These 8 Frank Lloyd Wright Houses Just Became World Heritage Sites

July 8, 2019

The famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright changed the way we build and live. Throughout his prolific career, he emphasized craftsmanship while embracing technology’s ability to make design accessible to all. Influenced by the natural world, his influential 20th-century designs incorporated organic motives, blurred boundaries between the inside and outside, and made unprecedented use of steel and concrete

On July 7th, 2019 eight Frank Lloyd Wright houses were selected as World Heritage sites, a first in the field of architecture for the United States. Agreeing on the designation at a meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee selected buildings Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, the Guggenheim in New York, the Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House in Madison, Wisconsin, the Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, the Fredrick C. Robie House in Chicago, Illinois, Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin, Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Hollyhock House in Los Angeles.

Members of the committee explained that "each of these buildings offers innovative solutions to the needs for housing, worship, work or leisure," adding that "Wright's work from this period had a strong impact on the development of modern architecture in Europe." Welcoming the honor, the US State Department said that these "buildings showcase Wright’s influence on the course of architecture around the world."

Here is what you need to know about these iconic Frank Lloyd Wright World Heritage houses.

  Editors’ Tip: Frank Lloyd Wright: The Houses

Frank Lloyd Wright is not only synonymous with architecture, his name is also synonymous with the American house in the twentieth century. In particular, his residential buildings have been the subject of continuing interest and controversy for years. Wright's Fallingwater (1935), the seminal masterpiece perched over a waterfall deep in the Pennsylvania Highlands is perhaps the best-known private house in the history of the world. In fact, Wright's houses-from his Prairie-style Robie House (1906) in Chicago, to the Storer (1923) and Freeman (1923) houses in Los Angeles, and Taliesen West (1937) in the Arizona desert-are all touchstones of modern architecture. For the first time, all 289 extant houses are shown here in exquisite color photographs. Along with Weintraub's stunning photos and a selection of floor plans and archival images, the book includes text and essays by several leading Wright scholars on this work.

Featured image: Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. All images Creative Commons.

Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania

Located over a waterfall on Bear Run in the Mill Run in Pennsylvania, Fallingwater was designed in 1935 as a private home and weekend home for the family of Pittsburgh department store owner, Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr. Today, the home is open to the public as a museum and remains one of Wright’s most widely acclaimed works.

Constructed of native sandstone and other materials quarried from the property, the house rises above the waterfall over which it is built. It perfectly embodies the architect's philosophy of organic architecture: the harmonious union of art and nature. As the Kaufmanns wanted a larger house than the original plot allowed, Wright addressed these requests with a cantilevered structure. The dynamic design of the house highlights the importance of interpenetrating exterior and interior spaces, with integration with the setting extending to all of its details.

The house was described as Wright's "most beautiful job" by Time after its completion and named "the best all-time work of American architecture" by members of the American Institute of Architects in 1991.

Featured images: Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania via James Vaughan; Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, Interior.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York

Since opening its doors on October 21, 1959, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has been an unparalleled physical and cultural presence in the New York landscape. It has inspired countless visitors and is widely seen as Wright’s masterpiece.

In 1943, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design a building which would house Guggenheim’s collection of non-objective art, a radical new art form being developed by such artists as Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Piet Mondrian. One of the requirements was that the building should be unlike any other museum in the world.

Attempting to incorporate organic form into architecture, Wright designed a building which dispensed the conventional approach to museum design. Visitors would be taken to the top of the building with an elevator, proceeding downward on the gentle slope of a continuous ramp featuring galleries divided like the membranes in citrus fruit. When it was officially opened to the public, six months after the architect's death, it was written by one critic that it “has turned out to be the most beautiful building in America . . . never for a minute dominating the pictures being shown."

Featured images: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Interior.

The Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House in Madison, Wisconsin

Commonly referred to as Jacobs I, the Herbert and Katherine Jacobs First House is a single-family home on Toepfer Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin designed and built in 1937. The house is considered by most to be the first Usonian home, a term Wright coined to describe his vision for a new affordable architecture that freed itself from European conventions and responded to the American landscape.

Madison newspaperman Herbert Jacobs, a Wright acquaintance, challenged the architect to design and build a home for $5,000 (equivalent to $87,141 in 2018). Wright designed a modest single-story L-shaped house with an open floor plan and two bedrooms. It is related directly to the earth, unimpeded by a foundation, front porch, protruding chimney, or distracting shrubbery. The exterior of the house is finished in a combination of brick, horizontal boarding, and glass with a flat roof. After the family outgrew the two-bedroom ranch, Jacobs commissioned the architect for their second home, Jacobs II.

Featured images: The Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House in Madison, Wisconsin; The Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House in Madison, Wisconsin, Interior.

The Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois

Built between the years 1905 and 1908, the Unity Temple is considered to be one of Frank Lloyd Wright's most important structures dating from the first decade of the twentieth century. The building is characterized by a consolidation of aesthetic intent and structure through the use of a single material, reinforced concrete, for which it is often considered to be the first modern building in the world.

Coming from a family of Unitarians, faith which had many common beliefs with Universalism, Wright offered to design a new structure for the Universalist congregation of Oak Park, Illinois after their first church burnt down in 1905. This task was challenging as the church had a modest amount of money for the construction. Wright decided to go for concrete as the material was cheap, a decision which also signified the abandonment of the stark white New England style. The Unity Temple is designed as a bipartite building that locates the temple at the center of the building, which connects to a community center through a low-level corridor. Unlike other Wright's designs, it does not employ a low, horizontal profile, providing space and volume.

Featured images: The Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois; The Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, Interior.

The Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago, Illinois

Built between 1909 and 1910, the Frederick C. Robie House in the city of Chicago, Illinois is located in the South Side neighborhood of Hyde Park in Chicago, Illinois. It is renowned as the greatest example of Prairie School, the first architectural style considered uniquely American.

The house was commissioned by Frederick C. Robie, an assistant manager of the Excelsior Supply Company, a company on the South Side of Chicago owned and managed by his father. The house is conceived as an integral whole, with site and structure, interior and exterior, furniture, ornament and architecture and each element connected. Unrelentingly horizontal in its elevation and with a dynamic configuration of sliding planes in its plan, it is considered the most innovative and forward thinking of all Wright’s Prairie houses. The house is finished with bands of brick and limestone with overhanging eaves and dramatic cantilevered roofs, achieving a remarkable balance of tone and color.

Featured images: The Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago, Illinois; The Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago, Illinois, Interior via Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose.

Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin

Located in the Driftless Region of southwestern Wisconsin near Spring Green, Taliesin is Frank Lloyd Wright's home, studio, school, and 800-acre estate. It was a laboratory for architecture and design, embodying his ideas of organic architecture, expanded and refined from his earlier Prairie School works.

Wright moved to this valley two years after leaving his 20-year-architect practice in Oak Park, IL with an idea to live, work, and farm here with his companion, Mamah Borthwick. The design of the original building, which was completed in 1911, was consistent with the design principles of the Prairie School, emulating the flatness of the plains and the natural limestone outcroppings of Wisconsin's Driftless Area. The second version of the residential wing of the house was rebuilt in 1914 after a disgruntled employee set fire to the living quarters, while the third version was rebuilt in 1925 after a fire caused by electrical problems destroyed the living quarters.

From the courtyards and gardens to the Living Room, Loggia, and Birdwalk, Taliesin offers a commanding view of the valley. For its construction, the architect used natural local limestone and Wisconsin River sand.

Featured images: Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin; Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, Interior via Paul Gorbould.

Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona

Wright's winter house and school in the desert from 1937 until his death in 1959 at the age of 91, Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona is today the main campus of The School of Architecture at Taliesin and houses the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

When first seeing the spot for Taliesin West, Wright described it like this:

Finally I learned of a site twenty-six miles from Phoenix, across the desert of the vast Paradise Valley. On up to a great mesa in the mountains. On the mesa just below McDowell Peak we stopped, turned, and looked around. The top of the world.

When designing the building, Wright felt very strongly about the connection to the desert. Its walls are made of local desert rocks, stacked within wood forms, filled with concrete, placing flat surfaces of the rocks outward facing and filling the interior space with large boulders so concrete could be conserved. The design also places great importance on the natural light.

Featured images: Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona; Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, Interior.

Hollyhock House in Los Angeles

Located in the East Hollywood neighborhood of the city of Los Angeles, California, Hollyhock House was originally designed as a residence for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall. Built between 1919 and 1921, it is now the centerpiece of the city's Barnsdall Art Park.

His second project in California, Hollyhock House is characterized by an "introverted" exterior with small windows. It is arranged around a central courtyard with one side open to form a kind of theatrical stage (never used as such), and a complex system of split levels, steps and roof terraces around that courtyard. Barnsdall asked Wright to incorporate her favorite flower, the hollyhock, into the home’s design.

A harbinger of California Modernism, the house was part of Barnsdall’s visionary plan for a thriving art park in East Hollywood, which was only partially realized. Disillusioned by the costs of construction and maintenance, Barnsdall donated the house to the city of Los Angeles in 1927. Over time, the park has grown into a vibrant arts center with a gallery, theater, and year-round art classes.

Featured images: Hollyhock House in Los Angeles; Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, Interior.

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