Frank Lloyd Wright – Why His Buildings are White Elephants

Frank Lloyd Wright is a name synonymous in architecture circles, as he was one of the most controversial and flamboyant architects of his time. He was directly responsible for designing over 1,000 structures, with over 500 actually completed and built. As well as designing homes and apartments, Wright was responsible for designing office buildings, schools, skyscrapers, churches, and hotels. He is considered one of the leading figures in American architecture and was rated as the greatest all-time American architect.

But, this wasn’t a viewpoint shared by everyone, and some people found criticism in Wright’s work and ideals. Many of his buildings are considered to be fantastic works, but some are thought of more negatively. We’ll look a little at the philosophy of the man, and then explore why, in some circles, his buildings are seen as white elephants.


Wright believed in what he referred to as ‘organic architecture.’ This is where he felt that structures should be designed in such a way that they were in harmony with their environment. Of course, this didn’t sit well with a lot of people, but, nevertheless Wright achieved a lot of success. This was especially the case when he adopted a more organic style a little later in his career.

It was a philosophy that he championed and poured into his Usonian approach to the architectural landscape of America. Wright developed a reputation as a built of a maverick, one who was not afraid to do things a little differently. His designs are as iconic as any you can think of, and part of that is to do with his organic approach.


One of the best examples of his work and philosophy is encapsulated by the building Fallingwater House (also known as the Kaufmann Residence. It has regularly made ‘must visit’ lists, and was dubbed as the “best ever work of American architecture.” It’s definitely a striking design, and Wright hasn’t been afraid to take risks or get creative with it. The house underwent costly renovation in 2001 and is now a museum attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors per year.

However, even Fallingwater has not been without criticisms, and many have documented the various mistakes made in the design of the building. The overloading of the beams caused sagging and cracks began to appear in parts of the home. There were also alleged to be issues with the roof design as well as the structural integrity of the home.


In spite of his obvious success and ability, there has been a lot of criticism leveled at Wright’s work over the years. Many people felt that Wright prioritized appearance over structural support and security. Many of his homes and building often had problems with roofs not being properly supported, something that was discovered during subsequent renovations. This led to security and structure issues, safety problems, and leaking.

The foundations of some of his buildings were often quite weak, and, as a consequence, there was no plan for future maintenance and upkeep in the design. Drainage systems were not always the best in his buildings either, and they were incredibly wasteful of energy. Of course, this wasn’t so much of a problem back then, but today it’s seen as a big problem.

Wright’s buildings often cost a lot of money to build, and his emphasis was always on aesthetics and design. This is something that a lot of people feel is wasteful, and the money could have been better spent elsewhere. Expensive designs that don’t account for structural issues have led many to dub his buildings as ‘white elephants,’ i.e. something that is usually expensive, and often without purpose.