Frank Lloyd Wright was born on this date in 1867 in a rural Wisconsin characterized by white clapboard houses, red barns and moral rectitude, certainties Wright would spend most of his life overturning. His interest in architecture began at the age of 9 when his mother gave him a set of blocks designed by kindergarten pioneer Friedrich Fröbel. He left high school and the University of Wisconsin without obtaining degrees and traveled to Chicago which was still engaged in rebuilding itself after the Great Fire of 1871, eventually finding a position with the firm of Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler.
The suburb of Oak Park, Illinois remains a museum of Prairie Style houses designed by Wright while in Sullivan's employ and after he established his own firm. Wright dressed like an artist rather than a professional man, cultivated a following of acolytes, wore his hair long and had affairs with the wives of clients. In 1909, he eloped to Europe with one of them, leaving behind six children and a wife of almost 20 years. After returning in late 1910 he moved to the neighborhood of Spring Green, Wisconsin and began work on the hilltop house and studio he named Taliesin. He was 44.
Frank Lloyd Wright appears five times in A Book of Ages. It's hard to pin down his greatest achievement. Just as the man never quite settled down, his forms evolved throughout his life, taking on new shapes and conventions, new materials, each brilliant in conception if sometimes impractical in detail, but always dominating the changing landscape of built America. Office buildings and houses. Gas stations and museums. Churches, hotels and skyscrapers. When he moved to the Sunbelt at age 57 he was decades ahead of millions of other Americans. The house at Fallingwater, Pennsylvania, his signature design, was completed when he was 72. When he died at 91 he was still at work on the spiral-shaped Guggenheim Museum in New York. Every time I see a Wright house I wish I'd indulged my early ambition to become an architect. I'm sure I am not alone.