With a prolific career spanning seven decades, Frank Lloyd Wright is perhaps the most famous American architect of all time.
by Kerstin Adams, Marketing Coordinator
He began his architectural practice right here in Chicago and later went on to design hundreds of houses, museums and other buildings around the world. You may be familiar with Wright’s work, but did you know these obscure facts about some of his most famous masterpieces?
1. Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
Did you know a tree is growing inside the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in Oak Park? With an emphasis on nature, craftsmanship and simplicity, the studio is an early example of what eventually became Prairie style architecture. In addition to large windows from which residents can view the outdoors, Wright brought nature physically inside the space. When the studio was added in 1898, he built an interior passageway around a beloved willow tree and allowed it to grow into the house. Although the original tree is now gone, preservationists have recreated the built-in tree with a honey locust. See it for yourself on the Frank Lloyd Wright by Bus tour!
2. Emil Bach House
Did you know the plans for the Emil Bach House drew heavily on Wright’s ideas for fireproof architecture? In 1907, Wright published the article “A Fireproof House for $5,000” in the “Ladies’ Home Journal,” which described a home constructed out of reinforced concrete that would be resistant to fire, insects, moisture and the effects of weather. Although he was never commissioned to construct the Fireproof House exactly as it had appeared in the “Ladies' Home Journal,” several variations of the design were built in the following years across the country. In addition to its unique inspiration, the Emil Bach House is Chicago's only Wright residence open for vacation rentals and private events!
Did you know Wright originally suggested coating Fallingwater’s concrete surfaces in gold leaf? Located about an hour outside Pittsburgh, the home was commissioned by department store owner Edgar J. Kaufmann and his family. Kaufmann was surprised when he saw Wright had designed Fallingwater with cantilevered tiers above a 30-foot waterfall, instead of across from it. But he was even more stunned when he heard Wright proposed coating the home’s concrete exterior in gold leaf. The Kaufmanns thought it would be too excessive for a country house, so they settled on ochre-colored paint. Despite its understated elements, in 1938, Fallingwater was featured on the cover of Time Magazine as Wright's "most beautiful job.” It was also designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
4. Ennis House
Did you know that Wright designed one of the best residential examples of Mayan Revival architecture in the United States? The largest of Wright’s four Los Angeles-area “textile block” houses, the Ennis House is built out of hand-cast concrete blocks that were woven together with steel rods. Through relief ornamentation meant to evoke a Mayan palace, Wright took on the challenge of creating a warm, decorative home out of cold, industrial materials. You may not recognize it at first glance, but the Ennis House has served as a backdrop or inspired the set for more than 80 films, commercials, fashion shoots, TV shows and music videos, including “Blade Runner,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Twin Peaks,” “South Park” and Ricky Martin’s “Vuelve” video. Due to its cultural and architectural significance, the house was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and named a California Historical Landmark and Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.
Did you know a group of Modern artists signed a letter protesting Wright’s design of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum? Wright produced more than 700 drawings and a total of six sets of plans for the museum before settling upon its inverted ziggurat design. But artists like Milton Avery, Will Barnet and Henry Botkin balked at Wright’s proposal, arguing in a 1956 letter to the museum’s director that the curvilinear slope indicated “a callous disregard for the fundamental rectilinear frame of reference necessary for the adequate visual contemplation of works of art.” Today the museum is recognized as a masterpiece and an architectural icon. In 2008, it was designated a National Historic Landmark and it was nominated to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2015.