Frank Lloyd Wright’s talent, creativity, and output are the reasons he’s still remembered on his 150th birthday, lionized for launching a modern, multifaceted American architecture.
But his fame, engineered with the same skill he displayed when designing his buildings, is why he’s celebrated. That masterful spin—during a New York Times interview at Taliesin, he quipped that “I’ve almost forgotten how to look arrogant”—explains why he’s not merely an important historical figure, but architecture’s definition of true celebrity. Decades before starchitects and social media, Wright knew that not only would we always want intriguing analyses of his life and work, but we’d never tire of Wright’s own takes.
He knew how to design and construct personal fame before he finished his first building. In Chicago in the 1890s, Louis Sullivan, one of Wright’s first bosses, was already an icon, nicknamed the “father of skyscrapers.” “The master’s very walk at this time bore dangerous resemblance to a strut,” Wright wrote. Sullivan even sold himself as a solitary genius to the press, despite benefiting from a team of talented architects and draftsmen.
Perhaps nobody understood—or so desired to one day match—the master’s swagger more than Wright, his young apprentice.
“While he could make a hero of his master, he was also able to imagine himself in that guise,” wrote Roxanne Kuter Williamson, a historian and professor who studied the ascendancy of both designers in her book American Architects and the Mechanics of Fame. Wright was, as author Richie Herink put it, a “full participant in all aspects of self-promotion.”
What would Wright think of this anniversary, the vast revisiting and reassessment of his career and importance? Most likely, the provocateur would join in. After all, he was one of his favorite subjects. His son Robert Llewellyn Wright, for whom he designed a home in 1957, said that “I think he always did feel that any house he had designed belonged to him.” He said his dad would repeatedly stop by, unannounced, to sweep through the home and rearrange the furniture.
If Wright could see what 150 looks like, could see the crowds gathering around his masterpieces, would he soak it all in? Perhaps he would simply request a pen and paper and start updating designs.
“I don’t think he really built for posterity,” said Robert. “I think he thought everything would be rebuilt, better, by him.”—Patrick Sisson
Getting to know Frank Lloyd Wright
- An illustrated guide to Frank Lloyd Wright buildings
- How the architect’s early works foreshadow his most famous
- Frank Lloyd Wright in 45 essential works
- A family tree of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural influence
On January 23, 1935, Frank Lloyd Wright and his apprentices piled into cars, station wagons, and a red truck, setting out from Spring Green, Wisconsin, for the promise of a desert in Arizona many of them had never seen before. It was the first of what would become an annual pilgrimage between Wright's two Taliesins that combined his three passions: cars, architecture, and the American landscape.
Standing in the middle of Westchester County’s Usonia today feels almost like standing in the middle of a midcentury vision. The homes, made of wood and glass and stone and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright or his apprentices, are so well placed among the hills that it feels like they grew out of the land. It’s very, very quiet. But walk outward and the spell breaks. Does Wright’s vision of utopia have a place in today’s world?
Frank Lloyd Wright’s best frenemy was Marion Mahony Griffin, the second woman to graduate with an architecture degree from MIT. For nearly 15 years, off and on, Mahony Griffin worked with Wright, producing drawings of Wright designs that helped establish his reputation and concurrently designing her own buildings. Despite a significant falling out with Wright, Mahony Griffin’s name is forever intertwined with his.
Living with Frank Lloyd Wright
- Living next door to Frank Lloyd Wright’s forgotten Hollywood sandcastle shaped my career
- Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house becomes architect’s home in Lake Forest, Illinois
- Frank Lloyd Wright house is rebuilt anew, piece by piece, in Arkansas
- 11 Frank Lloyd Wright homes you can rent right now
Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House started the modernism mov...
Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House started the modernism movement in California. #FLW150Posted by Curbed on Thursday, June 8, 2017
Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago
- Frank Lloyd Wright homes for sale around Chicago
- Restoration done Wright: A look inside Unity Temple
- A walking tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park
- How Louis Sullivan’s organic architecture inspired Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School
Writers: James Nevius, Amelia Schonbek, Patrick Sisson, Alissa Walker, Claire Zulkey
Editors: Sara Polsky, Kelsey Keith, Asad Syrkett
Copy editor: Emma Alpern
Photo editor: Audrey Levine
Photo intern: Renee Zhou