|One of Frank Lloyd Wright's earliest and|
least-known "commissions"—this curious
windmill tower built for his family's
Spring Green, Wisconsin, farm in xx
Why not start at the top? Frank Lloyd Wright’s only formal training consisted of a year of engineering classes at the University of Wisconsin. Thoroughly bored, he dropped out in 1888 and headed for Chicago to find a job. He quickly found one, first apprenticing with the Chicago architect J. Lyman Silsbee, and later and more famously with his “lieber Meister”, Louis Sullivan. In 1893, after a falling out with Sullivan over taking outside work, Wright left the firm and opened his own office, where was able to use the title “architect” only because his practice predated the Illinois licensure requirements by four years. Wright nurtured a lifelong disdain for traditional architectural training, which eventually led him to found the Taliesin Fellowship, a unique school in which apprentice architects learned largely by doing.
But Wright is only the best-known example of brilliant architects with unconventional or even nonexistent educations. In another vein entirely is Addison Mizner, the California-born, Guatemala-raised, Florida-polished raconteur who improbably rose to become the top society architect of Palm Beach during the Roaring Twenties. Mizner despised school, and accordingly his only architectural training was a three-year apprenticeship with the San Francisco architect Willis Polk. The happy result was a personal style that drew more from his childhood knowledge of Spanish Colonial Guatemala than from the copybooks so beloved by his contemporaries.
|Addison Mizner, whose work|
was seldom taken seriously
by the architectural profession
despite his great success.
|One of Cliff May's early Spanish Revival homes in|
San Diego's Talmadge Park, designed in 1932, when
May was just 23 years old.
On the opposite coast, Cliff May, the San Diego architect widely considered the father of the California Rancher, started his career building Monterey-style furniture. When he began designing Spanish Colonial-style houses for speculative builders in the early 1930s, academic architects dismissed him as a purveyor of kitsch. Yet over time, May’s rambling, site-sensitive designs metamorphosed into the rustic and low-slung homes that Americans came to love so well. All told, May built his Ranchers in forty U.S. states, and their spiritual heirs went on to become the dominant style of the postwar era. Genuine May-designed Ranchers, not to mention his earlier Spanish Revival designs, are now celebrated and studied by architectural connoisseurs.
Despite these formidable accomplishments, May received only late and grudging acceptance from his licensed colleagues—or as he rather poignantly put it, “It took real architects a long time to let me into the club.”
Next time, we’ll look at a few more outsiders who changed the course of architecture, and see what they all had in common.