Frank Lloyd Wright Trail sign — Photo courtesy of TravelWisconsin.com
To honor its native son, Wisconsin recently marked the world’s first Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, a 200-mile self-guided motor route that leads you to nine different sites designed by the world-renowned architect.
From public buildings to private houses – including Wright’s own Taliesin – the trail gives you a real sense of his visionary work and his philosophy of “organic architecture,” a phrase he coined and a style that changed the way we build. He strongly believed in harmonizing design with nature, and that becomes more and more apparent with each stop along the trail.
There’s even a Frank Lloyd Wright Trail app that you can download to give you directions and lots more information as you drive to each location.
As you get a firsthand look at some of the innovative spaces Wright created over his seventy-year career, you’ll understand why the American Institute of Architects named him the “greatest American architect of all time.”
SC Johnson Administration Building | Racine
SC Johnson Administration Building, Racine — Photo courtesy of SC Johnson
The global headquarters of the iconic household cleaning products company, this 1939 building is considered one of the top 25 buildings of the 20th century. “I wanted to build the best office building in the world,” said Herbert Fisk Johnson Jr, grandson of the company’s founder, “and the only way to do that was to get the greatest architect in the world.”
Wright designed everything here, from the 43 miles of glass windows down to the furniture. The impressive Great Workroom is a half-acre of open space known for its dendriform (tree-shaped) columns. Be sure to ride the “birdcage” elevators from the basement to the penthouse for the best views.
SC Johnson Research Tower | Racine
SC Johnson Research Tower, Racine — Photo courtesy of SC Johnson
This 15-floor tower was completed in 1950 as a vertical compliment to the SC Johnson Administration Building. It’s one of the world’s tallest cantilevered buildings, and features windows made of more than 7,000 Pyrex tubes.
Visit The SC Johnson Gallery, which showcases a rotating selection of the architect’s designs and artifacts, and don’t miss the replica of a 1950’s lab where scientists developed some of the company’s earliest innovations.
Wingspread | Racine
Wingspread, Wind Point — Photo courtesy of SC Johnson Foundation at Wingspread
Although it now serves as an educational and conference center for the company, Wright originally designed this 14,000-square-foot estate in 1939 as a residence for Herbert Fisk Johnson Jr. and his family.
Shaped like a four-winged pinwheel, it’s the largest of Wright’s Prairie School houses. Staying true to the architect’s organic roots, natural materials like limestone, brick, stucco and unstained wood blend into the surrounding woodland and prairie, creating a true celebration of the earth and sky.
Burnham American System-Built Homes | Milwaukee
Model B1 - 2714 West Burnham, Milwaukee — Photo courtesy of Wright in Milwaukee
Wright dreamed of building beautiful, affordable homes for every American, and his American System-Built Homes were a short-lived venture between 1911 and 1917.
Six of those homes still stand on West Burnham Street and Layton Boulevard in Milwaukee, an area that was considered “the edge of town” when they were built. Take a tour and appreciate Wright’s comment in Architectural Forum that he “would rather solve the small house problem than build anything else I can think of.”
Monona Terrace | Madison
Monona Terrace, Madison — Photo courtesy of TravelWisconsin.com
Framing the lake for which it was named, Wright’s “dream civic center” wasn’t completed until 1997, nearly 40 years after his death.
He spent 21 years working on the design, which he envisioned linking the shores of Lake Monona with the Wisconsin State Capitol. Today, Monona Terrace serves as a community gathering place and a popular spot for weddings.
First Unitarian Society Meeting House | Madison
First Unitarian Society Meeting House, Madison — Photo courtesy of First Unitarian Society of Madison
Hailed as one of the world’s most innovative examples of church architecture, this project was undertaken by Wright in 1947 at the age of 80.
Wright was a member of this congregation, and his preacher father was one of its founders. The movable seats accommodate a variety of activities, and the building houses a Unitarian Universalist community of more than 2000.
Taliesin and the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center | Spring Green
Taliesin — Photo courtesy of TravelWisconsin.com
Considered one of the most architecturally significant buildings in the country, Taliesin was the personal home and studio of Wright himself. Meaning “shining brow,” Taliesin was named in honor of Wright’s Welsh grandparents and it embodies the architect’s own energy, technique and creative vision.
This 800-acre estate overlooks the Wisconsin River and is the summer home of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. It stands as the longest continually evolving project of Wright’s career. As you walk around and get an inside look at the way Wright lived and worked, you’ll wish he had invited you to stay in that guest bedroom.
Wyoming Valley School Cultural Arts Center | Spring Green
Wyoming Valley School Cultural Arts Center — Photo courtesy of TravelWisconsin.com
Located just a couple of miles from Taliesin, Wright designed this former elementary school in 1957 for the children of Wyoming Valley. It’s the architect’s only public school.
Today, it’s used as a non-profit cultural arts center providing an inspiring space for workshops, performances, lectures and exhibits for all ages.
AD German Warehouse | Richland Center
AD German Warehouse, Richland Center — Photo courtesy of TravelWisconsin.com
Wright designed this commercial warehouse building in his boyhood hometown of Richland Center for a local commodity wholesaler, Albert Dell German. Although it once acted as a storage place for sugar, flour, coffee and tobacco, it now houses a gift shop, theater and exhibit of large murals illustrating Wright’s work.
The warehouse is especially notable because it’s one of the few major public buildings Wright designed around the time that it was actually built. It’s also his best remaining example of sculptural ornamentation, with a frieze of repeated cast concrete motifs encircling the top of the building.
Seth Peterson Cottage | Mirror Lake State Park
Seth Peterson Cottage — Photo courtesy of Kit Hogan
Just off the Trail, less than an hour from Taliesin, the Seth Peterson Cottage was the first – and is still one of the only – Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes in which you can actually stay overnight.
Small (there’s only 880 square feet of living space) and simple, it was one of Wright’s last commissions. He designed the cottage, which is balanced on the edge of a wooded bluff overlooking picturesque Mirror Lake, in 1958. It beautifully embodies his design principles of being open to nature and of making small spaces appear larger. As you make your way across the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, it’s the perfect place to spend the night.