It is often assumed that Frank Lloyd Wright was recognized as an influential architect due to his degree in the field. However, it is often lesser known that he did not receive any formal degree in architecture. But this does not diminish Wright’s extensive career or his importance in architecture. Throughout his life, Wright practiced architecture without any official degree. This was possible to due to the amount of knowledge Wright acquired in his lifetime through mentorships and self-education.
He was introduced to architecture at the age of 19, when he became an apprentice of Joseph Silsbee. Through this learn-by-doing apprenticeship, Wright eventually gained a wealth of knowledge in the practice of architecture. Wright was then hired by an architectural firm in Chicago called Adler and Sullivan, where Louis Sullivan heavily mentored the frank Lloyd Wright. During his time in Chicago, Sulliven’s teachings heavily impacted Wright and has since been recognized to have been the most significant influence on his career.
In 2008, The AIA (American Institute of Architects) recognized Frank Lloyd Wright in their prestigious “Gold Medal”. In the award recognition, Wright was commended on having “achieved a brilliant record of creative work which has left its imprint upon the times”. Even without a formal degree, Wright is highly acclaimed and credited for some of the most iconic buildings in the world.
Frank Lloyd Wright also established the “Taliesin Fellowship” in 1932. This fellowship is a boarding school with its emphasis on an eponymous educational method and has since serviced over 2000 students. From a design perspective, Wright stressed the importance of understanding how the people interact within their environment. This was achieved by having students act out the roles of their design and experiencing it firsthand, such as utilising sheds for furniture and re-enacting traditional living environments.
These experiences and core principles are also promoted internationally, for example in Europe, Wright’s universal design principles and architecture is studied as a Masters Course. According to a statement from the European Graduate Schools, The programme “Focuses heavily on a transnational approach to the life and work of Frank Lloyd Wright”. This kind of example showcases the continued impact that Frank Lloyd Wright has across multiple countries and across time.
Wright is not only credited with the beautiful designs he created nor his architectural prestige, but his approach to architecture that was based on the idea of philosophy and human behaviour within the spaces he designed. According to Harvard, Wright mainly focussed on the idea of a ‘democratic design’, meaning that architecture could be used to bring unity, harmony and invigorate the community. This was achieved through lack of building hierarchy, by having everyone within the building have access to the same places.
It should be noted, however, that Frank Lloyd Wright does have some of his detractors. Many architects insist Wright’s works were often considered ‘self-indulgent’ and lacked practicality, by having his own personal design ideology take center stage. Other criticisms, notably from Architectural Historian and Critic Witold Rybczynski, suggest that Frank Lloyd Wright rejected modern architecture as a form of rebellion for not having a degree. While this is a credible hypothesis, it is also noted that Wright’s designs, even when removing their ideological focus, still create amazing structures and that there is a vast amount of literature exploring Wright’s teachings on architecture.
Style and Impact
Frank Lloyd Wright was often able to construct buildings with a sense of the natural environment and culture. One of his most famous quotes was “The ground plan of a building should be made to fit its location”. This statement highlights his approach to working with the environment and not against it, while also retaining its beauty. By working with the plants, trees and environment, he was able to create a structure that complemented the environment. An example of this is the Pickney House, which is a classic example of how the elements of the structure were carefully fitted together using cantilever, utilising the natural environment to support the structure.
After Wright’s death in 1959, the world of architecture continues to feel his impact. According to a recent architectural survey, many modern architects regularly reference Wright’s work for inspiration. There are a number of historic examples proving how Wright’s influence is still being felt today, from the “Falling Water” house being studied by students the world over, to the plethora of licences of use of his patterns in modern design.
Frank Lloyd Wright left documents and writings that that inform and guide modern day architects, not just in terms of design, but also in terms of his approach to the profession and its relationship to the environment. His legacy not only lies in his works and the impact it had on architecture, but also in the ethical approach to building, which he popularised, that of working to sustain the environment and bring unity to the community through design.
It is this legacy, of a credited architect and mentor, that continues to be seen through architecture to this day. Wright’s influence is global. From designers of Japanese public buildings citing Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence to having his works examined from a global perspective, Frank Lloyd Wright is recognised as an influential figure in both architecture and design.
Wright was also a proponent of using the latest technology and materials available. He believed this enabled his works to “leave their imprint on the ages”. He was a firm believer in sustainability, he believed materials should be strong, lightweight and durable, to last for many years. He was even one of the first to introduce large-scale glass walls, to, not only take in the beauty of nature, but also the beauty of technology.
One of his greatest achievements was to utilise steel and reinforced concrete frame technology. This allowed him to create innovative designs and larger structures, that were also cost-effective. By using this, he was able to create structures such as the “Architecture Building” at Taliesin West. Furthermore, this technology allowed him to break free of traditional building shapes, thus creating free-form designs.
Despite never receiving a formal degree in architecture, Wright was able to successfully pursue a career in architecture with great distinction. Through mentorships and self-education, Frank Lloyd Wright was able to become a recognised architect with considerable achievements. His works have stood the test of time and continue to inspire architects and designers around the world today.
In 1895, at the age of 23, Wright’s first notable project was the Winslow House in River Forest, Illinois. This was the first of his projects to be completed and his first to receive international recognition. After the completion of this project, Wright’s works began to gain significant recognition and were also featured in notable publications, such as “Ladies Home Journal”.
In 1901, Wright was chosen to design the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo for the Tsu City government. The hotel was renowned for its unique design considering it was built to survive in the face of natural disasters, aiding the Japanese Government in the country’s modernisation process. The Imperial Hotel was also recognised internationally, with several keynote speeches and panels being held there.
From then onward, his works kept gaining recognition, firstly at home, but then internationally. His designs eventually transcended borders and brought in work from around the world. Wright’s works started to be recognised as iconic and monumental pieces of architecture.
Collaboration with Other Architects
Frank Lloyd Wright had many mentees and peers throughout his career. This is because while Wright drove self-education in architecture, he also widely pushed the idea of collaboration. He was very driven towards developing links between architects and helping form new ideas. As a result, Wright collaborated with many renowned people throughout architecture, from notable architects to fellow advertising agents.
Wright’s connections with notable figures in architecture were very strong throughout his life. Notable collaborations included John Howe, William McDonough, and Gyo Obata. Through these collaborations and networks, Wright was able to spread his design philosophy on a worldwide scale. He even held prestigious talks on his philosophy and design process, such as at the Royal Institute of British Architecture.
A notable example of Wright’s collaborations was his friendship with American painter Georgia O’keeffe. O’Keeffe and Wright created a close working relationship which was so strong that in 1938, O’Keeffe painted her rendition of Wright’s famous architectural design Grasshopper. The painting of the building was a testament to Wright’s achievements and marked its place in the history of American painting. This painting went on to be widely acclaimed.
Recognition and Legacy
The notion of Frank Lloyd Wright not having a formal degree in architecture does not detract from his accomplishments as an architect. He is widely recognized and still remains as one of the most influential figures in architecture and design. From awards and recognitions to the sheer amount of literature and scholarly works dedicated to him, there is no denying that Frank Lloyd Wright has left his imprint on the field of architecture.
What Wright did have was a vision and drive of how he wanted to pursue his professional career. He was motivated by the idea of nature and his own set of skills in architecture and design. Leaving no formal degree, no barrier imposed by society or artificial boundaries could deny him for attaining recognition.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s respected career shows that ultimately, it is what you do with the tools and skills that you have available that matters most. He was highly influential by achieving much with little and with his ideas, drove the field of architecture forward. His legacy and works remain important to this day and will continue to shape the future of design.