Ask most people to name one architect, and they will name Frank Lloyd Wright. He remains America’s most well-known and celebrated architect, with 532 completed structures designed during his lifetime, 1867 to 1959.
Nature served as his inspiration to design structures in harmony with both humanity and the environment. Instead of setting a house next to a waterfall, he famously built a house around an existing waterfall at Fallingwater. At Taliesin, he mimicked the flatness of the plains and natural limestone outcroppings of Wisconsin for a striking effect.
These tours go beyond architecture to tell fascinating personal stories of the eccentric designer. Groups touring these five iconic Wright homes will gain architectural insight, knowledge about the famous architect’s life and renewed creative inspiration.
Spring Green, Wisconsin
Artists use their media to express themselves, which is why Taliesin is considered by many to be Wright’s autobiography in wood and stone. He used the home as a laboratory for architectural designs and innovations over the 62 years he lived and built there.
In the hilly Driftless Region of southwestern Wisconsin, the home, studio and country estate functions today as a museum. Groups can explore the 800-acre site to discover Wright’s architectural contributions and personal life.
Wright began work on the site when he was 29 years old. He moved there permanently in 1911 with his mistress, Mamah Cheney, the wife of his former neighbor and client. Ostracized by society, Wright moved Cheney to the remote location. Tragedy came in 1914 when a servant at Taliesin went on a murderous rampage, setting fire to the home and killing several people, including Cheney.
Wright rebuilt Taliesin, though the home burned down again in 1925 from faulty wiring. The home standing today is known as Taliesin III. Evidence of past fire damage is still visible in certain blackened artworks and charred ceiling beams.
Tours reveal these compelling stories, as well as Wright’s trademark architectural contributions, such as his love of windows. The home has 524 windows to accommodate Wright’s wish to view the Wisconsin landscape from wherever he stood in the house. It also features open floor plans and has no gutters because Wright wanted to see icicles form in the winter.
Up to his death in 1959, Wright continued to make changes to Taliesin. The residence is now a UNESCO World Heritage site encompassing not just the Wright home, but also several Wright-designed buildings, such as the Romeo and Juliet Windmill, the Hillside School and the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center.
Groups can book several tours depending on their desired focus and length. Planners can stay longer at the site by arranging a group luncheon at the Riverview Terrace Café. The two-hour house tour focuses on the picturesque rural estate. Some groups add the one-hour Hillside Studio and Theater Tour for a deeper exploration into Wright’s works.
For a quick-paced visit, the Highlights Tour visits the house, the grounds, the farming complex and the theater to cover spaces designed by Wright from 1902 to 1952.
Mill Run, Pennsylvania
Many thought Wright’s idea to build a house atop a waterfall was pure folly. Fallingwater, one of Wright’s most famous private residences, was built for Edgar J. Kaufmann and his wife in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. Kaufmann’s own engineers argued that Wright’s design was not sound.
The Kaufmanns initially asked Wright for views of the naturally occurring waterfall. However, Wright placed the home on top of the water in hopes that the waterfall would “become an integral part of your lives.”
Though some extra strengthening elements were added over the years, the house still stands as an iconic architectural achievement. It was one of Wright’s most expensive pieces at $155,000 in 1937. The family donated the house and 1,500 surrounding acres to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963.
Because of its integration of a man-made structure with the natural world, Fallingwater exemplifies organic architecture. Wright used the cascading forms to inspire the home’s exterior terraces. The exterior walls used locally quarried sandstone and neutrally painted terraces to camouflage the dwelling in its surroundings.
Inside, the natural aesthetic continues with a sandstone fireplace built around two unmoved boulders. Even 170 of the decorative art pieces were designed by Wright to channel the outdoors in look and feel.
Fallingwater tours run from March through December. Groups can opt for a one-hour or a two-hour guided house tour. The Fallingwater Brunch Tour includes brunch on the covered terrace to soak in the views as well as rooms such as the kitchen and servants’ quarters not seen on the regular tour.
Evening colors envelop the house during the Fallingwater Sunset Tour. After a two-hour tour, guests enjoy hors d’oeuvres on the terrace.
When an oil pipeline firm asked Wright to design a “tower in a country town” in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Wright saw a chance to resurrect a former dream. He designed an unrealized 1925 proposal for a New York City apartment building that would rise into the air like a tree. Though ramifications of the Great Depression shelved the project, Wright adapted the idea for the Price Company in 1952.
Today, groups can tour Wright’s only skyscraper: the Price Tower. The 19-story building is one of only two Wright structures with a vertical orientation. The building’s design uses a treelike mast supported by a central “truck” of four elevator shafts anchored by a deep foundation. The upper floors branch out like a tree, since they don’t serve a load-bearing function. The exterior walls serve as ornamental screens decorated in copper leaves and gold-tinted glass.
Even the materials used were unusual for the time, and they were used for the pigmented concrete floors and the aluminum-trimmed windows. Like a tree, the building is asymmetrical and looks different from every angle.
In 2000, the building was donated to the Price Tower Arts Center. The center offers an art museum, tours of the historic tower, a hotel and a restaurant. The museum’s galleries include modern art, furniture, textiles and design. Some significant art pieces by Wright and renowned Oklahoma architect Bruce Goff are also on display.
On the 15th floor, the Cooper Restaurant and Bar offers sweeping views of Bartlesville and the surrounding prairie landscape. Groups can dine on upscale cuisine with regionally inspired drinks and Oklahoma craft beers.
Florida Southern College
To entice a world-renowned architect to central Florida, the president of Florida Southern College, Ludd Spivey, started with flattery. After attracting Wright’s attention in 1936, Spivey had to figure out how a Methodist college with no endowment could afford to build these elaborate structures. He solved this by offering free tuition for student labor.
Because of his tenacity, Florida Southern College holds the largest concentration of Wright-designed buildings in the world. Groups can learn how the partnership transformed the private college in Lakeland into the planned “college of tomorrow.”
Tours reveal Wright’s initial vision to create a “truly American campus” on an 80-acre network of buildings and covered walkways that radiated from a central hub. Wright saw 12 of his 18 envisioned structures take shape over the next 20 years. In 2013, the Usonian Faculty House brought another Wright plan from 1938 to life to serve as a living museum.
Groups can start their visits at the Tourism and Education Center. The center provides guests with an overview of Wright’s relationship with the college as well as Wright-related artifacts and exhibits on loan from other Wright sites.
The site offers seven tours. The 60-minute introductory tour offers the stories behind some of the most well-known structures. The more popular 2.5-hour tour explores a larger number of structures and their interiors. Even more detail comes with the 3.5-hour behind-the-scenes tour, which is the only tour to reveal the Wright-designed planetarium.
The Water Dome serves as the focal point of the campus. The feature blasts water up to 45 feet into the air. The Annie Pfeiffer Chapel remains one of the most popular structures with its concrete block walls and small squares of colored glass.
Rosenbaum House Museum
Most would imagine that only the upper class could afford a Wright-designed home. The Rosenbaum House Museum proves this wasn’t always the case. In Florence, Alabama, the house is the only Wright-designed dwelling in Alabama and the only southeastern Wright home viewable to the public.
Though the brown-brick home doesn’t make visitors immediately gasp when they view it from the street, the interior stuns with natural light. The home is known as one of the purest examples of Wright’s Usonian period.
The Rosenbaum House uses cypress wood, glass, brick and floor-to-ceiling windows. Each major room in the house has windows that open so people can walk outside.
This impressive structure was purchased by Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum in 1939. At the time, Wright had begun designing inexpensive single-family “starter homes” for families. In 1946, the couple asked Wright to add 1,084 square feet to the 1,540-square-foot building for a larger kitchen, a guest room, storage space and a dormitory for the children.
The Rosenbaums lived in the home until 1999, when the city of Florence purchased it. With the help of volunteers and city funds, a major renovation saved the home and turned it into a museum.
Groups can tour the site to learn about the home’s architectural innovations, Wright’s connection to the location and the unusual life of the Rosenbaums.