Frank Lloyd Wright Practiced Sustainable Design Before It Was A Movement

Published April 27, 2015
Updated April 29, 2019

In the United States, many conceive of the 20th century as a time when man successfully separated humanity from nature. One of the most obvious examples of this can be found in popular visions of modern architecture.

After World War Two, the American economy thrived and suburban development quickly churned out homes to meet nationally increasing demand. And thus the suburbs as we think of them today were born. American city growth continued to expand outside of city centers and by the 1980s, suburbia was not just a growing reality but an ideal destination for many.

But some were uncomfortable with the cost of suburban sprawl. It seemed that homes grew bigger at the risk of habitat destruction and energy waste, while giving way to an aesthetically unpleasing uniformity.

Born out of the 1970s environmental movement, contemporary architects have injected the concept of sustainability into their designs, seeking not to use the home to separate people from nature but as a device to re-integrate the two. For these designers, new home plans are focused on native material usage, energy efficiency, recycling and blending nature with human construction. But this isn’t completely a new concept; it’s a rediscovery of earlier principles.

Frank Lloyd Wright Face

Frank Lloyd Wright Source: NBC News

But in the early to mid 20th century, innovative architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright was guided by these very conventions. Wright focused on harmony of parts in relation to the whole, and believed that a home shouldn’t overcome its surrounding landscape like the Addams Family mansion. Rather, it should blend with the environment in an act of architectural transcendentalism. Landscaping was crucial to his designs, as were windows and outdoor spaces that convened nature and living areas.

Falling Water House

Wright’s historic Fallingwater house Source: Wright House

Wright championed his concerns about energy consumption in his designs. His Usonian houses were small and single-storied, focusing on liveability in minimum space, and giving owners unique designs at moderate cost. Wright utilized existing natural elements like sunlight and wind, and combined them with design to provide heating and cooling. These cost-effective features remain a significant part of sustainability architecture today.

As Wright said, “The architect must be a prophet – a prophet in the true sense of the term – if he can’t see at least ten years ahead, don’t call him an architect.” Obviously a visionary, these three houses signify Wright’s philosophy and convey the history of a sustainability movement that began almost a century ago:

Frank Lloyd Wright Exterior
Exterior Taliesin
Frank Lloyd Wright West Exterior
Frank Lloyd Wright Laurent Lighting
Frank Lloyd Wright Practiced Sustainable Design Before It Was A Movement
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Susan Sims
When she's not fighting crime or cleaning the garbage disposal, you can find Susan writing about travel, science and things that go bump in the night.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Sims, Susan. "Frank Lloyd Wright Practiced Sustainable Design Before It Was A Movement.", April 27, 2015, Accessed June 15, 2024.