Initiator of the US architectural soul: Frank Lloyd Wright | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 08.06.2017
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Culture

Initiator of the US architectural soul: Frank Lloyd Wright

In celebration of the 150th birthday of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, here's a look back at some of his most iconic designs, from Fallingwater to The Guggenheim.

Hilla von Rebay knew exactly the type of architect she was looking for to build The Guggenheim Museum in New York: "I need a fighter, a lover of space, an originator, a tester and a wise man," she wrote in a letter to Frank Lloyd Wright in 1943. Von Rebay, the artist and advisor to art collector Solomon R. Guggenheim, knew that Wright was the architect who embodied all those traits.

Frank Lloyd Wright, born on June 8, 1867 in Wisconsin, is one of the most famous architects of the United States. At the beginning of the 20th century, he established his name with his Prairie Houses, characterized by an architectural style that was for the first time in American history completely free of European influences. "Without an architecture of our own, we have no soul of our own civilization," he famously said.

The houses were to integrate themselves into their environment in an "organic" way, connecting nature and design. Wright's role model was his colleague Louis Sullivan, who coined the phrase "Form follows function."

Fallingwater, the sounds of nature

Frank Lloyd Wright, US Architect (picture alliance/akg-images)

Frank Lloyd Wright, towards 1950

Wright completed over 400 projects. The most radical and famous example of his "organic architecture" concept can be seen in his 1935 design, Fallingwater, also known as the Kaufmann Residence, after the name of his client, a department store owner from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Wright, already nearly 70 at the time, saw the property with the waterfall and had a clear idea: "I want you to live with the waterfall, not just look at it, but for it to become an integral part of your lives." Kaufmann was initially overwhelmed by the concept, expecting the home to be designed on the banks of the river instead of on top of the waterfall itself.

The waterfall appears to be shooting out of the house. It can be heard within the house. Rocks from the property are integrated in the architecture. Huge windows and a balcony surrounding the house also underline the building's proximity to nature.  

The furniture of the house was custom-designed by the architect himself.

Wright, however, miscalculated the support needed for the balconies, and the structures had to be reinforced later on. Nevertheless, Fallingwater remains one of the great works of American residential architecture. The American Institute of Architects even voted it "the best all-time work of American architecture," in 1991.

Fallingwater became a museum in 1964. It closes every year for two months - for renovation.

The Guggenheim: spectacular and disputed

Impressed by Wright's work, Hilla von Rebay commissioned him in 1943 to design a new home for the art collection of the businessman Solomon R. Guggenheim. She had precise instructions for the building: "I want a temple of spirit, a monument!"

Wright didn't really like New York: he found it overpopulated. Still, he accepted the challenge. It was not an easy one. Over 700 sketches were needed before the final version of the concept was found. He also had to deal with opposition from his clients, the city and the public.

The result was so spectacular that many artists rejected the museum, worrying that the architecture would overshadow their artworks. Wright's concept of showing the works along a circular ramp broke with the usual presentation forms of museums.

The architect didn't get to experience The Guggenheim filled with visitors: he died half a year before its opening on April 9, 1959, in Phoenix, Arizona.

 

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