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March 30, 2009

A Road Trip to Discovering Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.
Photo: orangejack on Flickr using Creative Commons

by Ondine Cohane

It's hard to think of many architects who have influenced American design as much as Frank Lloyd Wright. To mark its 50th anniversary this May, New York's Guggenheim Museum will debut a huge retrospective of Wright's work in one of his most celebrated buildings. "Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward" will showcase 62 of the projects--from the residential to the civic--that the architect tackled over his 70-plus year career, as well as a couple of hundred of his drawings, many of them on view to the public for the first time. I want to see Wright's 1957 urban revitalization model for Baghdad, which was, unfortunately, never realized. 

As I learn more about the man behind the models, though, I become increasingly interested in Wright's personal life. He was the complete opposite of his tranquil designs, full of tempestuous marriages and ugly divorces, affairs, and tragedy (one of his lovers died in a fire set by a disgruntled manservant). How fascinating that under these almost soap opera-like conditions, Wright created peaceful, decidedly harmonic buildings. If I were to plan a "Road Trip to Discovering Frank Lloyd Wright," here's how it would go:

* I'd start at Graycliff in upstate New York, with its sun-filled spaces. Supposedly, the property's former owner was losing her sight, and asked for it to be built with lots of light.

* Then on to Pennsylvania's Fallingwater, a dramatic cantilevered structure built over a waterfall.

* There would have to be a couple of stops in Chicago, where Wright lived for most of his adult life. The Frederick C. Robie House, built between 1908 and 1910, is perhaps the greatest example of the architect's Prairie style, and with its 100-year anniversary coming up, the building has undergone massive restoration. Unity Temple is considered one of the most important projects of Wright's career. And of course, his home/studio would be a must-stop. Take a look at for suggested tours in town.

* Next up, Ohio's Westcott House, another Prairie-style icon. It only opened to the public in 2005, when it became a museum.

* Wright's only fully realized skyscraper, Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, is now a museum and hotel.

* In Hollywood, Wright designed the Hollyhock House for an oil heiress (check out an excerpt from his letter on the Web site's home page). And I couldn't leave Los Angeles without seeing the Ennis House.

Any other stops I should add? Let me know.


Remember Taliasan in Scottsdale, AZ. You could come to AZ from LA, CA.

Just "around the corner" from Fallingwater in Chalk Hill, PA, is the I.N. Hagan house a.k.a. Kentuck Knob

Thanks for the suggestions--we're adding them to our list. Also heard from @AirlineUpdates on Twitter that a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Ann Arbor just sold for way below the asking price:

And then there is the world famous Johnson Wax building in Racine Wisconsin. If you're in Chicago, why not a short train ride north?

I echo the suggestion to go to Racine. Tours of the Administration Building are Fridays, reservations required (262.260.2154). Wingspread is open for self-guided tours on varying schedules. You can also drive by the Hardy House, a few blocks from the Johnson campus. The Johnson campus has a Norman Foster building under construction. Then swing by the Burnham Street rehab. in Milwaukee (six Wright homes in one block!:, on your way to Madison and Taliesin.
Mark Hertzberg,

Don't forget Florida - Frank Lloyd Wright's largest body of work is at Florida Southern College in Lakeland (near Orlando). Wright's work at Florida Southern is said to have influenced a young Paul Rudolph and architects throughout Florida. Our "Sarasota School of Architecture" is often described as an elegant blend of Wright and the Bauhaus, International style of modernism.
Martie Lieberman

If anyone is starting their trip at Graycliff, they might as well travel the added 25 miles or so to visit the Darwin D. Martin Complex. With the opening of the new Greatbatch Pavillion and Visitors Center, everyone will get a great introduction and see the entire complex. With landscape additions going in daily, a visit now would truly introduce FLW in a proper perspective.

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