UNESCO Recognises 8 Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings as World Heritage Sites

From the Guggenheim in New York to Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, eight of Frank Lloyd Wright's modernist architectural designs are now officially UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Fallingwater, Carol M. Highsmith, photo via Wikimedia
Fallingwater, Carol M. Highsmith, photo via Wikimedia

The World Heritage Committee congregated in Baku, Azerbaijan on 7 July 2019 to vote on the newest World Heritage Sites, destinations that exemplify either cultural or natural significance and are of "outstanding universal value". This year, eight Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings across the United States entered the annals of the world's most important sites, joining the ranks of the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat.

Frank Lloyd Wright, 1926. Image: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division
Frank Lloyd Wright, 1926. Image: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division

Arguably America's pre-eminent modern architect of the mid-20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright transformed the construction of the home and the commercial building into a simplified work of art. Wright pioneered the Prairie School movement, fusing low-slung, straight-edged lines and organic materials with the natural surroundings.

The interior of Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright. Image: Christopher Little © Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
The interior of Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright. Image: Christopher Little © Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

The eight buildings inducted as the UNESCO Heritage Sites under the title The 20th Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright are Unity Temple, Oak Park, Illinois (built 1905-1908); Frederick C. Robie House, Chicago, Illinois (built 1909); Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin (built 1911-1959); Hollyhock House, Los Angeles, California (built 1922); Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania (built 1936-1939); Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House, Madison, Wisconsin (built 1937); Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona (built 1937); and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York (built 1959).

"These buildings reflect the 'organic architecture' developed by Wright, which includes an open plan, a blurring of the boundaries between exterior and interior and the unprecedented use of materials such as steel and concrete," said the World Heritage Committee in a statement. "Each of these buildings offers innovative solutions to the needs for housing, worship, work or leisure. Wright's work from this period had a strong impact on the development of modern architecture in Europe."

Frank Lloyd Wright, Frederick C. Robie House © Frank Lloyd Wright Trust
Frank Lloyd Wright, Frederick C. Robie House © Frank Lloyd Wright Trust

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy has worked for 15 years to ensure that Wright's works are recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. "This recognition by UNESCO is a significant way for us to reconfirm how important Frank Lloyd Wright's work was for the development of modern architecture throughout the world, " said Barbara Gordon, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. “There are nearly 400 remaining structures designed by Wright. Our hope is that the inscription of these eight major works also brings awareness to the importance of preserving all of his buildings as a vital part of our artistic, cultural and architectural heritage. All communities where a Wright building stands should appreciate what they have and share in the responsibility to protect their local – and world – heritage.”

Fallingwater, Carol M. Highsmith, photo via Wikimedia
Fallingwater, Carol M. Highsmith, photo via Wikimedia

Of Wright's constructions, the most famous are Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Fallingwater was commissioned as the weekend home of Pittsburgh department store titan Edgar Kaufmann and his family atop a waterfall in a forested region of rural Pennsylvania. The home is often considered the pinnacle of Wright's designs: a seamless synthesis of human design genius with the natural environment and established him as the premier American architect.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, view of the rotunda with fountain in the foreground. David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, view of the rotunda with fountain in the foreground. David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim's design was entrusted to Wright in 1943 by wealthy collector Solomon Guggenheim and his art advisor Hilla von Rebay and was Wright's only museum construction. Inspired by the shape of a nautilus shell, the museum's design incorporated the characteristic Wright tenets of natural transitions, a liberal geometric shape and the integration of building with the surroundings, as exhibited in the transparent glass rotunda crowning the structure.

Italy's Prosecco Region. Photo: Arcangelo Piai photographer © Consorzio Protection of Wine Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Docg
Italy's Prosecco Region. Photo: Arcangelo Piai photographer © Consorzio Protection of Wine Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Docg

UNESCO's recognition of eight Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings as World Heritage Sites ensures the architect's lasting legacy for generations to come. In addition, UNESCO also designated over twenty new World Heritage Sites across the globe, including Jaipur City in India, Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland and Italy's Prosecco Region.

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