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Where did FLW design ideas come from? Based upon my extensive research and my own architectural design intuition I offer my own theories about whom I believe to be the greatest architect in world history.
Personality Because of both nature (genetics) and nurture by both parents, FLW was blessed with great skills. Was he brilliant? He may have developed brilliant ideas over time, but in my opinion he was not brilliant. He was probably above average in intelligence. His greatest strength was his synthesis of personal skills and a supremely self-confident desire to develop an innovative architectural language. He was not a sensitive individual and was not deterred by failure or setbacks or the norms of society. Taking enormous personal and professional risks was not a deterrent. He seemed to thrive on risk taking when it yielded the potential of innovation. He was a bit impulsive at times. At the same time when he developed or found a great idea elsewhere that contributed to his developing architectural language, he had the wisdom to take hold of it and use it repeatedly. He had an incredibly dogged perseverance in pursuing his vision of an original architectural language. With time he developed great intuition. This incredible stew of personal traits was the core of an extremely creative individual with great sales skills who was driven for recognition and success.
Eclecticism Someone described FLW as being an architectural magpie. I believe that he was both an architectural magpie and a visionary. He was certainly opportunistic. His initial design language and life long design philosophy in my opinion borrows heavily from Louis Sullivan. Although FLW decried Beaux Arts Architecture, he certainly used their proportional systems throughout his career. This reinforced what he learned as a young child educated with the German Froebel System.
The Japanese Pavilion at the Columbian Exhibition was critical to FLW and others development of what became known decades later as The Prairie School. This term was coined not by FLW, but his good friend Robert Spencer. The Japanese Pavilion was the source of two fundamental ingredients of FLW's Prairie House language, the running head trim that tied together doors, wall openings, and windows in a wonderful horizontal, lyrical manner. Also FLW took the broad overahanging eaves from this critical source. Prior to the world's fair FLW had an affinity for Japonisme with its incredible impact on western culture.
The Prairie School architectural language was not developed by FLW in a vacuum without unrecognized from other fine young architects and employees. Robert Spencer developed a wonderful residential design, based upon the Japanese Pavilion, that FLW had tacked up on the wall above his desk according to Marion Mahoney. This was part of the inspiration for early FLW Prairie House language. Other young talented architects that FLW shared a studio with contributed to the language. A truly great conceptual idea that FLW used with wonderful effect on several masterworks came from an employee, Walter Burley Griffin, in response to a challenging design problem. The Thomas House site was right up against a multi-story Victorian apartment building. It was Walter Burley Griffin
I think if you agree that his work was superior to his contemporaries, and with his lifelong record of accomplishment well documented, "something" sets artists as Wright apart from others. His buildings speak like no others.