He was born in the agricultural town of Richland Center, Wisconsin, and brought up with strong Unitarian and transcendental principles. Wright commenced his formal education in 1885 at the University of Wisconsin School for Engineering, where he was a member of a fraternity, Phi Delta Theta. In 1887 he left school, and did not earn his degree from the University of Wisconsin until 1889. When he left school in 1887, Wright moved to Chicago and joined the architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan. Beginning in 1890 he was assigned all residential design work for the firm. He left after seven years, following an argument, and established his own practice in Chicago in 1893. He had completed around fifty projects by 1901. He was married to Olgivanna Hinzenberg (née Olgivanna Ivanovna Lazovich), who had been a student of G. I. Gurdjieff who came to visit the couple at Taliesin. The meeting of Gurdjieff and Wright is explored in Robert Lepage's The Geometry Of Miracles.
Between 1901 and 1911 his residential designs were "Prairie Houses" (extended low buildings with shallow sloping roofs, clean sky lines, suppressed chimneys, overhangs and terraces, using unadorned natural materials), so called because the design is considered to complement the land around Chicago. Wright also played a significant role in "open plan" ideas for residential interiors and he came to regard interior space as a more significant part of his designs. He believed that humanity should be central to all design.
He designed his own home-studio complex, called Taliesin (after the 6th century Welsh poet, whose name means literally 'shining brow'), which was built near Spring Green, Wisconsin in 1911. The complex was a distinctive low one-storey L-shaped structure with views over a lake on one side and Wright's studio on the opposite side. Taliesin was twice destroyed by fire; the current building there is called Taliesin III. He visited Japan, first in 1905, and Europe (1909), opening a Tokyo office in 1915. In the 1930s Wright designed his winter retreat in Arizona, called Taliesin West; the retreat, like much of Wright's architecture, blends organically with the surrounding landscape.
It was also in the 1930s that Wright designed many of his "Usonian" houses—essentially designs for working-class people that were based on a simple geometry, yet elegantly done and practical. He would later use such designs in his First Unitarian Meeting House built in Madison, Wisconsin between 1947-1950.
His most famous house was constructed from 1935-1939—Fallingwater for E.J. Kaufmann at Bear Run, Pennsylvania, which was designed according to Wright's desire to place the occupants close to the natural surroundings, with a stream running under part of the building. The construction is a series of cantilevered balconies and terraces, using stone for all verticals and concrete for the horizontals. The house cost $155,000, including the architect's fee of $80,000. Kaufmann's own engineers argued that the design was not sound. They were over-ruled, but proved right—the cantilevered floors began to sag shortly afterwards. In the late 1990s, steel supports were added under the lowest cantilever, until a detailed structural analysis could be done. In March of 2002, post-tensioning of the lowest terrace was completed.
Wright died on April 9, 1959, having designed an enormous number of significant projects including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, a building which occupied him for 17 years (1942-1959) and is probably his most recognized masterpiece. The building rises as a white spiral from its site on Fifth Avenue. Its unique central geometry allows visitors to experience temporary exhibits on the slowly-descending central spiral ramp.
One of his projects, Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin, was completed in 1997 on the original proposed site, using Wright's original design for the exterior with an interior design by his apprentice Tony Puttnam.
Many speculate that the character of Howard Roark, an architect in Ayn Rand's book The Fountainhead, is based on Frank Lloyd Wright.