Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washngton

Alfred Adler, Friedrich Froebel, &
Frank Lloyd Wright

by Henry T. Stein, Ph.D.

Copyrighted 1997, Revised and re-titled 11/18/13. Reproduction Prohibited Without Permission.
Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washington, (360) 647-5670

As I read Norman Brosterman's book, Inventing Kindergarten, about the influence of the Froebel kindergarten on modern art and architecture, I was struck by the number of conceptual similarities among Alfred Adler, Friedrich Froebel, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright claimed in his later years that as a child he was deeply influenced by the Froebel "gifts," a set of geometric wooden shapes and colored tiles that were part of a sensory/conceptual/spiritual educational process. Brosterman suggests that artists like Braque, Klee, Kandinsky, and Mondrian, as well as the architect Le Corbusier, may have been strongly influenced as children in the Froebel kindergartens. Considering that many of Adler's principles resonate with those of Froebel as well as Wright, perhaps, as a very young child, like many other creative individuals of his generation, Adler was also deeply influenced by Froebel's ideas, materials, and philosophy of living. I see no specific reference to Froebel in any of the Adlerian literature; however, considering time and place, (Adler was born in 1870 in Vienna) he probably attended a Froebel kindergarten.

According to Brosterman:

(page 96) By 1872, kindergarten had become compulsory throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire for all children under six years of age, and instruction in the Froebel method was made obligatory for all students of normal schools and teacher-training classes. In 1909, there were seventy-two kindergartens in Vienna alone.

(page 13) The gifts were intended to be nothing less than a model of universal perfection and the key to recognizing one's place in the natural continuum. Froebel believed that learning the sacred language of geometry in youth would provide a common ground for all people, and advance each individual, and society in general, into a realm of fundamental unity.

(page 32) One universal law upon which Froebel based all of his principles was unity or inner connection. The interconnectedness of all things was the governing force in Froebel's philosophy and pedagogy and the broad foundation for all of his developmental concepts.

(page 32) ...more than any teacher before him, he recognized the unity of an individual's physical, intellectual, and spiritual powers...

(page 34) The study of nature sensitized children to the underlying logic of the structures and symmetries in the plan and mineral kingdoms so that they might recognize perfection within themselves and learn to appreciate the interdependence of all things.

(page 35) The habit of pointing out "the moral of the story" that was traditional in education, and particularly in Sunday school, was anathema to Froebel, as it robbed the child of the opportunity of drawing his or her own conclusions...

This style of education may have contributed to the Socratic flavor of Adler's therapeutic technique. All of these principles (unity, perfection, interconnectedness, interdependence) promoted by Froebel in his kindergartens could be viewed as precursors to Adler's theory and philosophy of living.

Perhaps the finest modern art, architecture, and psychology are rooted in the aesthetically, conceptually, and spiritually rich Froebel kindergarten.

The theories and philosophy of Adler and Wright share a number of similarities.

Adler devoted his life to a profound study of the dynamics of human nature; Wright emphasized the deep study of nature and its principles.

Adler articulated the expansive feeling of community that could grow into a feeling of embeddedness in the entire universe; Wright referred to unity, the oneness with the world, with God, and with all forms of life.

Adler used the term "style of life" to reflect an individual's purposeful response to the problems of living; Wright considered style to be the designer's answers to serving the building's purpose.

Avoiding simplistic typologies, Adler described the absolute uniqueness of each individual within the context of his environment, encouraging him to improve his living situation for the benefit of all concerned; Wright designed each home to reflect the owner's individuality, uniqueness, and way of life, enhancing the beauty of the site.

Adler believed that the cognitive, affective, and behavioral (often, even the somatic) aspects of the personality all act as a unified whole, leading in the same direction, influenced by an unconscious, fictional final goal; Wright's organic architecture integrates the parts and whole into an inseparable unity.

Adler examined all expressive movement, posture, gait, gaze, and gestures, seeking the coherent, repetitive theme that could be captured in the smallest detail (like a handshake); Wright framed ornament as an abstraction of the larger plan, variations of a theme repeated.

Adler translated all of the client's thinking, feeling, and action into simplified, abstracted movement, imagining where it was coming from and going to: Wright translated his visions of human movement in space into abstract, geometric forms.

Finally, Adler created a psychology for democratic living, emphasizing social equality; Wright evolved an architecture for a democracy, emphasizing the human scale.

Adler was a man very much before his time; yet many of his ideas have been adopted or adapted by contemporary psychology without giving him credit. Similarly, Wright's ideas have so permeated modern architecture that we have lost track of the source. With a profound respect for human beings and democracy, both men envisioned more meaningful and inspiring ways to live.


  1. Adler, Alfred. Understanding Human Nature. Edited by W. Beran Wolfe. Greenwich: Fawcett Publications, 1954.
  2. Adler, Alfred. What Life Should Mean to You. Edited by Alan Porter. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1980.
  3. Brosterman, Norman. Inventing Kindergarten. New York: Henry H. Abrams, 1997.
  4. Lind, Carla. The Wright Style: Re-creating the Spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: Simon & Shuster, 1992.
  5. Pfeiffer, Bruce Brooks. Frank Lloyd Wright: His Living Voice. Fresno: California State University Press, 1987.

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