His fascination with architecture developed early on. In 1885, Frank Lloyd Wright enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Madison to study civil engineering. In order to pay his tuition and help support his family, he worked for the dean of the engineering department and assisted the acclaimed architect Joseph Silsbee with the construction of the Unity Chapel. The experience convinced Frank Lloyd Wright that he wanted to become an architect and in 1887, he dropped out of school to go to work for Silsbee in Chicago. A year later, Frank Lloyd Wright began an apprenticeship with the Chicago architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan, working directly under Louis Sullivan, the great American architect best known as "the father of skyscrapers." Louis Sullivan was to become his mentor, fostering in him a fine eye and a resistance to technological progress as opposed to traditional handicraft. He remained with Adler and Sullivan for six years after which he went into business on his own and began work on his 'Prairie Houses'- a series of residences and public buildings with low, pitched roofs and long rows of casement windows. Frank Lloyd Wright's most celebrated "Prairie School" buildings include the Robie House in Chicago and the Unity Temple in Oak Park.
In 1909, after 20 years of marriage, Wright suddenly abandoned his wife, children and practice and moved to Germany with a woman named Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of a client. Working with the acclaimed publisher Ernst Wasmuth, while in Germany Wright put together two portfolios of his work that further raised his international profile as one of the leading living architects. In 1915, the Japanese Emperor commissioned Wright to design the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. He spent the next seven years on the project; a beautiful and revolutionary building that Wright claimed was "earthquake proof."
With architectural commissions grinding to a halt in the early 1930's due to the Great Depression, Frank Lloyd Wright dedicated himself to writing and teaching. In 1932, he published An Autobiography and The Disappearing City, both of which have become cornerstones of architectural literature. That same year he founded the Taliesin Fellowship, an immersive architectural school based out of his own home and studio. Five years later, he and his apprentices began work on "Taliesin West," a residence and studio in Arizona that housed the Taliesin Fellowship during the winter months. By the mid-1930s, approaching 70 years of age, Wright appeared to have peacefully retired to running his Taliesin Fellowship. Then, in 1935, he suddenly burst back onto the public stage to design many of the greatest buildings of his life. Then in the late 1930s, Wright constructed about 60 middle-income homes known as "Usonian Houses." The aesthetic precursor to the modern "ranch house," these sparse yet elegant houses employed several revolutionary design features such as solar heating, natural cooling and "carports" for automobile storage.
During his later years, he also turned increasingly to designing public buildings in addition to private homes. He designed the famous SC Johnson Wax Administration Building that opened in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1939. In 1943, he began a project that consumed the last 16 years of his life designing the Guggenheim Museum of modern and contemporary art in New York City. Frank Lloyd Wright passed away on April 9, 1959, at the age 91, six months before the Guggenheim opened its doors.
Frank Lloyd Wright is widely considered the greatest architect of the 20th century, and the greatest American architect of all time. He perfected a distinctly American style of architecture that emphasized simplicity and natural beauty in contrast to the elaborate and ornate architecture that had prevailed in Europe. With seemingly superhuman energy and persistence, Wright designed more than 1,100 buildings during his lifetime, nearly one third of which he designed during his last decade.
The historian Robert Twombly wrote of Frank Lloyd Wright; "His surge of creativity after two decades of frustration was one of the most dramatic resuscitations in American art history, made more impressive by the fact that Wright was seventy years old in 1937."