Frank Lloyd Wright:

Architect of the American

Family


When Wright passed away in 1959, Simon & Garfunkel's tribute (attention: this sound bite takes time to load) to him appeared alongside immortal tunes such as "The Boxer" and "Cecilia" on the "Bridge Over Troubled Water" album. The song is perhaps a testament to the astounding popularity (or at least name recognition) of the man behind buildings like the Guggenheim Museum , the Robie House , and Fallingwater . Perhaps even more than these buildings, Wright's construction of the public figure "Frank Lloyd Wright" is responsible for his fame. As he became a celebrity figure, Wright came to recognize his power to affect his public image and the public consumption of his ideas. His homes reflect his persona, just as his persona was part of the success of his buildings. Through the power of the architect, concrete and steel were somehow transformed into tangible representations of himself and especially his vision of the American family.

The extent to which Wright's clients, and the American society in general, "bought" this persona is a window into a cultural phenomenon: the public consumption of an icon. As Wright passed in and out of style in the housing marketplace, his reputation played a large roll in shaping this public perception. Public approval or disapproval of Wright's designs increasingly reflected their judgement of Wright's personal actions. There is a direct correlation between the fluctuations in Wright's personal reputation and the public attitudes toward his architectural designs.

To reveal this interplay between Wright and the American public, Wright's career can be dissected into three phases, which each correspond to a particular style of architecture which he offered as his vision of the American family: the prairie home, Wright's own Taliesin I, and the Usonian home. In viewing these three designs, we see two major changes in Wright's "marketing strategy." While the prairie home stood upon the integrity of its own design, Wright's own persona became more and more intertwined with his designs. In the end, Wright's homes were popular in their ability to capture the mass appeal of Wright's personality, not his design ingenuity.

Topic Index:


Descriptions of the styles listed above can be viewed by clicking on the periods listed below:

The Prairie House

Taliesin I (the "Outlaw Years)

The Usonian Home

Wright's later fame as an American icon, which does not fit neatly into a particular stlye of his architecture, is discussed in the section:

"Wright Cannot Be Wrong"


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Index of Images and Diagrams

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Portraits of Wright

Wright portrait 1889

Wright with wife Olgivanna, 1940's

Wright fashion portrait 1

Wright fashion portrait 2

Wright fashion portrait 3

Wright fashion portrait 4

Wright recieves AIA Award, 1954

The Prairie Style

Images from Wright's "A Home in a Prairie Town" article in Ladie's Home Journal (February 1901)

Page layout

Exterior facade

Interior floor plan

Winslow House in River Forest, Illinois (1894)

Exterior facade

Parlor

Robie House in Chicago, Illinois (1907)

Exterior facade

Dining room

Taliesin I, Spring Green, Illinois (1911)

Wright's elevation plan

View of Taliesin with Spring Green in background

View of walled gardens

Interior 1

Interior 2

The Usonian Home

Herbert Jacobs House, Madison, Wisc. (1936)

Usonian dining area/kitchen

Usonian living area

Interior of exhibition house, MOMA 1950's

Jacobs House interior plan