|Frank Lloyd Wright® is widely regarded as the 20th century’s greatest architect. Indeed, the American Institute of Architects in a recent national survey recognized Frank Lloyd Wright to be “the greatest American architect of all time.” We invite you to learn more about the heritage of Frank Lloyd Wright in his home state of Wisconsin. We further hope you will visit the many public Wright buildings in Wisconsin for an intimate look at his life and work.
One of Wright's first designs, the Hillside School. Dedicated to educating children based on "learning by doing", the first building (and Wright's first commission) was designed for his aunts Jane and Nell Lloyd-Jones in 1886. The remainder of the complex was completed in 1902, situated on land originally cleared by his grandparents. Although the school was closed in 1915, the other Wright-designed buildings on the property were destined to become the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, formally initiated in 1932.
We would tour the giant Assembly Hall first, an area with a mighty fireplace and expanse that was designed with a large first floor, as well as a magnificently cantilevered balcony above. The building's corners anchored and supported the structure part-way up the roof line instead of exterior walls providing support at the edges of the roof, as was common practice. Allowing for greater strength as well as increased space inside, this type of structural element was one of the earmarks of Wright's designs. We also viewed the Fellowship Dining Room, where all the apprentice architects would share meals together and the incredible 5,000 square-foot Drafting Room; with its unique roof and lighting, "the Abstract Forrest" is a stunning workspace where aspiring architects still study. Curiously, the triangular roof trusses have pins at the bottom of them that essentially are not attached to anything; they rest on steel plates that sit atop stone piers on which they rest. According to Ms. Keiran Murphy from Historic Research at Taliesin Preservation, Inc.:
"When Mr. Wright was constructing the room originally, it was done in such haste (and with so little resources) that they milled the wood and put it up 'green' – not letting it age & dry. So the wood warped. Because the triangular supports are not directly connected to the piers, the 'pins' lifted up over time due to warping. So they (had to) put shims under them. You can see metal shims around the room under the 'pins'. The weight (of the roof) isn’t concentrated in any one particular place."
We also got to sit in the cozy and unique Theater. With not a bad seat anywhere and excellent acoustics, it was a perfect venue for Sunday get-togethers, where performances were regularly scheduled events.
Outside the building is an interesting windmill; Wright christened the structure the "Romeo and Juliet Windmill Tower". Designed in 1886 to carry water to the Hillside School -- and to withstand some of the area's strongest storms -- critics said it would never remain standing more than 10 years. Romeo (a diamond shaped structure) and Juliet (an octagonal-shaped structure) are locked in an embrace that inspired the moniker. True to the strength of Wright's design and a testament to his engineering genius, the windmill -- although now undergoing renovation to repair damage done by marauding squirrels -- still stands, proudly thumbing its nose at the naysayers, the ravages of time and the elements.