frank lloyd wright's early success -- 2/29/24

Today's encore selection -- from The Vision of Frank Lloyd Wright by Thomas A. Heinz. Frank Lloyd Wright was a visionary rising star after he designed and built the Winslow House in the fashionable Oak Park suburb of Chicago. He was able to expand due to his initial success and excellent sales skills, but he also lost some very important commissions:

"[Frank Loyd] Wright's first independent commission was for a very large and costly house for a supplier of materials to Adler & Sullivan, William Winslow, of the Winslow Brothers Iron Works. The house was of golden iron spot Roman brick construction with a large plaster frieze surrounding the second floor. Looking at the Winslow house now, one cannot imagine the ridicule that Winslow received from his neighbors for building such a wildly modern and exotic house.

 WEST (front) FACADE -- William H. Winslow House

"Wright was one of the best salesmen of all time and was able to convince a great many well-to-do, independent-minded industrialists to hire him to design houses for them in the Chicago area. Wright's earliest work was not astonishing but improved rapidly; most of his work was for his Oak Park neighbors who were so pleased with the results that they helped convince their family and business associates to make use of Wright's services as well. 

"William Winslow, obviously impressed, decided to hire Wright as architectural consultant for a new venture. The Luxfer Prism Company was about to change the shape of architecture by providing prism glass that would bring much needed light into buildings and this new product was enthusiastically embraced by all the major Chicago architects. Wright designed many of these 4-inch square prism plates for the company, though only a very few were used. What Wright received for this work provided him with enough money to allow him to build a working studio onto the north side of his 1889 Oak Park house while continuing to maintain a downtown Chicago office where he could meet corporate clients. The office in 1897 was next door to the Luxfer Prism offices in a building owned by Winslow's neighbor and Wright's client, Edward C. Waller. 

"Although Wright had attended few university classes and had never enrolled in a formal architectural programme, he liked to hire associates who were well educated and the people who became prominent in his office and afterward, such as Marion Mahony, all successfully completed their studies. Mahony was the second woman to graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Walter Burley Griffin and William Drummond were from the University of Illinois programme run by Nathan C. Ricker in Urbana, Illinois. As in any architectural practice, there were a whole string of workers; some designers, some engineering-oriented, and there were draftsmen and renderers. There was always a need for office and managerial assistance and this seemed to fall to another woman architect, Isabel Roberts. 

"Wright also worked with artists able to take on board his own ideas and incorporate them into the fabric and texture of a building. One of his associates was Richard Bock who used Wright's downtown office as well as his Oak Park studio for modelling his sculptures. Bock was also an architectural client. ...

"Wright was now able to keep longer hours and meet his residential clients in the evenings, as still happens, by having his workplace built onto his house, which also exposed his family to his work. The Wrights threw exotic parties that were reported in the local newspapers and according to Wright there were times when there were parties going on all through his house and studio. ...

"Wright was so successful at getting clients that he had almost reached the point of having too much work. It is difficult to understand how, with his small staff, he could have produced the quantity as well as maintaining the quality of work -- but he did. He would not only produce the design for the building at a new level of detail unusual in his day, but also intricate plans for art glass and furniture designs. It was not so much that the designs were completed but, because of their new and unusual nature, he also needed to educate the glass-make and furniture producer, which was even more time-consuming. 

"All was not perfect, however, Wright also managed to lose some very large and important projects for major clients. Harold McCormick of the International Harvester Company of Chicago wanted an enormous house on the shore of Lake Michigan in the wealthiest suburb of Lake Forest, the drawings of which prefigured Wright's own country estate of Taliesin but on a larger and more formal scale. Henry Ford, the automobile manufacturer, also requested a large residence -- both commissions were lost."



Thomas A. Heinz


The Vision of Frank Lloyd Wright


Chartwell Books


2001 by Chartwell Books, Inc


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