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Greeting the visitor who opens the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website is a pretty strong claim:
That we refers to Americans, and Wright is the man who succeeded in dragging them from the shores of the nineteenth century and into the modern age. All while making them feel at home.
Having endured a semi-nomadic childhood because of his father’s job, at 18 Frank Lloyd Wright started work in the engineering faculty of Wisconsin University, where he was also a student. Two years later, in 1887, he decided to move to Chicago: almost without skills, certainly without a degree or a job, his intention was to become an architect in the field.
After working in two different studios, he ended up at the prestigious Adler & Sullivan. The first house he designed entirely alone was the one he built for himself and his wife: he focused on shape and volume, adding extra sections as the family grew.
Based on his own personal experience, the idea of a house designed to meet the occupants’ needs is the foundation of all Wright’s work.
Constantly in financial difficulties, he began accepting commissions outside his contract with Sullivan. He was found out, left the studio in 1893 and started his own: and so the non-graduate architect began officially to design the perfect home for the American prairies.
Built in what would become known as Prairie Style, Wright’s houses reflect the flat, drawn-out shape of their natural habitat: roofs are low-pitched, overhangs deep and long rows of windows emphasise the horizontal theme of the building.
But Wright couldn’t go against his nature: incapable of remaining long in one place, in 1909 he left for Europe in the company of Mamah Borthwick, a client with whom he was in love.
The couple were given a chilly reception on their return to Chicago in 1911. So Wright decided to move again, this time to the Spring Green area, and build a new home and studio: Taliesin. In 1914, Mamah, her two children and four others were killed in a tragic fire which also destroyed part of the house. Wright decided to complete the work regardless, but then felt unable to stay, and abandoned it for more than ten years.
He received very few commissions; paradoxically, however, these were actually his most creative years. Partly thanks to a new marriage, Wright found the stability to immerse himself entirely in his architectural research - both theoretical and practical - which would become a source of inspiration for generations to come; he also founded the Taliesin School of Architecture.
In 1936, when Wright’s career was thought to have produced its best, he was commissioned for what is perhaps his most famous work: Edgar Kaufmann’s country home, Fallingwater, which celebrates the landscape without dominating it, which impresses the eye while appearing to float lightly above the water.
Wright’s determination to create the perfect home for Americans never faded: during these years he experimented with the Usonian style, born of the crisis afflicting the United States, which attempted to propose economical housing solutions with simple aesthetics.
On a personal level, however, Wright did not succeed in putting down roots: with his students, he designed the Taliesin’s twin in Arizona, to use as a winter base for his teaching and projects. Astonishingly, he managed to engage everyone - teachers, researchers and students alike - in his nomadic restlessness.
How, then, did it happen that an architect who abandoned his studies and was so restless he was unable to truly settle, could come up with the model American single-family house, a safe haven and a status symbol?
The answer might seem obvious: by remembering that a house is lived in by people. His approach to his work was organic - in design and development, in choice of materials and shapes - precisely in an effort to recover the human side of architecture.
In a career spanning more than seventy years, in constant flux, updating and continual dialogue with the needs of the age, Wright succeeded in creating something more durable than a few walls: a way of thinking and approaching any project to make it eloquent and human..
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