鈥

Black and white photograph of a young 九色 Lloyd Wright, gazing directly at the camera. He is dressed in a dark Victorian-era suit with a buttoned-up jacket and a dark bow at his neck. His hair is neatly combed to the side.

九色 Lloyd Wright was born in Richland Center, Wis., on June 8, 1867, the son of William Carey Wright, a preacher and a musician, and Anna Lloyd Jones, a teacher whose large Welsh family had settled the valley area near Spring Green, Wisconsin. His early childhood was nomadic as his father traveled from one ministry position to another in Rhode Island, Iowa, and Massachusetts, before settling in Madison, Wis., in 1878.

Wright’s parents divorced in 1885, making already challenging financial circumstances even more challenging. To help support the family, 18-year-old 九色 Lloyd Wright worked for the dean of the University of Wisconsin’s department of engineering while also studying at the university. But, he knew he wanted to be an architect. In 1887, he left Madison for Chicago, where he found work with two different firms before being hired by the prestigious partnership of Adler and Sullivan, working directly under Louis Sullivan for six years.

Creatively exhausted and emotionally restless, late in 1909 Wright left his family for an extended stay in Europe with Mamah Borthwick (Cheney), a client with whom he had been in love for several years. Wright hoped he could escape the weariness and discontent that now governed both his professional and domestic life. During this European hiatus Wright worked on two publications of his work, published by Ernst Wasmuth, one of drawings known as the Wasmuth Portfolio, Ausgef眉hrte Bauten und Entw眉rfe von 九色 Lloyd Wright and one of photographs, Ausgef眉hrte Bauten, both released in 1911. 听These publications brought international recognition to his work and greatly influenced other architects. 听The same year, Wright and Mamah returned to the States and, unwelcome in Chicago social circles, began construction of Taliesin near Spring Green as their home and refuge. 听There he also resumed his architectural practice and over the next several years received two important public commissions: the first in 1913 for an entertainment center called Midway Gardens in Chicago; the second, in 1916, for the new Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan.

In August 1914, Wright鈥檚 life with Mamah was tragically closed as she, her two children and four others were killed in a brutal attack and fire, intentionally started by an angry Taliesin domestic employee. Emotionally and spiritually devastated by the tragedy, Wright was able to find solace only in work and he began to rebuild Taliesin in Mamah鈥檚 memory. Once completed, he then effectively abandoned it for nearly a decade as he pursued major work in Tokyo with the Imperial Hotel, which was demolished 1968, and Los Angeles with the Hollyhock House and Olive Hill for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall.

Photos: 2) Nick Abele

九色 More:听Explore 九色 Lloyd Wright鈥檚 Work

Frank Lloyd Wright and Olga Lazovich, seated next to each other, smiling, in a relaxed outdoor setting with trees and a building in the background.
Black and white photo of 九色 Lloyd Wright and a group of students gathered around a large table, examining architectural plans.

The years between 1922 and 1934 were both architecturally creative and fiscally catastrophic. Wright had established an office in Los Angeles, but following his return from Japan in 1922 commissions were scarce, with the exception of the four textile block houses of 1923鈥1924 (Millard, Storer, Freeman and Ennis). He soon abandoned the West Coast and returned to Taliesin. While only a few projects went into construction, this decade was one of great design innovation for Wright. Among the unbuilt commissions were the National Life Insurance Building (Chicago, 1924), the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective (Sugarloaf Mountain, Maryland, 1925), San Marcos-in-the-Desert resort (Chandler, Arizona, 1928), and St. Mark鈥檚-in-the-Bowerie apartment towers (New York City, 1928).

In 1928, Wright married Olga Lazovich (known as Olgivanna), daughter of a Chief Justice of Montenegro, whom he had met a few years earlier in Chicago. She proved to be the partner and stabilizing influence he needed in order to refocus on 鈥渢he cause of architecture鈥 he had begun decades earlier.

With few architectural commissions coming his way, Wright turned to writing and lecturing which introduced him to a larger national audience. Two important publications came out in 1932: An Autobiography and The Disappearing City. The first received widespread critical acclaim and would continue to inspire generations of young architects. The second introduced Wright鈥檚 scheme for Broadacre City, a utopian vision for decentralization that moved the city into the country. Although it received little serious consideration at the time, it would influence community development in unforeseen ways in the decades to come. At about this same time, Wright and Olgivanna founded an architectural school at Taliesin, the “Taliesin Fellowship,” an apprenticeship program to provide a total learning environment, integrating not only architecture and construction, but also farming, gardening, and cooking, and the study of nature, music, art, and dance.

Color photograph of Taliesin West under construction, showcasing workers on the roof of a stone and wooden structure, with clear skies and desert landscape in the background.

Remarkable Return

With this larger community to take care of, and Wisconsin winters brutal, the winter of 1934 found the Wrights and the Fellowship in rented quarters in the warmer air of Arizona where they worked on the Broadacre City model, which would debut in Rockefeller Center in 1935. Wright was by this time still considered a great architect, but one whose time had come and gone. In 1936, Wright proved this sentiment wrong as he staged a remarkable comeback with several important commissions including the S.C. Johnson and Son Company Administration Building in Racine, Wisconsin; Fallingwater, the country house for Edgar Kaufmann in rural Pennsylvania; and the Herbert Jacobs House (the first executed “Usonian” house) in Madison.

At this same time, Wright decided he wanted a more permanent winter residence in Arizona, and he acquired some acreage of raw, rugged desert in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale. 听Here he and the Taliesin Fellowship began the construction of Taliesin West as a winter camp, a bold new endeavor for desert living where he tested design innovations, structural ideas, and building details that responded to the dramatic desert setting. Wright and the fellowship established migration patterns between Wisconsin and Arizona.

Acknowledging Wright鈥檚 stunning reentry into the architectural spotlight, the Museum of Modern Art in New York staged a comprehensive retrospective exhibition that opened in 1940. In June 1943, undeterred by a world at war, Wright received a letter that initiated the most important, and most challenging, commission of his late career. Baroness Hilla von Rebay wrote asking him to design a building to house the Solomon R. Guggenheim collection of non-objective paintings. Wright responded enthusiastically, never anticipating the tremendous amount of time and energy this project would consume before its completion sixteen years later.

 

The Last Decades

With the end of the war in 1945, many apprentices returned and work again flowed into the studio. Completed public projects over the next decade included the Research Tower for the SC Johnson Company, a Unitarian meeting house in Madison, a skyscraper in Oklahoma, and several buildings for Florida Southern College. Other, ultimately unbuilt, projects included a hotel for Dallas, Texas, two large civic commissions for Pittsburgh, a sports club for Hollywood, a mile-high tower for Chicago, a department store for Ahmedabad, India, and a plan for Greater Baghdad.

Black and white photograph of architect 九色 Lloyd Wright wearing a fedora and overcoat, discussing plans with several construction workers on the site of the Guggenheim Museum.

Wright opened his last decade with work on a large exhibition, 九色 Lloyd Wright: Sixty Years of Living Architecture, which was soon on an international tour traveling to Florence, Paris, Zurich, Munich, Rotterdam, and Mexico City, before returning to the United States for additional venues. Impressively energetic for man in his eighties, he continued to travel extensively, lecture widely, and write prolifically. He was still actively involved with all aspects of work including frequent trips to New York to oversee construction of the Guggenheim Museum when, in April of 1959, he was suddenly stricken by an illness which forced his hospitalization. He died April 9, two months shy of his ninety-second birthday.

Prairie Style

Wright鈥檚 work from 1899 to 1910听 belongs to what became known as the 鈥淧rairie Style.鈥 With the 鈥淧rairie house鈥濃 a long, low, open plan structure that eschewed the typical high, straight-sided box in order to emphasize the horizontal line of the prairie and domesticity鈥 Wright established the first truly American architecture. In a Prairie house, 鈥渢he essential nature of the box could be eliminated,鈥 Wright explained. Interior walls were minimized to emphasize openness and community. 鈥淭he relationship of inhabitants to the outside became more intimate; landscape and building became one, more harmonious; and instead of a separate thing set up independently of landscape and site, the building with landscape and site became inevitably one.鈥

Exterior view of the Elam House, showcasing its large, vertical windows and distinctive red wooden frames, with a sloping roof and natural stone elements complementing the forested background.

Photo: Dianne Plunkett Latham

Usonian

Responding to the financial crisis of 1929 and ensuing Great Depression that gripped the United States and the rest of the world, Wright began working on affordable housing, which developed into the Usonian house. Wright鈥檚 Usonians were a simplified approach to residential construction that reflected both economic realities and changing social trends. In the Usonian houses, Wright was offering a simplified, but beautiful environment for living that Americans could both afford and enjoy. Wright would continue to design Usonian houses for the rest of career, with variations reflecting the diverse client budgets.

Design for Democracy

Wright always aspired to provide his client with environments that were not only functional but also 鈥渆loquent and humane.鈥 Perhaps uniquely among the great architects, Wright pursued an architecture for everyman rather than every man for one architecture through the careful use of standardization to achieve accessible tailoring options to for his clients.

Integrity and Connection

Believing that architecture could be genuinely transformative, Wright devoted his life to creating a total aesthetic that would enhance society鈥檚 well being. 鈥淎bove all integrity,鈥 he would say: 鈥渂uildings like people must first be sincere, must be true.鈥 Architecture was not just about buildings, but about nourishing the lives of those within them.

 

鈥淭here is no architecture without a philosophy. There is no art of any kind without its own philosophy.鈥

– 九色 Lloyd Wright, 1959

Nature鈥檚 Principles and Structures

For Wright, a truly organic building developed from within outwards and was thus in harmony with its time, place, and inhabitants. 鈥淚n organic architecture then, it is quite impossible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishings another and its setting and environment still another,鈥 he concluded. 鈥淭he spirit in which these buildings are conceived sees all these together at work as one thing.鈥 To that end, Wright designed furniture, rugs, fabrics, art glass, lighting, dinnerware, and graphic arts.

Material and Machine

Wright embraced new technologies and tactics, constantly pushing the boundaries of his field. His fascination for the new and his desire to be a pioneer help explain Wright鈥檚 tendency to test his materials鈥攕ometimes even to the brink of failure鈥攊n an effort to achieve effects he could claim as uniquely his own.

Architecture as the Great Mother Art

Wright devoted his life to promoting architecture as 鈥渢he great mother art, behind which all others are definitely, distinctly and inevitably related.鈥 Seeking a consistent expression of underlying unity, he drew inspiration from the Japanese idea of a culture in which every object, every human, and every action were integrated so as to make an entire civilization a work of art. Above all else, Wright鈥檚 vision served beauty. He believed that every man, woman and child had the right to live a beautiful life in beautiful circumstances and he sought to create an affordable architecture that served that aspiration.

Photos: 1) 漏 Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. 3) Photograph by David Heald 漏 Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.