Finding Mr. (Frank Lloyd) Wright

NOTE: This piece originally appeared on my Tumblr in 2015, and all of the photos I posted have been lost mysteriously to the sands of time/the vengeful ghost of Louis Sullivan. Frank Lloyd Wright was a piece of work, and if he is reading this from some great Taliesen in the sky, I hope he thinks I am a piece of work, too. -LZ

Frank Lloyd Wright is often regarded as the greatest of all American architects. He could also be regarded as the greatest jerk of all American architects. 

If you know anything about architects, that’s saying something.

If you know nothing about architects, you may still know Wright’s work. Jerk or not, he’s the brains behind The Guggenheim Museum. Fallingwater. Unity Temple. The Robie House. The Graycliff Estate. The Johnson Wax Headquarters. Many FLW buildings still stand all over the United States, just waiting for you to Instagram them!

Wright was a huge proponent of the Prairie School style of architecture that originated in the Midwest at the turn of the 19th century, which developed as a reaction against mass production as well as the overwhelming, hyper-intricate Victorian architecture that ruled the day. Equal parts geometric and organic, FLW’s long and low designs look like something as mid-century modern as a Mad Men set- only they first hit the scene in the late 1800s, sixtyish years before the original Mad Men were hitting bottles on their lunch breaks. 

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Fancy, Simple Shelf with Fancy, Simple Chair in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio in Oak Park, IL

Frank Lloyd Wright worked with his team to create homes (and later, super fly office and municipal buildings) that blended beautifully with their flat-as-all-get-out environs. It may seem like a no-brainer now that architects would attempt to create some harmony between nature and their designs, but at that time this concept was as fresh as getting your groceries delivered by a drone.

And just like the inevitable George Jetson-ing of groceries, Frank Lloyd Wright’s design ideas caught on like wildfire. As did his ego. Known for being a wildly brilliant man, he was just as known for being wildly vain, controlling, intimidating, manipulative, selfish, cruel, and into wearing capes.

Maybe part of his jerkiness stemmed from the early recognition everyone had for his genius. Frank Lloyd Wright was so ahead of his time, it’s almost like he was being played by Christopher Lloyd using the power of time travel to build groundbreaking, fancypantsily simple architecture for the super wealthy and powerful. Christopher Lloyd Wright. Just saying. It’s a time travel trilogy I’d watch. 

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See Frank Lloyd Wright’s real bed- But do not touch it! You will be scolded if you touch it. 

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s real (and simply fancy) arched hallway.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s real toilet. Still simple. Less fancy. 

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A real baby in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio who could care less about being in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio.

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The studio that puts the “Studio” in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio.

A protege of that other great sass of Chicago Architecture, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright followed suit in expressing a tireless work ethic behind his studio doors- and also beneath his mistresses’ sheets. 

One of his most famous paramours was Mamah Cheney, a (married) high-society feminist who took up residence in a home FLW built expressly for living in sin in Wisconsin. The pleasure palace was called Taliesin, a name now forever associated with Welsh poets and tragedy. One day, an angry employee of the couple burned the home down- after hatcheting Mamah, her children, and other employees to death. The killer later died after a botched suicide attempt by way of drinking hydrochloric acid, that ultimately led to death by starvation.

 Lifetime still has not made a movie of this.

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Let’s just look at this beautiful gingko tree outside of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio in Oak Park and try not to think about axe murderers.

Frank Lloyd Wright must have saved his originality for his architecture, because when he rebuilt Taliesin he named it Taliesin II: Son of Taliesin. When it, too, perished in fire, he rebuilt his home again. Never to be daunted by public opinion or murderers, he named this iteration of the home Taliesin III: Days of Future Taliesin. However, he spent most of his time at a residence of his in Scottsdale, AZ- named Taliesin West.

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Stork ornamentation outside the Oak Park home and Studio. Each stork is named Taliesin.

The Oak Park home and studio is where FLW lived in his pre-Taliesin days. Before he walked out on his wife and six children, FLW did a lot of work and entertaining in Oak Park. Accounts state that Wright loved to use design to intimidate friends and clients. He purposely built doorframes lower than normal so he could watch his poor guest dum-dums rack themselves when they misgauged their clearance. An architectural genius for creating rooms within rooms using alcoves and furniture design, he was a frontrunner in jerkitectural genius by further discomforting his guests with ultra-straight, high-backed chairs they couldn’t get comfortable in. Windows in his meeting rooms and studio are high up, bathing these work areas in light but guarding from spying eyes. 

No one in space can hear you scream, and no one in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio can hear you cry after he takes credit for your contributions to his designs.

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Dry your tears, Tim. The sun can’t do it for you. Not down here. In hell!

But…But I drew the plans and I-

Quiet, Tim. Let it go. You’re his now.

You could have a pleasant conversation in Frank Lloyd Wright’s library.

But you who would believe you?

Sorry, Tim. 

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park runs tours seven days a week. If you’re in Chicago, get inside the mind of the Kanye West of American Architecture here

Mind the doorframes.