Frank Lloyd Wright

Considered to be one of the greatest architects of all time, Frank Lloyd Wright spent his long career defining the key foundations of modern American design. Today Wright’s bold legacy is scattered all over the United States: from private residential projects to civic buildings and museums, his iconic brand of modernism dramatically changed the landscape and skyline of America’s towns and cities.

Wright once said, ‘We create our buildings and then they create us’. Understanding the emotional and psychological impact of architecture, his methodical, forward-thinking approach aimed to reshape the way we live for changing times. Although he rarely cited any influences on his designs, their signature clean lines, stacked layers and smooth curves were undeniably inspired by turn-of-the century design movements such as the Prairie School, as well as his keen interest in the shapes and forms of plants, symphonic music and Japanese art. His beloved mentor Louis Sullivan was another key figure in his development. Dubbed the ‘father of skyscrapers’, Sullivan was the groundbreaking architect behind Chicago’s legendary high-rise towers who famously said that ‘form follows function’, a design principle that Wright obeyed resolutely.

His best-known building is undoubtedly the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. With a spiraling cylindrical structure, the vast internal rotunda is designed to offer visitors the unique ability to see multiple floors at a time, from any viewpoint. Initially met with controversy, the radical design is said to be inspired by the curled shape of a nautilus shell tempered by Wright’s love of geometry.

Testament to his life-long philosophy of ‘organic architecture’, his great masterpiece is Fallingwater, a breathtaking residential property in Philadelphia that combines extraordinary engineering with reverence for the wonder of natural surroundings. Embedded in the mountains of rural Pennsylvania, the building seems to defy the laws of physics: built over a waterfall, its innovative cantilevered floors and harmonious composition earned rapturous praise from critics and Wright’s peers. The American Institute of Architects named it the ‘best all-time work of American architecture’.

Among the hundreds of his lesser known works, highlights include the Florida Southern College campus, The Johnson Wax Headquarters and his 600-acre Wisconsin home ‘Taliesin’ – all of which are currently on display at MoMA’s new show, ‘Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive’. Marking the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birth, the exhibition is a major retrospective of his multi-faceted practice, presenting architectural drawings, models, building fragments, films, furniture, paintings, photographs, and scrapbooks; a number of which have rarely or never been publicly exhibited.

‘Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive’ is at MoMA New York until 1st October.

By Natalya Frederick