Frank Lloyd Wright: How did he become the most famous architect in the world?

Frank Lloyd Wright was fired because his style was so iconic and unique. He was working as an architect’s apprentice at Adler & Sullivan. But because his lifestyle was extravagant, he spent more than his salary could afford. To pay off his debts, Wright would moonlight and take on outside clients against his contract. He designed at least 9 houses to pay for his expensive tastes.

Unfortunately for him, when Sullivan passed through a newly built house, he immediately recognized the style. Even though Wright had not found his full swing yet, his style was recognizable. The purity of the geometric composition especially for the balconies, and the banding of windows close together to let in more light had Wright’s name written all over it.

Because Wright’s contract specifically forbade outside work, he was fired.

How do you build your own iconic style?

The prevalent design style of the era was Victorian. Where style was given centre stage. Rooms were small but stylishly decorated. Roofs were steep. The interiors as well as the exteriors were ornately designed. 

Wright rebelled against this style. He believed that “no house should be on a hill. It should be of the hill.” Importing and building British style houses for the American midwest didn’t seem right to him. And so, he built houses that seemed to belong to the open and spacious American midwest. Open layouts and huge windows. Horizontal lines to resonate with the treeless expanses of America. Flat roofs. And not a lot of ornamental design. This “Praire style” of architecture caught on and helped Frank Lloyd Wright make a name for himself.

But while rebelling against the current trends helped him create his own unique style, that’s not what made him the most famous architect in the world.

What made Frank Lloyd Wright the most famous architect in the world?


Wright designed houses that others were afraid to even attempt to build. He designed a mile high building: a 528 floor skyscraper – that no one has the budget to build.

He designed the Guggenheim museum in New York. More people talk about the shape of the building than the art inside it!

And his most famous design by far is the Fallingwater. Show a million architects an estate with a waterfall on it. Tell them to design a retreat home over there where one could escape the city life from. And not one will build the home right on top of the waterfall!

And yet, that’s exactly what Wright designed. His clients were actually disappointed when they first saw the plans of the home – as they wouldn’t get the views of the waterfall from their windows. But Wright pushed for his idea. And built a place which has been voted as the best all-time work of American architecture. It’s been listed by the Smithsonian as one of the 28 places one needs to see before they die. Everyone who sees it is left in awe!

And it was all because Frank Lloyd Wright is the most audacious architect who has ever lived. He wants to build things that others feel is impossible!

How can you become audacious?

You can be the most skilled person in your field and yet people won’t know about you. That changes with audacity. Because it is audacity that wins attention in our noisy world. Audacity stretches your mind and pushes you out of your comfort zone to achieve the impossible. 

You need to be audacious.

But how?

Audacity lies at the intersection of being extremely bold and a little unconventional. You have to disregard the current norms and trends and laws. And do it with panache. 

Take a trend and do the opposite. And do it with boldness.

Frank Lloyd Wright hated lovely looking Victorian houses with small rooms. He believed that homes should feel spacious. And so he did the opposite: started designing open spaces. With tall ceilings. But the way he did that was by being bold with design. When a person would enter a Frank Lloyd Wright home, it would have low ceilings. And suddenly and abruptly, as he passed a passageway, he would find himself in a room that opened up with very tall ceilings!

Unconventional + Boldness = Audacity

Whatever you do needs to feel reckless. It needs to scare your pants off! Or else, it’s not bold enough. Author Jim Collins coined the term BHAG in his book “Built to Last.” His research shows that the companies that outperform their competitors and the stock market are the ones that set BHAGS. Big hairy audacious goals.

Collins tells the story of Boeing. Imagine you are working at Boeing. You just had to downsize from 53,000 employees to 7,500 after the end of World War 2. You are still getting almost all your business from the air force. And your engineers come to you with an idea to build large jet aircrafts – not for the air force but for the commercial airlines.

Your research shows that no commercial aviation company is interested in buying from you because everyone believes “Boeing only builds bombers.” Your competitors say that propeller planes will dominate because they are cheaper to build – which is what commercial airlines want. And it’s estimated that R&D for jet aircrafts will cost 3 times your last 5 years profits!

What do you do?

You commit to the audacious goal. You build the 707. And you change the world of aviation!

How to trick yourself into being bold

Here is a trick to trick yourself into being bold. Think of your smartest colleague or competitor and think of a task for him: what’s the most daring thing he can do in your field?

And then do that dare yourself.

The downside of audacity

The downside of audacity is that you will fail. A lot. Frank Lloyd Wright designed more than a 1000 houses and buildings. Only about 400 of them were ever built. Not everything he designed was practical to build or even loved by his clients. Not every dare is achievable.

But as they say, aim for the stars and you’ll at least reach the sky. Without audacity, you won’t be noticed at all. Without audacity you will never push through your own limits. You will never end up doing the best of your work. 

Action Summary:

  • What’s the most audacious thing you can do? Dare yourself to achieve the outrageous!
The Guggenheim museum
Fallingwater: building a house on the waterfall!

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