Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin and, like Robert C. Spencer, Jr., attended the University of Wisconsin. In 1887, only a few months before finishing his degree in Civil Engineering, Wright left Wisconsin in order to pursue an architectural career in Chicago, where he went to work for J. Lyman Silsbee, a prominent residential architect who had studied at MIT and was responsible for the popularization in the mid-west of the Shingle Style architecture of New England. In 1888, Wright left Silsbee's employ and entered the office of Adler & Sullivan, where he remained for seven years, handling most of Louis Sullivan's domestic projects.
In 1893, Wright opened his own office in the Schiller Building. It was at the Schiller, two years later, that Wright and Spencer became friends. By 1896, the friendship between them had apparently grown into a relationship of mutual admiration and professional exchange. As a result, when Spencer was invited by two MIT friends, Dwight Perkins and Myron Hunt, to move into the loft space of the newly completed Steinway Hall, Wright, the only one of the four who had not studied in Boston, decided to follow.
These early years spent in the creative and communal environment of Steinway Hall provided Wright contact with a group of young, well-educated, progressive architects who espoused an architectural theory based on picturesque, site-specific, functional ideals drawn from their experiences in New England and Europe. Following the holistic approach to design advocated by the Arts and Crafts Movement, Wright dealt with the total domestic environment. It would appear that from this nurturing environment, Wright formulated what is thought of today as the Prairie House.
A month after Spencer's "Southern Farmhouse" article appeared in The Ladies Home Journal, Wright published his "House for a Prairie Town," which shares many similarities with Spencer's design. Each has a two-story living room and a breakdown of walls resulting in a more open plan. In Spencer's design, the dining and living rooms are combined to form a large, uninterrupted public space. This spatial concept was completely developed and quite revolutionary. While the flow of space between the living and dining rooms in Wright's design is more open than a traditional floor plan of the time, he still maintains a distinction between the two spaces. This distinction is made not only through the dramatic change in ceiling level--the living room being two stories high while the dining room is one--but also in the use of partial partitions between the two spaces. Wright continued to subtly define each space in some manner until his Usonian houses of the mid 1930s. The similarities between these designs not only illustrate the interplay of ideas that existed at Steinway Hall, but also demonstrate the extent to which Wright was influenced by this exchange.
Wright's 1902 design for the Ward Willits House marked the direction of his mature Prairie School style. In this design, he moved beyond the use of obvious historical references, such as half-timbering or flared eaves, and yet continued in a picturesque tradition. It was with his mature Prairie School designs that Wright moved into a leadership position in progressive domestic architecture in both Europe and America.