Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The work of America's most renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, spanned a period from the late nineteenth century through World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II and did not end until his death in 1959. Although Wright's primary focus was on domestic buildings, his contributions to public architecture were also significant. His work was based on the principles of "organic architecture," which he defined as "profoundly interrelated, one thing to another, consistent as a whole." Wright was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin, on June 6, 1867. He learned architecture through apprenticeship in Madison, Wisconsin, and, after 1887, in Chicago, especially at the firm of Adler and Sullivan.

Wright's work first gained significant attention in the early years of the twentieth century with his development of the Prairie style in Chicago, Illinois. Prairie style is characterized by sweeping horizontal lines, broad eaves, and low-pitched hip roofs. Wright continued to develop the Prairie style until he reached its zenith with the Robie House (1909) in Chicago. The next two decades of Wright's work revealed a stylistic shift into more regional themes until the 1930s, when he started work on his Usonian houses. Wright saw a need for inexpensive housing for the average American, and his Usonian work was a response to that need. Still based on the principles of organic architecture, the Usonian house is characterized by a modular system of design and construction, inexpensive materials, and manufactured components.

Wright's work in the Great Plains closely reflects the evolution of his work as a whole. Only about half of the nineteen projects he designed for the Great Plains were actually carried through to construction. Of these, the Sutton House (1905) in McCook, Nebraska, was the first. The Sutton House is a fine example of the evolving Prairie style and anchors Wright's work in the Great Plains. The Sutton House was followed by the Allen House (1915) in Wichita, Kansas. Built for Henry J. Allen and his family, its mature masonry work and other details make it a significant example in Wright's development of the Prairie style. The Richard Lloyd Jones House (1929) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a significant departure for Wright in his domestic architecture. Built for Wright's cousin, the house was based on the themes Wright had used earlier in his California houses. Although the design was altered during construction, the Community Church (1940) in Kansas City, Missouri, is attributed to Wright. Two houses built in Kansas City, the Sondern House (1939) and the Adler House (1948), are good examples of Wright's more evolved Usonian ideas.

Wright's most significant work in the Great Plains, the Price Tower (1954) of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, is a striking example of his mature thinking and an embodiment of his ideals. Standing nineteen stories above the rolling hills of northeastern Oklahoma, it makes a dramatic counterpoint to Wright's earlier domestic work. The design for the tower was actually first conceived for St. Mark's in the Bouwerie project (1929) in New York. That project was never realized, and Wright resurrected the concept for the Price Tower twentyfive years later.

The Juvenile Cultural Center (1957) in Wichita, Kansas, is another of Wright's nonresidential works. The Kinney House (1957) in Amarillo, Texas, the final example of Wright's work in the Great Plains, embodies his mature ideas concerning the Usonian house and was completed just two years before his death in Phoenix on April 9, 1959.

Randy G. Stramel Architectural Alliance, Ltd.

Futagawa, Yukio, and Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer. Frank Lloyd Wright. Tokyo: A.D.A. Edita, 1984-85.

Storrer, William Allin. The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: A Complete Catalog. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1978.

Twombly, Robert C. Frank Lloyd Wright: An Interpretive Biography. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1973.

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