The 19th century witnessed many changes taking place in America. With the political and economic prosperity of the new nation, the desire for a greater degree of cultural independence matured. Hence, the search for a quintessential domestic style manifested into an orthodox to defining American architecture in general. Originating from Chicago and spreading along the mid-western neighborhood, the Prairie Style of architecture is regarded as an extension from the Arts and Crafts Movement. The Prairie School was a name given to the movement emerging from a small group of dedicated architects with the common interest of creating a n new language of modern American architecture. This movement invited numerous respected individuals but the most celebrated being, Louis H. Sullivan And Frank Lloyd Wright. This essay will embark on the origins and formation of the Prairie Style and the development of the Prairie School movement. The designs of Frank Lloyd Wright will then be further discussed in detail to express the planning, spatial, decorative and philosophical basis of the style. In particular the Ward Willits House, Winslow House and Robie House will all be examined and observed in detail. Consequently, the influence of the Prairie Style will be examined in present day architecture.
The Prairie School Movement was nurtured by a number of pioneer architects who acknowledged themselves to be in harmony with the ideals and values of the America. While their personal styles differed, most of the prairie works had a definite, ‘Wrightian feeling’ to them. Most of the designers either worked with Wright himself or with his first employer and teacher, Louis H. Sullivan. Wright was in the employ of Sullivan and Adler from 1887 to 1893 and during that time the seldom accepted residential designs were given over to him. Most of Sullivan’s work was restricted to commercial projects but although he revealed little interest in domestic design, his ideas attracted a younger generation. These young minds addressed his method that, ‘one must go to school to nature.’
... minimize the difference between indoors and outdoors. Also, when Wright designed a prairie style house, he had the spaces inside the home expand ... led to the development of the "Chicago School" of commercial architecture. The Arts and Crafts Movement, which had began in England, had decorative ...
Frank Lloyd Wright opened his own office in 1893 with his first major commission for the William H. Winslow House. He recognized the Winslow House as the original statement for the Prairie style and called it his, ‘first Prairie House.’ The classical plan with its formal principles of tripartite divisions of base and symmetrical position of the facade, gives credit to Sullivan but Wright’s own style is articulated here with the subsistence of the deep overhanging roofs (Fig. 1).
The components of the house include the; the tripartite divisions of base, the breaking down of the facade, high walls, window bands and the axial placement of the central hearth (Fig. 2).
The key symbolism that depicts the Prairie style in the Winslow House was the, ‘sense of shelter in the look of the building,’ where every feature of the design embodies a significant understanding. The deep overhanging planes and calm horizontal lines unify the house and site while the central fireplace literally pins the structure to the earth and creates the relationship between the hearth and the dome, portraying a sense of shelter.
As concurrent to its name, the Prairie Style is the stereotypical image of the Midwest prairie, with its extensive area of wide, flat, horizontal grassy expanse that meets at the horizon. Here Wright synthesizes the natural surroundings and translates them into his buildings, constructing his own distinct style. This different outlook transformed the manner of architecture and produced new patterns of living which would later be known as the iconic Prairie Style.
The most significant formal experience of Wright’s youth that initiated the foundation of his architecture was the Froebel training which indicated his learning from nature, which then reinforced and contributed to his appreciation of nature when working at his uncle’s farm. This subsequently introduced him to the formative geometries at his time at Sullivan’s, that would later become the basis for his architectural principles. As a result of this training Wright was more interested in, ‘designing the world rather than representing it,’ designing understood as discerning the underlying structure of nature and building with it.
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According to Robert McCarter, the Ward Willits House, built in 1901 was the first, ‘true Prairie House’ by Frank Lloyd Wright and one of the first designs in his mature phase of work. The plan of the Willits House resembles a cruciform, pinwheel type relationship of the entry, living room, dining room and kitchen rotating about the fireplace (Fig. 3).
This arrangement allows the vibrant interior space to appear as if flowing from inside out. The primary, central, and horizontal volumes formulate the figure of the building. This tripartite symmetrical structure is a direct development of the plan for, ‘A Small House with “Lots of Room in It'”. The living room resides as a box-like enclosure while in contrast, the dining room transforms into a constant screen of glazed doors and windows. Wright cautiously formulates the composition of the structure so that it enhances the spatial experience hence portraying the vast expanse of the Midwestern Prairie (Fig. 4).
Observing the house from the street the entrance can be hard to pin point at first as there is a latter symmetrical form that it further blocked by a terrace wall projected out towards us.
The Unit System was experimented with before the Willits House but it is the first Prairie House to envelope the whole design. The Grid eliminated the depiction of historical references and the new dominance of rectilinear geometry. It essentially represents the basic elements in the grammar of organic architecture through the unit system, the grid generated, and the cantilever that releases the third dimension
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