Married three times, divorced twice, no stranger to tragedy; Frank Lloyd Wright, without question, was the greatest American architect of all time. In his lifetime he designed more than one thousand structures and completed over 500 of them.
Living in Milwaukee, there are three duplexes not far from me that are Wright designed homes. They have those organic lines, low-pitched roof lines and deep overhangs. You can’t drive by them without doing a double-take.
Wright was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin on June 8, 1867 and after a few years of apprenticeship he started his own Chicago firm and immediately preached his philosophy of “organic architecture.” Its central principle demanded that a structure be developed out of its natural surrounding.
He was a bold revolutionary in industrial designs and introduced innovations such as steel-reinforced concrete, all-glass revolving doors, indirect lighting, air conditioning and metal furniture. New York City’s Guggenheim Museum is an example of a Frank Lloyd Wright work that mimics a design found in nature.
Wright converted his Taliesin home in Wisconsin into a school and workshop, but in 1914 tragedy struck one night when Wright was away on business. An employee of the school set fire to Taliesin, burning it to the ground. Before setting the fire he nailed the exterior doors shut except for the lower half of a Dutch door. By the time the fire was put out, seven people lost their lives, including five who had been bludgeoned with an ax by the employee as they tried to escape through the bottom of the Dutch door. Wright’s wife and two stepchildren were among those who were dead.
Wright rebuilt Taliesin in Wisconsin and later remarried. In 1938 he built Taliesin West atop a central Arizona mesa, as a winter home and school. This 37,000-square-foot estate includes living quarters, offices and farm buildings that are subtly distinguished from the environment.
Wright died at 91 in Arizona at Taliesin West from complications after surgery for an intestinal blockage. Per his wishes, he was buried at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisc. alongside the confessed love of his life, his mistress Mameh. She had been killed that night in 1914.
Wright’s second wife, Olgivanna, had her own idea about where he would spend eternity. Upon her death in 1985, her will stipulated that he be exhumed and cremated. His cremains mixed with her own and the combined remains kept in an urn at Taliesin West.
Her wishes were fulfilled and the urn holding the ashes is kept in Scottsdale. It is NOT available for public viewing and is currently tucked away “in storage.”