Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was born 8 June 1867 in either Richland Center or nearby Bear Valley, Wisconsin, to widowed preacher and musician William Russell Cary Wright and teacher Anna Lloyd Jones Wright. He died 9 April 1959 in Phoenix, Arizona. His life was filled with contradictions and controversy, and much myth-making on the part of the man himself, America's best-known architect. As much as seven years after Wright's death, Olga Ivanovna (Olgivanna) Milanov Lazovich Hinzenburg Wright, his third wife, was stating his birth date as 1869.
Wright's early childhood home was Richland Center, but at seven the family moved to Weymouth, Massachusetts. Returning to Wisconsin, the Valley of the Almighty Joneses as it was known - Helena Valley near Spring Green - in 1877, Wright came under the influence of his uncle James Lloyd Jones, and the Jones clan of strong Welsh stock. Every summer, when school was not in session, young Wright was doing farm work, "adding tired to tired." Uncle James watched over the boy's development, tried to hitch him to the straight and narrow, but young Frank found his own way. In An Autobiography, Wright's opening words are;
A LIGHT blanket of snow fresh-fallen over sloping fields, gleaming in the morning sun. Clusters of pod-topped weeds woven of bronze here and there sprinkling the spotless expanse of white. Dark spreys of slender metallic straight lines, tipped with quivering dots. Pattern to the eye of the sun, as the sun spread delicate network of more pattern in blue shadows on the white beneath.
"Come on, my boy," said Uncle John . . . Neither to right nor to left, intent upon his goal, straight forward he walked - possessed.
But soon the boy caught the play of naked weed against the snow . . . He ran first left, to gather beads on stems and then beads and tassels on more stems. Then right, to gather prettier ones. Again - left, to some darker and more brilliant . . .
A long way up the slope, arrived at the point on which he had fixed, Uncle John turned to look back.
A smile of satisfaction lit the strong Welsh face. His tracks in the snow were straight as any string could be straight.
The boy came up, arms full, faced flushed, glowing. . . A stern look look came down on him.
The lesson was to come. . . .Uncle John's meaning was plain - NEITHER TO RIGHT NOR TO THE LEFT, BUT STRAIGHT, IS THE WAY. . . .The boy was troubled. Something was left out.
Thus Frank Lloyd Wright reiterates the story of his youth as well as the direction of his future. He was always to right or left, rarely centered.
Early on Wright knew that he would be an architect, from the day he looked at the walls of his bedroom, decorated by his mother with reproductions of great architectural works, to the day when, as a college student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison campus, he observed the Wisconsin state building collapse and heard the screams of those injured by falling. masonry.
In 1883 Anna moved out of her husband's bedroom and forced him to seek a divorce a year later. Wright's unstable childhood and adolescence followed him through life, leading to his own difficult domestic arrangements and unwillingness to accept conventional mores. When others wanted a professional life, they would complete a college degree. Wright left the University of Wisconsin in Madison after less than two year's study. When Daniel Burnham, Chicago's leading architect, president of the American Institute of Architects and organizer of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, offered Wright a full four-year scholarship to study the beaux arts in Rome, to be followed by two additional years travelling in Europe and then a position at his architectural firm, Wright declined. When other architects competed for every kind of non-residential business, Wright made houses and other types of residential construction two-thirds of his practice.
Always to right or left, rarely centered. Yet it was not Uncles John or James, but Louis Sullivan, America's first great modernist architect,"Lieber Meister" to Wright, who changed the draftsman and aspiring designer into a practicing architect. After working for two years in the office of J. L. Silsbee (where the walls were decorated with Japanese prints - Wright's first-known encounter with the only art he would admit to having influence upon his own design), Wright went to work for the firm of (Dankmar) Adler & Sullivan in 1889, the same year he married Catherine Lee Tobin and designed his own home in Oak Park, Illinois (S.002).
Sullivan was busy with the Chicago Auditorium building, so it fell to Wright to design the residential work that came to the office, thus providing an early and important impetus for Wright's later focus on domestic architecture. Wright was lent the money to finance his Oak Park home by Sullivan. To meet this obligation and his insatiable need for luxuries, the young draftsman moonlighted work. Cecil Corwin, a draftsman he'd befriended in Silsbee's office, was listed as the architect of record to avoid Sullivan's detecting this forbidden bootlegged work. Among these is the George Blossom house (S.014, 1892) in the Kenwood district of Chicago, of such fine Queen Anne design as to prove that Wright could have been a great academic designer had he chosen to follow the path offered by Burnham.
Wright saw in the World Columbian Exhibition a disaster for American Architecture; only Louis Sullivan's Transportation Building asserted an American architecture, while other buildings by American architects were a paean to the historic past, to Greek, Roman, anything but American. On an island retreat, however, was the Ho-o-den, a Japanese pavilion, and again Wright had a vision of his own future.
When in 1893 Sullivan caught Wright at his moonlighting and fired him the young architect opened his own office and produced the William H. Winslow residence and stable (S.024-S.025, 1894) next door to Oak Park in River Forest. This is the architect's first house set "on," rather than "in," the prairie. Its characteristics - a stylobate-like foundation that firmly sets the house on the earth; first-floor living quarters that dominate the structure; low hipped-roof above broad overhanging eaves; and, in two-story structures, a second story that is like a gallery, never dominating the first floor - stay with Wright for the remainder of his professional life.
Frank, Jr. (who later called himself "Lloyd" so as not to be confused with his father) was born in 1891, John in 1892. In 1894 daughter Catherine was born, so Wright considered enlarging his house. 1895 saw construction of a Playroom addition (S.003), and the birth of son David (daughter Frances would come in 1898, and last son Robert Llewellyn in 1903). In his early designs Wright was very eclectic, from the Japanese-influenced Chauncey Williams house (S.033, 1895) to the pseudo-English Tudor of the Nathan G. Moore house (S.034, 1895). He was still years from any major commercial work.
Commissions had been plentiful in Chicago during the early 1890s (13,100 new housing starts in 1892), but were scarce by the turn of the century (only 3,500 starts in 1900). Wright kept searching for a direction that would be his alone. In a three-step process, developing one of his favorite plan types, the cruciform, Wright moved from eclectic brilliance to the Prairie era. The first design in the process was the Husser house (S.046) of 1899. This was a sprawling structure of incipient cruciform plan overlooking Lake Michigan, with its entire living quarters a full floor above a basement that was set at ground level. Then in 1900 the B. Harley Bradley house (S.052), "Glenlloyd," in Kankakee, Illinois, reached further towards a true cruciform plan, porte-cochere and entry one wing, living room the front extension, dining room opposite entry with porch beyond, and servants' quarters, kitchen and pantry to the rear. The same arrangement of spaces was carried into the Ward W. Willits house (S.054) in Highland Park, Illinois, a year later, but with a different structural arrangement and treatment of details. The earlier house had a gabled roof, the later was hipped. English half-timber, suggested in 1900, was completely gone by 1902. Prairie architecture was fully born.
The Prairie era, identified by very low structures - the Robie house (S.127, 1909) fits three stories in less height than typical two-story structures by other architects - and emphasis on the horizontal - deeply raked horizontal, filled-to-masonry-surface vertical, grouting between rows of brick or, later, concrete blocks, or board-and-batten wood surfacing - and with Wright casement rather than double-hung windows, among other innovations, lasted nearly a decade before Wright felt burned out both in his marriage and his artistical endeavors. From 1901 through 1909 perhaps half of Wright's best-known work was produced. Yet his legacy at this juncture was small, for his ideas were not accepted by the architectural profession in general, and the Prairie School did not extend into the East, South or most of the West. Wright is generally credited with design of the first American split-level residence in the Isabel Roberts house, River Forest, Illinois (S.150, 1908), for his bookeeper, and thus designed to be cheap; living and dining rooms with kitchen were at ground level, bedrooms a half-level up to the rear, and plans called for built-in garage a half-level down to the rear, but local building codes turned this into a standard basement, the same fate that earlier befell the Edwin Cheney house in Oak Park (S.104, 1903).
Yet, while we can define a Chicago School of Architecture with Sullivan as a central figure, and a Prairie School of Architecture with Wright as its dominating leader, the Prairie School had died out by the early 1920s. In the Prairie era, Wright had created an American - some would say only a midWestern - architecture. He had not, however, created a Democratic architecture, so his goal was only partly fulfilled. Only those who had worked in his Oak Park office felt the significance of what the master had created. Following slavishly, they created nothing new, while Wright recognized the changes going on in the world around him.
Wright's middle-class houses to 1910 accepted the Victorian American way of life. Servants, often live-in maid and man servant, were common even in lower-middle income families at the turn of the century. Wright's homes often featured front entries for visitors, side entries for the family carriage, and a back entry for the servants. By 1910, the emerging machine-age culture was allowing servants to abandon their servile condition, earn a decent wage and own their own homes. Wright moved to meet this need, to create what he saw as a great Democratic American Architecture. Wright also wrote of and contributed to events related to the arrival of the machine age. He welcomed the machine. So did servants (and farmers) for it gave them the means to move out of their indentured lifestyle. With a limited education, they could operate a machine, and machine operators could earn enough to buy their own homes and raise families. This was a fait accompli by the beginning of the first world war.
What Wright already had, even if its influence in retrospect is seen as minimal, was a basic concept of design rooted in ancient human needs yet commensurate with the emerging machine-age technology. Earth, air, fire, water; these are the essential original elements. Wright set his Prairie houses directly on the earth with his stylobate-like base. He opened interior spaces, removing dividing walls to let one space flow into adjacent space, giving air to the client moving about therein - it is the space within to be lived in that is architecture, not the exterior clothing; (quoting Lao Tse) is how Wright would state it - and always at the center of the structure, the hearth, the fireplace. Only water was not obviously present, but this, too, was included by bringing in cut foliage, planting boxes, floral arrangements and the like that suggested the presence of water. Of course, wherever water was nearby, be it a stream, lake or other waterway, the structure would be related to it as closely as possible. Yet it was a quarter century before the greatest example of this, Fallingwater (S.230), would be built.
As to his ready adaptation to the machine-age, Wright had grasped the need for standardization and, in the first Prairie house, for Ward W. Willits, the entire structure had been designed on a uniform grid of squares. Wright would use this organizational concept unaltered for two decades, then redevelop it into new units and modules, before standardization came to the construction industry and to architectural design (Wright would use the first standardized 4 x 8' plywood panels - in the 1930s - not for their standardized size but, because soaked in water, they could be bent into nice curved surfaces!). The standardized unit grid, together with the cantilever to open spaces and eliminate corners, constituted the basic elements of Wrightian design for the remainder of the architect's life.
Wright designs led to over a hundred constructed buildings during the first decade of the twentieth century, but it was the "Fireproof House for $5,000" concept, first broached to the public in a 1906 Ladies Home Journal, that was his attempt to create a Democratic American Architecture for the emerging Machine Age. (Wright had already been the first American architect to employ poured concrete construction, in Unity Temple, Oak Park [S.096, 1904], the material chosen to keep costs low). Yet only three of these "concrete" houses were built, in stucco on frame rather than concrete, before marital and professional crisis arrived.
The creative crisis in Wright's artistic life came full force in 1909. Wright lost a major residential contract with tycoon Cyrus McCormick - or did he intentionally insult Mrs. McCormick so as to get out of a contract he knew would lead him away from democracy and to serving only the rich? The result; an affair with the wife of client Edwin Cheney, Mamah Borthwick, led to a trip to Europe where, at the age of 42, he planned to publish his "life work." He settled in Fiesole, Italy, though he travelled through England, France, Germany and Austria extensively. Ernst Wasmuth was the publisher of two works; Ausgefürte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright with photos and plans, then the elephant folio Ausgefürte Bauten und Entwürfe which was all drawn, plans and perspectives, by father Frank and son Lloyd.
When he returned to America, he set to designing his Democratic American Architecture. He would now avoid rich clients unless they were devoted to his ideal of an organic architecture. Thus, he would design the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin, for a company that wanted a "democratic" office, with one large open space where the office workers were co-equals; then he would design a home for the company's wealthy CEO, Hib Johnson. He would design Fallingwater, the best-known private home for someone not of royal blood in the history of the world, for department store magnate Edgar Kaufmann. There were other rich clients, but they came to Wright infused with his idea of organic architecture which was both Democratic and American. There were other famous buildings, from the Imperial Hotel in Japan (S.194, 1915), to the Guggenheim Museum S.400, 1956) in New York City, which took well over a decade from initial design to a design approved by the city's planning board.
When Catherine denied her husband a divorce, Wright redesigned the Home & Studio into two separate apartments so that his wife and children could live in one, rent the other for income. Then the architect moved back to the Valley of the Lloyd Joneses and built the home that he would live in for almost a half century, "Taliesin" (Welsh for "Shining Brow," S.172, 1911). Here he lived and worked with Mamah until a servant locked her and her children in a room and set it afire in 1914. Rebuilding began immediately (Taliesin II, S.182, 1914).
Though often called "the lost decade," the nineteen teens were busy years for Wright, as he sought to achieve his dream of a Democratic American Architecture, which had previously been thwarted by the need to serve wealthy clients building costly houses from which the architect earned his living as a percentage of the construction cost. At Taliesin he set to work on a project for low-cost pre-fabricated housing where volume would bring the needed commission earnings. The American System Ready-Cut houses, for which there are more drawings in the archives of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation than any other project, were realized mid-decade by the Arthur Richards Company of Milwaukee. Apartment buildings (S.200, 1916, with then partner Arthur R. Munkwitz, S.201. 1916), a small house (S.202, 1916), three similar bungalows and a fourth enlarged version (S.203, 1916) and four two-story units (S.204, 1916) were built in three states, but the First World War stifled promotion in the Chicago Sunday Tribune (advertising copy and brochures written by novelist Sherwood Anderson) and prevented realization of major sales.
Another project profiting from Wright's Democratic American dream was that at Ravine Bluffs in Glencoe, Illinois, for attorney Sherman Booth. This grandiose scheme included Booth's own magnificent mansion (S.187, 1915), and a variety of related structures - a bridge over the ravine and three sculptures (S.186 and S.185, 1915) articulating the limits of the triangular subdivision were built - plus five houses (S.188-S.192, 1915). The basic design of these houses was a square plan with porch/veranda and entry extensions; this allowed easy orientation of ground or upper floor to the sun, the street, or any other chosen element, and to each other (since the entry and stairs were essentially outside the square) to suit architect or client. Further differentiation of these seeming similar units was achieved by different roof treatments - gabled, hipped, and flat were all used. In effect, prefabrication was born in Milwaukee and Glencoe, but the world remained unimpressed.
Wright was already known for his Larkin Building in Buffalo, New York (S.093, 1903), America's first fully environmentally controled interior; though at construction the air was only cooled, not de-humidified; shortly thereafter true air conditioning was added to the massive ducting already in place. Now came three projects of equal significance, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (S.194, 1915, completed in 1923), Midway Gardens in Chicago (S.180, 1913), and Hollyhock House for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall in Los Angeles (S.208, 1917). The Imperial Hotel is remembered because it survived the great Kanto earthquake of September 1, 1923, essentially unscathed, due to its floating foundation and steel-reinforced construction. The floating foundation was not original with Wright, but his decision to use it is part of the mythology surrounding the genius architect. It was demolished in 1968 to make way for a modern structure.
Midway Gardens was built for Edward C. Waller, Jr., whose father had commissioned many designs and built five. It occupied a double city block near where the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 had been built. The "gardens" were enclosed by a masonry wall, with the main structure, occupying a quarter of the site, being the "Winter Garden" of enclosed ground-floor dining space overlooked by three terrace levels and balcony suitable for year-round activity. A summertime roof garden on this structure looked towards a bandstand at the opposite, west, side of the site with multi-level terraces, the Summer Garden, in between. Prohibition was a major cause of its demise; it was demolished in 1929.
Barnsdall Hollyhock house (S.208, 1917) surmounted Olive Hill, a nineteen-acre square site on the east side of Los Angeles, its ornamental forms suggesting a geometric abstraction of the Hollyhock plant, thus its nickname. This was to have been a community for theatrical artists and therefore called not only for the four buildings that were built, but also retail shops, small residences, an apartment building for visiting thespians, and a motion picture theatre. Hollyhock House is open to public visitation.
Shortly after the 1914 Taliesin fire, Wright began a long and ultimately acrimonious relationship with Miriam Noel, who became his wife after Catherine allowed a divorce in 1922. The steamship crossing to Japan took less than three weeks, and Wright spent much time at the Imperial Hotel site between 1916 and 1919, and also traveled to China in 1918.
There was no work in the midwest when Wright returned from Japan, but son Lloyd was finding clients in California. Here Wright found new clients and a new method of construction which later he would state was the beginning of Usonian architecture, the Democratic American Architecture he had sought. In 1922 Wright opened an office in Los Angeles. Four clients came forth and Wright offered them "textile block" houses. This new method of construction used a favorite Wright material that was cheap, concrete. Blocks were made in molds sixteen inches to the side and about three inches thick. The face could be given a design which, with blocks rotated to varying orientations, would create a natural decorative pattern. The blocks were woven together by steel rods and grouting in channels on their edges.
The four multi-story California houses sat on hilly sites, hardly the Prairie which gave birth to Wright's earliest work. They did not immediately lead to any important new clients for the architect. Wright married Miriam Noel and a year later met Olgivanna Hinzenberg. In 1925 the living quarters of Taliesin again burned, and daughter Iovanna was born to Wright and mistress Hinzenburg. The Bank of Wisconsin took possession of Taliesin in 1926, and Wright and Hinzenburg were arrested in Minnesota for a violation of the Mann act. Still no work. A call came from Arthur McArthur, son of an early Wright client (S.011). This brought Wright to Phoenix, Arizona to help build the new Biltmore Hotel. McArthur wanted to use the textile block system to which he thought Wright held a patent. The Wisconsin architect designed the hotel (S.221-S.222), which McArthur heavy-handedly altered after Wright left the site. Within a year Wright married his Olgivanna and fell in love with the desert. In a camp south of Phoenix, he began designs for a massive resort for Dr. Alexander Chandler, San Marcos-in-the-Desert, which would have solidified Wright's grip on a new, organic, architecture; the project collapsed with onset of the Great Depression. Wright was to see none of his designs built for the next five years.
Instead, he turned to unabashed proselytizing. With Olgivanna's steady support, he began lecturing, exhibiting his work, writing An Autobiography (which he would rewrite twice) and The Disappearing City, then converting the Taliesin estate into a school for would-be architects, Taliesin apprentices; thus, the Taliesin Fellowship was born, student-architects working and eating in a rebuilt Hillside Home School (II, S.228, originally a coed school run by Wright's aunts). While Wright originally envisioned 90 or so students, each paying $650, some 23 were originally enrolled, among them William Wesley Peters, later to be his son-in-law, and John H. Howe.
"We never called him Frank." That would be John H. (Jack) Howe, who ran the Taliesin drafting room almost from the time he arrived until several years after Wright's death. "Mr. Wright" was held in ultimate respect by the apprentices. They worked the gardens, rotated on crews to do the cooking and, eventually, began drawing at the tables in the drafting room added north of the original Hillside II. A few clients came to Wright who busied himself with refining his concrete/textile block house concept from all-masonry to minimal masonry. From this came what is commonly known as the "Usonian house," (United, States Of North America, with the I added for euphony).
This expression of inexpensive democratic American residential design was well-represented in the first house for Herbert and Katherine Jacobs (S.234, 1936), he a newspaper reporter for the Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin. The single-story plan was shaped as an L, living room facing east, bedroom wing facing south. At the outside end of each was sufficient masonry to support one end of a roof. Supporting the other end of and linking the two roofs at the juncture of the L was a masonry core inside of which was the kitchen, now called a "workspace." One wall faced the living room as a fireplace. The workspace entry faced the bedroom gallery/hall so that the housewife - servantless in America's emerging middle class - could watch to see when the children emerged from their rooms after a nap. The dining space was next the workspace, sharing a corner of the living space. On the public side of the L between supporting masonry were sandwich panels of wood and insulation, much cheaper than brick, stone or concrete. On the inside was a windowall, floor to soffit windows or doors that opened the living space of the house to the yard, creating a sense of enormous space and a connection of the house and its indwellers with nature. Further, if there was a basement, it was only for utilities&emdash;heating and hot water, not storage. The single-story dwelling was set on a concrete mat, usually tinted Cherokee red, into or immediately under which was laid pipes to carry hot water for the gravity heating system. Where union labor was required, its time at the site was minimized for construction was largely modular - concrete mat floor, plumbing, structural masonry walls, roofing, sandwich-panel walls, glazing, each to be done independently of the others.
Wright would vary this basic plan and construction method into more than a hundred designs over the next twenty-three years, changing the 90° L to 60°, 180°, 135°, and other multiples of 60 and 90, eventually finding a way to work this into circular sections. The entire Usonian project was, in its essentials, a reduction of the two-story cruciform Prairie house with servants to a simpler single-story L plan without servants, for the machine-age middle-income family. Again, the architectural world took little notice and only those who worked with or otherwise understood Wright's goals ever emulated his principles.
If this was what Wright had been aiming for all his life, the true expression of a Democratic American Architecture, and even if over a hundred of these Usonian houses were built, an accomplishment of which he may have been most proud in his career, the achievement had all been eclipsed by the year-earlier design of "Fallingwater." Built over a waterfall on a stream named Bear Run, the building's triple level concrete massing suited the mountainside to which it clung.
Wright was again fashionable. The Johnson family of Racine, Wisconsin chose Wright not only to design what was to become one of the most famous business structures in America, the S. C. Johnson Administration Building, a.k.a. "Johnson Wax building" (S.237, 1936) but also a large home, "Wingspread" (S.239, 1937), and later a famous Research Tower addition (S.238, 1944).
Finding the Wisconsin winters a bit cold for someone seventy years of age, Wright decided to spend this part of each year in Scottsdale, a northeast suburb of Phoenix. Taliesin West grew up on Maricopa Mesa with the same linen roofs and redwood frames that graced the Ocatillo Desert Camp (S.224) in which he'd designed the post-Arizona Biltmore projects for Dr. Chandler. Here, however, the structures were made a bit more permanent with desert masonry (concrete and stone poured in frames).
1938 opened with Wright's work featured in the January Architectural Forum and face appearing on the cover of Time magazine. Future clients were now able to learn of Wright and his "organic" philosophy of architecture from the architect's own writings and from a variety of publications, but with the coming of world war and consequent shortage of building materials, a normal flow of work was not seen in the Taliesin drafting studio until 1946.
While the best-known post-war work of Wright is possibly the Guggenheim Museum (S.400, 1956) in New York City, completed shortly after Wright's death though its first design may be dated to 1943, it is the number of Usonian houses, both of the brick and sandwich-panel construction and later all-masonry versions, that dominated work in the drafting room. 1950 saw over twenty structures come off the drafting tables to become built works.
Wright was, however, no less interested in individual houses than in the idea of whole cities outside the major population centers; he called this concept Broadacre City, an idea first developed and exhibited in 1935, and revised several times later. It foreshadowed the American suburbia of the 1950s and later.
It would be another half decade before Wright solved the problem of making an entire house, roof and walls, of textile block. Yet all of these were otherwise all-masonry structures, without the cheap sandwich-wall construction of the earliest Usonians. As soon as brick became readily available at prices his clients could afford, Wright was using that in preference to block, and stone was preferred to brick. All could be fitted to his unit system, which now extended into standardized vertical dimensioning.
Wright's prodigious output - over a thousand projects, over 500 built structures - was possible because he had talented apprentices in the drafting room and Jack Howe directing their work. Wright could tell Jack with a few words what he wanted for a client and Jack or his assignee would render it, Wright view it and correct it, sometimes many times over, until it became his idea for the client. He would also reuse a design, that an earlier client had not built, for a later client, of course, with improvements. The designs were carried out with on-site supervision by Taliesin manpower, apprentices who had demonstrated sufficient sympathy with Wright's ideas of organic architecture to assure the quality of construction.
After decades of considering the American Institute of Architects worthless, Wright accepted its gold medal in 1949.
Throughout the fifties Wright's client list grew, from nineteen projects in 1951 to forty-nine in 1957 when the architect reached his ninetieth year. There were dozens of houses that were very rectilinear, using squares or rectangles as the module on which they were designed, but Wright had already decided that breaking the "box" that American's had been living in was a goal worth pursuing - he'd already eliminated the house corner with glass;two pieces mitred to turn the 90° - and quickly adopted the equilateral parallelogram as a design module to further deny the box and rectilinear design. This was followed by modules of circular segments. Single-story designs at times gave way to two-story structures, where the bedroom wing was placed to look over the living room below, giving the living space a two-story high windowall, otherwise obtainable only by use of a shed, or "butterfly," roof.
The house for Dorothy Turkel (S.388, 1955) in Detroit asks the question, why a two-story house in flat southeastern Michigan? Because the same house on a single level would have left no room for a yard. What makes the story more interesting is that this is a Usonian Automatic house, Wright's all-masonry answer to Democratic American residential design, and brings us full circle to the multi-story California block houses of the 1920s, which in the early 1950s Wright called the first Usonians. Yet this one is different, for even its ceilings and roof are of block, coffered to reduce weight.
The Usonian Automatic was designed to be built as much as desired by the client, from the making of plain-faced 1 x 2 foot blocks to the Philippine mahogany detailing, rather than by skilled labor.
Wright then took this all-masonry idea and, as he had done for Herbert and Katherine Jacobs before, reduced the idea to wood and masonry. Thus was born the Prefab #1 (S.406-411, 1956) for Marshall Erdman and Associates of Madison, Wisconsin. The basic plan could be enlarged in many ways, such as by insertion of additional bedrooms in the quiet wing, or a basement could be carved out beneath, a feature not authorized by Wright and which, due to added cost (together with the other named "additions") undermined the scheme early on.
Wright's creativity did not fail even at the last moments of his life. His final residential design, for shipping magnate Norman Lykes and his wife Aime (S.433, 1959/66) was built on a steep Phoenix hillside from a plan of inter-related circles - tool shed, workspace, master bedroom, living space and garden court are all circles on the plan, with a circular segment of three bedrooms and two bathrooms next a gallery connecting master bedroom to living space. As John Rattenbury, who was the architect of record in 1966 when the house was finally under constructed, noted, no other architect could have found the perfect form to fit on this rugged site, nor fitted a design so perfectly, as did Mr. Wright.
During his lifetime, Frank Lloyd Wright lived half the nation's 183 year history. He took us from Victorian living to a modern split-level open-to-nature lifestyle, which was his "organic architecture," practiced today by many architects around the world. His legacy is more understood a quarter century after his death than ever during that tumultuous yet creative lifetime.
William Allin Storrer