About Frank Lloyd Wright and Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright Houses in Madison, Frank Lloyd Wright and Monona Terrace
Perhaps no architect has had a deeper, more enduring impact on American architecture than Frank Lloyd Wright. His continued popularity and the fact that he may be the only architect the average person knows by name is a testament to the recognizability of his designs and the legacy of his unique individuality.
While some criticized Wright for his undeniable arrogance, others maintain his often acerbic personality was the result of his genius, talent, and refusal to compromise the principles in which he believed. A proponent of “organic architecture,” Wright held to the conviction that a structure should emerge from its natural surroundings, whether it’s a rural or urban setting.
Wright designed more than 1,000 buildings and structures of which around 500 were actually built. However, these numbers are often debated as to what constitutes an actual “Frank Lloyd Wright” structure. Was it something he designed and oversaw the construction of, or something he designed and was built by a protege, or a design that was built but with which he had nothing to do? Regardless, it is undisputed that Frank Lloyd Wright’s work revolutionized the architecture landscape. His designs can be found worldwide, from the Guggenheim Museum in New York City to the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (his largest building ever constructed but demolished in 1968) to the “Fallingwater” house in Pennsylvania, which is now a museum destination itself. While his work encompassed corporate, religious, and public buildings, it is his residential accomplishments that would be his enduring legacy. His work began in the late 19th Century and evolved into his lifelong mainstay – the “Prairie style,” which featured long, horizontal lines reminiscent of the flat prairie plains. Eventually, this would become his Prairie School in Wisconsin.
And it was in Richland Center, Wisconsin that Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 1867. While his life took him to many destinations, Wisconsin was always his home. It was here in the early 1900’s that he built his “dream home” – Taliesin (“shining brow” in Welsh). Surrounded by 800 acres, it also housed his studio and his architecture school, the Taliesin Fellowship. After multiple tragic circumstances, the house is now in its third iteration, Taliesin III, and is a museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While his work is evident throughout Wisconsin, Madison, WI is “home” to a number of Wright homes and structures that represent his organic philosophy. Here are a few examples to visit in Madison.
Walter and Mary Ellen Rudin House
Completed in 1959 for UW-Madison mathematicians, the Rudin house is an example of Wright’s passion to develop prefab housing, so that innovative designs could be accessible to the middle class. His “package” included everything one needed to build a house from walls and electric to plumbing and windows. The Rudin house has a twin in Rochester, Minnesota, the James McBean Residence.
Robert M. Lamp House
An early example of Wright’s work, he built this for his childhood friend. After its construction, both Lake Monona and Lake Mendota were visible from its original rooftop garden, but “progress” has now blocked the views with taller buildings. While it is still a private residence, it is conveniently located in downtown Madison, just a block or so away from the State Capitol building. If you’re in the area, it’s worth walking by, as you can get glimpses of it from the street.
First Unitarian Meeting House
One of Wright’s later works, this National Historic Landmark is well-known for its copper roof and red concrete floors. A lifelong Unitarian, Wright also designed the Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois. The dramatic, interlacing lines and breathtaking limestone exemplify Wright’s raising the bar in his architectural achievements.
The “Airplane” House (Gilmore House)
Commissioned by a local law professor, this hilltop house looks like it’s perched for take-off. It exemplifies the Prairie-style with rows of casement windows, the horizontal lines, and the amazing roof. The house is occupied (by the granddaughter of the home’s second owner) and is not available for tours. However, it’s near downtown Madison in the University Heights area, which is home to many other spectacular residential designs by various architects. Stop by, walk around, and enjoy the area!
While not officially in Madison, Wright’s home and school for many years. Taliesin is less than an hour away and worth the drive. It may be Wright’s most famous work and a must-see destination, whether you live nearby or looking for things to do in Madison. A self-described “laboratory for living,” Taliesin, now in its third iteration, is a massive 37,000 square foot home and estate and includes representative works from every decade of Wright’s life.
One of Wright’s most impressive structures, Monona Terrace was not built until after his death. The exterior design is “all Wright,” but the interior was done by one of his top-tier apprentices, Anthony Puttnam. Monona Terrace is now one of the most recognizable features of the Madison skyline and is home to over 600 events annually. With its awesome views of Lake Monona from its rooftop garden, this facility is popular for conventions, weddings, the farmer’s market and even yoga classes. Do not miss Monona Terrace if you’re visiting Madison, WI.
Other well-known Frank Lloyd Wright structures in Wisconsin include the John Pew house, Seth Peterson Cottage (Mirror Lake State Park – you can rent it!), the S.C. Johnson Administration Building (Racine), Wingspread (also in Racine), Burnham Block (Milwaukee) and the Wyoming Valley School, which is just a few miles from Taliesin.
As he grew older, the brutal Wisconsin winters proved too much for him, and he ended up in the warmer climate of Arizona. It is here he built Taliesin West as his winter camp and school. Frank Lloyd Wright was finally horizontal himself when he passed in 1959, just shy of his 92nd birthday. His last project for which he oversaw the construction was the Guggenheim. Little known fact… Wright was a car enthusiast and owned over 50 automobiles. It was his love for cars that inspired the ramp design of the Guggenheim.
Little known fact #2… his son, John Lloyd Wright, invented Lincoln Logs in 1916. Talk about a true Prairie House!
If you’re truly inspired, check out the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, a self-guided tour of Wright structures throughout Wisconsin.
Book a tour of Monona Terrace