The Wright Way: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Contributions to KC

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Bott House, Sondern-Adler House, Community Christian Church, Fallingwater, Guggenheim, New York City, Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright, American architecture, Usonian style



Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright


Frank Lloyd Wright is a common name amongst the architectural world. He was – and remains — perhaps the most progressive, influential and renowned American architect to ever design a building. Or tons of them. Wright built into the land organically, rather than destroying it to fabricate a structure, as evidenced by the legendary Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. This incredible home literally sits perched upon a waterfall.


Fallingwater, Pennsylvania
Fallingwater, Pennsylvania


Another of Wright’s most famed designs is the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Suitingly designed in the stepped style of a ziggurat, which often featured a temple atop, the Guggenheim’s architecture created exactly what the builder insisted: a “temple of spirit.”


New York City's Guggenheim Museum
New York City’s Guggenheim Museum


The revolutionary designer developed and coined the architectural style of Usonian. Again, built into the landscape, these Usonian homes were very affordable, offered one level of an airy open floor plan, excluded basement and attics, boasted low roofs and were each individually created to adapt to the space surrounding them. You won’t find cookie-cutters when you glimpse a Wright building.


Frank Lloyd Wright thrice left behind his impression in our own Kansas City, Mo.  – and two of those are homes sporting the classic Usonian style.


3640 Briarcliff Drive: The Bott Residence, 1963


Bott residence Courtesy of Moderns 'R Us
Bott residence
Courtesy of Moderns ‘R Us

Frank and Eloise Bott wanted to build their own home in Kansas City – but not just any old home would do. At that point – the early 1960s – ol’ Frank was in his 80s. Eloise, lucky duck, had known Wright back in college, and Eloise and her husband actually went in person to Wright’s home in Wisconsin, called Taliesin, to plead that he lend his design to their humble home.


Wright's home in Wisconsin, Taliesin Courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
Wright’s home in Wisconsin, Taliesin
Courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation


The Botts had a trick up their sleeve; they knew Wright particularly loved designing hilltop homes, and they had just purchased a Kansas City hill on Briarcliff Drive. And he was sold – old man as he was, Frank Lloyd Wright still had plenty left in him. In fact, his first outline for the home is nearly identical to the end result – and hangs proudly framed within the Bott residence, an historic example of Usonian style.


Bott Residence Courtesy of Kansas City Spaces
Bott Residence
Courtesy of Kansas City Spaces


3600 Belleview Avenue: The Sondern-Adler Residence, 1940


The Sondern residence
The Sondern residence


This almost entirely made-of-cedar home also exemplifies that now familiar Usonian theme. It was built for Kansas Citian Clarence Sondern, who apparently didn’t enjoy it properly, as by 1948 the Sondern House had a new owner, Arnold Adler. Adler wanted a little extra space (Usonian homes weren’t known for their capaciousness), and so he brought Mr. Wright back to work on the home’s expansion design. That expansion was significant – from a mere 900 square feet arose a house complete with a dining, north and a south terrace – not to mention, a more-than-ample new square footage. Wright even incorporated his signature stepped-fireplace within the design.


Sondern House Interior
Sondern House Interior


4601 Main Street: Community Christian Church, 1942


Community Christian Church
Community Christian Church


Although some of Wright’s complaints were rectified in later years, the architect extraordinaire was not happy with the end result of his Community Christian Church in Kansas City. Funding issues thwarted many of his special touches, though the unornamented, window-lined smooth façade is telling of his influence. Wright envisioned a “spire of light” that would send rays of blue up into the darkness of night. He definitely didn’t envision the façade’s material being replaced with inexpensive concrete. No, Wright was disappointed, and sadly, he died decades before one of his visions finally came to fruition. In 1994, Wright’s “spire of light” was installed, and it’s as stunning as we hope he imagined it to be.


The Spire of Light Courtesy of the Community Christian Church Facebook page
The Spire of Light
Courtesy of the Community Christian Church Facebook page