Tag Archives: Frank Lloyd Wright

Four Favorite Frank Lloyd Wright Destinations

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House, Taliesin, Taliesin West and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum are just a few of the places to see Wright’s all-American architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright has been having a big year. Sixty years after his death in 1959, both his life and his architecture continue to fascinate, influence and inspire.  So much so that the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently named a group of his great works World Heritage Sites.* Spanning 50 years of Frank Lloyd Wright’s career, these buildings represent the first modern architecture designation in the U.S. on the prestigious list.  

Here, I cover one of my favorite Wright sites, the Allen House in Wichita, Kansas, and three of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the UNESCO list —Taliesin in Wisconsin, Taliesin West in Arizona, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.   The prolific architect built more than 400 buildings so you can find examples of his work all across the country.  There’s even a fantastic Wright-designed gas station in Cloquet, Minnesota. But to really enjoy the experience, I recommend a little reading to”find Mr. Wright” before you visit his buildings.

Reading the Wright Stuff

Even if you’re not an architecture buff or a design maven, you should add a Frank Lloyd Wright site to your itinerary when you’e traveling—for two reasons.  First, Wright’s Prairie Style is considered the first uniquely American style of architecture.  Before Wright, prominent American architects followed the more ornate style of European designers, like the Beaux-Arts style that dominated the “White City” buildings and monuments at the Chicago World’s Fair.  Wright hated that. Instead of piling on the classical embellishments, he sought to make buildings blend with the landscape. 

Interior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House in Wichita, Kansas

If your house has an open floor plan, wide expanses of windows or an attached garage, you can thank Frank.  These are his among many ideas that were considered radical at the time but are common now.  Wright embraced new technologies, designs and materials ,to push the boundaries of architecture, sometimes resulting in failure or really expensive repairs for those trying to maintain his buildings. If you talk to people who live in Frank Lloyd Wright houses, you’ll seldom hear stories of cozy comfort.  They’re drafty.  And take a look some of the angular furniture and you’ll see why form doesn’t always follow function.  Nonetheless, he had a huge impact that continues today. and most of the currently trendy mid-century modern style bears a remarkable resemblance to Wright’s designs. To better understand his design philosophy see, The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright by Neil Levine.

The second reason to visit Wright buildings isn’t quite so intellectual.  He was simply a fascinating character.  Not exactly a paragon of virtue, he left his first wife and six children for Mamah Borthwick, the spouse of a client.  That tragic story is the subject of Nancy Horan’s fictionalized work, Loving Frank.  Even his fans admit he was an arrogant self-promoter and a flawed genius.  I suggest Meryle Secrest’s book, Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography by Meryle Secrest for the whole story.   for the whole story.  

Now for some exploration:

Allen House, Wichita, Kansas

exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House in Wichita Kansas

At the Allen House, located in Wichita’s historic College Hill neighborhood, you’ll find all the traits of Wright’s Prairie Style residential architecture in one lovely home . Named after its first owners, newspaper publisher Henry Allen and his wife, Elsie, it was the last of Wright’s famous Prairie Houses.  Outside you’ll see Wright’s distinctive long, low horizontal lines with low-pitched roofs, deep overhangs, and long rows of casement windows.  Explore a bit of the area around Wichita and you that see how that horizontal theme and earth tones of the house match the landscape.

Said Wright, “In organic architecture then, it is quite impossible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishings another and its setting and environment still another,”…“The spirit in which these buildings are conceived sees all these together at work as one thing.” The Allen house is one of the best examples I’ve seen in which spaces open to the outdoors.  And it retains.more than 30 pieces of Wright-designed furniture, all of its original art glass and several new-for-their-time innovations, such as wall-hung toilets and an attached garage.

Taliesin—Spring Green Wisconsin

Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio, Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin

As a child Wright spent summers on his uncle’s farm in the rolling farmland of southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Region.  There he witnessed the patterns and rhythms of nature that came to influence his work.  He returned to this valley to build his home and studio called Taliesin (Welsh for “shining brow”) on an 800-acre estate outside Spring Green.  Wright said of the area, “I meant to live, if I could, an unconventional life. I turned to this hill in the Valley as my grandfather before me had turned to America – as a hope and haven.” 

A view of the valley from Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin

Strolling outside Wright’s home, with its dramatic horizontal lines and limestone construction that seems to rise straight from the land, it’s easy to understand how his architectural philosophy developed.  A house, he said, should be “of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”  Inside, Wright’s starkly simple interior spaces offer commanding views of the valley.  The tours downplay it, but many stories from Wright’s own life add to the drama of Taliesin as described in Loving Frank.  For example, 1914, while Wright was away, a worker at the estate murdered seven people including Borthwick and her children, and set the house on fire. 

Taliesin West—Scottsdale, Arizona

Angles on the exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona

The rugged desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, Arizona, are a stark to the lush rolling hills of Wisconsin.   Yet, after several bouts of illness, Wright built Taliesin West for greater winter comfort.  He called it his desert laboratory with buildings that were largely experimental and always changing and expanding.  Taliesin West grew to include a drafting studio, dining facilities, two theaters, a workshop, Wright’s office and private living quarters, and residences for apprentices and staff.   Each building is connected through a series of walkways, terraces, pools and gardens that meld with the surroundings. 

Still experimenting with geometric shapes and volumes, Wright designed much of the interior furniture and decorations.  He convinced young architecture students to not only pay for a Taliesin apprenticeship but also to build some of the furniture and appear in plays in the Taliesin West theater.  Taliesin West is now the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the School of Architecture at Taliesin where you can see students at their drafting tables..

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum—New York City

exterior of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York city designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, New York by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright (Photo by David Heald, courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Wright’s last building celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2019.  It opened in 1959, the year he died.  It’s a complete departure from his Prairie Style days  of the Allen House and shows the evolution his thinking over a long career.  With the Guggenheim, the low-slung buildings with sharp angles and earth tones are gone, replaced by soaring circular white spaces. At the time, critical opinions varied from “the most beautiful building in America . . . never for a minute dominating the pictures being shown,” to “less a museum than it is a monument to Frank Lloyd Wright.”

After a three-year restoration of its interior, the Guggenheim reopened to great acclaim. Now  the entire Wright building is open to the public for the first time with spaces that had been used for storage and offices converted into galleries. As a capper to his long career, it seems just fine that the Guggenheim is a monument to Frank Lloyd Wright and his “unconventional life.”

The circular interior of the Guggenheim Museum stands in stark contrast to Frank Lloyd Wright’s early work at the Allen House. (Photo by David Heald, courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

* The Frank Lloyd Wright buildings listed as UNESCO World Heritiage Sites are Unity Temple (Oak Park, IL), Frederick C. Robie House (Chicago, IL), Hollyhock House (Los Angeles, CA), Fallingwater (Mill Run, PA), Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House (Madison, WI), Taliesin West (Scottsdale, AZ), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY).

Weekly Photo Challenge: Up, Up and Off The Beaten Page in Chicago

Wherever you go in Chicago, it's important to keep looking up at the city's fabulous architecture.  Above, one of the latest additions to  Chicago's skyline, Cloud Gate, a.k.a. The Bean.
Wherever you go in Chicago, it’s important to keep looking up at the city’s fabulous architecture. Above, one of the latest additions to Chicago’s skyline, Cloud Gate, a.k.a. The Bean.

My book, Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways comes out May 1.  So, between now and then, I’m offering a glimpse of the 15 U.S. cities featured in the book.  Here’s a preview of the Chicago chapter, entitled “The Tales of Two Architects:”

Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger says, “Architecture is one  area in which we in New York truly do have a second city complex toward Chicago–not the other way around, as it is in so many other realms. And for all that has happened over the years, little has changed in the sense that those of us in New York, as well as the rest of the country, still have of Chicago as being the essential city of American architecture.”

But you don’t have to be a connoisseur of skyscrapers to understand Chicago’s pivotal place in architectural history and the innovative, risk-taking outlook that continues to make Chicago “America’s City.” Two books have generated sky-high interest in Chicago by combining the stories of the city’s architectural lions with juicy plots.  The first, Erik Larson’s The Devil in The White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America.  The other book, Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, a novel of historical fiction, tells the tale of architectural genius Frank Lloyd Wright’s scandalous relationship with his client, Mamah Borthwick Cheney.

Each chapter in Off the Beaten Page includes an essay about a couple of books that create a theme or focus for your visit to that city, extensive reading lists, and three-day itineraries that offer ways to experience in person the books you’ve read and have fun in other ways, too. For example, the White City is long gone, but you can get a taste of what is was like by taking a tour with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Wander Jackson Park, the site of the World’s Fair in The Devil in the White City, then tour Millennium Park, a modern-day bookend to the architectural innovation that began with that fair.  Wherever you go, keep looking up.

A Glimpse of The Devil in the White City

Last weekend I spent a really cold but delightful couple of hours wandering around Jackson Park in Chicago. I’ve wanted to go there ever since I read Erik Larson’s bestseller The Devil in the White City. Jackson Park is where the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 took place and that’s the subject of Larson’s non-fiction book. In The Devil in the White City, he weaves together the stories of Daniel H. Burnham, the legendary architect responsible for the fair’s construction (and later the Plan of Chicago) and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor. He crafts the story so dramatically that readers often wonder if the book is a true story or a gripping work of fiction.

I’m not the only one who has wanted to see where the story takes place. “When I finished The Devil in the White City I got in my car and drove to Jackson Park,” says Mary Jo Hoag, who is now tour director for the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Devil in the White City tours. “I just wanted to see where it all took place.” So many readers have come in search of the White City that a host of tours have sprung up (given by CAF, the Chicago History Center, the Art Institute and other organizations) catering to readers who want to see first-hand where the plot thickened. Word has it that a movie version of The Devil in the White City is finally in the works, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as H.H. Holmes.  That will create even more interest in seeing the real place where it all happened.

Almost nothing remains of the famed White City, though it was the greatest tourist attraction in American history, hosting 27 million visitors. Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed Central Park) began to lay out the fairgrounds in 1890. It took three years and 40,000 workers to construct the fabulous Beaux-Arts style fair buildings and monuments…out of plaster. The historic fair opened to visitors on May 1, 1893. It closed six months later and within a year almost every structure from the fair was destroyed by fire, demolished or moved elsewhere. Only the Palace of Fine Arts, on the north end of Jackson Park, remains. The building is now Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. It’s sad that such beauty was so ephemeral; I’d love to have seen it. Hoag says that, at the time, the fair’s huge white buildings– illuminated by the amazing new technology, electric lighting–were so dazzling that people who arrived at night got off the

The fair at night-- "like a sudden vision of heaven."

train and simply fell on their knees they were so astonished at the sight. One fairgoer described it as “a sudden vision of heaven.”

A one-third scale replica of Daniel Chester French's Republic, which stood in the great basin at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.

It’s good that at least the Museum of Science and Industry survives (as the Palace of Fine Arts it held some of the world’s most valuable art and was built extra strong and fireproof) because it gives a frame of reference for what the other buildings at the fair looked like. That, along with Hoag’s collection of photographs and her great descriptions, helped kick start my imagination as we strolled through Jackson Park. Over here the Agriculture Building…over there the gigantic Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building…a replica of the iconic statue of the fair, The Republic…. the Wooded Island where architect Frank Lloyd Wright took inspiration from the Japanese pavilion… Modern life creeps back in, though. Over there is the basketball court where Barack Obama used to shoot hoops with Michelle’s brother.

Looking north down the lakefront from the Museum of Science and Industry, one has the sense that though the White City is gone, one of the best legacies of the fair endures: the idea that cities can be well planned and beautiful places. Jackson Park and Chicago’s long string of parks and open lakefront (part of Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago) that make this city so special are examples of that great idea. Still, I look forward to seeing The Devil in the White City movie and how its special effects bring the White City back to life.