Friday, March 28, 2014

Prairie Style Architecture: A Departure from the Norm

Henderson Castle,  a Queen Anne home finished in 1895,
Kalamazoo, Michigan
By Gretchen Sawatzki

You can't talk about American architecture without acknowledging the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 - 1959). A true innovator of architecture, Wright's impact can be seen all across the country. But did you know he created an architectural style all his own in an era when homes like Henderson Castle in Kalamazoo, Michigan with towers, heavy decoration, and parlors were the norm? That's (W)right (pun intended)! He did.

In the early 1890s, Wright was given his first independent commission to design a home for William Herman Winslow, owner of a successful ironworks in River Forest, Illinois. Looking for an opportunity to showcase his style, Wright designed a large rectangular structure with little ornamentation, a low hipped roof, central chimney, and wide eaves with a monochromatic color scheme and symmetrical front facade. This style of architecture became known as the Prairie Style.

A wide departure from the Queen Anne homes of the era, the Winslow House was first Prairie Style home completed in 1894 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. Today, it stands as reminder of how one person challenged the social standard of living. With many of Wright's creations open for tours including the Meyer May House (1909) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Frederick C. Robie House (1909) in Chicago, Illinois, and Wright's Home and Studio (1889) in Oak Park, Illinois, anyone can see into the world of Wright.

William Herman Winslow House, Prairie Style of
architecture, finished in 1894, River Forest, Illinois
Identifying Prairie Style homes can be tricky to the untrained eye since they tend to mimic Craftsman Style architecture of the same period. Keep in mind though, that Wright's ideal of living was a perfect marriage of form and function, which challenged the social norm of heavily decorated homes. To Wright, every item in or on the home should serve a purpose. For this reason Prairie Style homes have little exterior ornamentation. An easy rule of thumb is think plain not insane when it comes to ornamentation!

There are other key characteristics worth keeping in mind as well when identifying a Prairie Style home. Look for these seven characteristics and you're well on your way to becoming a Wright aficionado!

Characteristics of Prairie Style Architecture:

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