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Prairie Style of Architecture in Buffalo, NY

Illustrations Beneath Text

Prairie style houses (1905-1915) may be viewed in a larger context as one type of Arts and Crafts ("Craftsman") style architecture.

Vernacular examples were spread widely by pattern books and popular magazines; they are common in early 20th-century suburbs throughout the country. Most were built between 1905 and 1915; the style quickly faded from fashion after World War I. See American Foursquare, the earliest Prairie form.

The prairie house is one of the few indigenous American styles. The name is key to the style. The stereotypical image of the Midwest prairie is that of a wide, flat, horizontal, treeless expanse that meets the horizon.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright's early work is in this style and he is the acknowledged master of the Prairie house.

To translate this scene into architecture, Wright, designed a horizontal building that was low to the ground. Thus, the architectural features:

  • Broad horizontal forms
  • Low-pitched roof, usually hipped with deeply projecting eaves
  • Honest use of materials
  • Organic ornament
  • Two stories, with one-story wings or porches
  • Eaves, cornice and facade emphasizing horizontal lines, often with massive, square porch supports
  • Bands of casement windows
  • Large, low chimney that forms the hub of the house
  • Free-flowing interior plans
  • Seamless transition between indoors and outdoors
  • Both Prairie and Craftsman/Arts & Crafts (a one- or one-and-a-half-story is a Bungalow) have widely overhanging eaves, but the Prairie style does NOT have exposed rafter tails or decorative beams or braces under the gables

Wright himself claimed that the interior of the prairie house held the greatest significance. With his "open plan" (minimum number of separating walls on the first floor) he sought to "beat the box," to escape the Victorian compartmentalization which he claimed was stifling the American family. The archetypal vision of the Victorian home, with mother entertaining the ladies over tea in the parlor, the father smoking cigars in the study, and the children banished to the nursery upstairs, was Wright's nemesis. To avoid this subdivision of space, Wright did away with the conventional divisions between spaces on the lower floors of his prairie homes. Rather than setting rooms in the house apart in its space and function, he unified them into one common space (Martin House example).

The style originated in Chicago and landmark examples are concentrated in that city's early 20th-century suburbs, particularly Oak Park and River Forest.

Many of the architects in the Prairie School worked with Wright himself or with his earlier employer and teacher, Louis Sullivan. Others absorbed Wright's and Sullivan's influence simply by being in Chicago Among the most important were George W. Maher, Robert C. Spencer, Jr., Thomas E. Tallmadge, John S. Bergen, Vernon S. Watson, Charles E. White, Jr., Eben E. Roberts, Walter Burley Griffin, William Drummond, F. Barry Byrne, George E. Elmslie, and William G. Purcell.

In Buffalo, Wright designed five prairie houses:

Wright also designed Graycliff, the Martins' summer home in nearby Derby, NY.


In Tokyo, Japan, Wright designed the Jiyugakuen Myonichikan Girls' School in the prairie style.

Prairie Style Features

Click on photos for larger size

Exterior: Two stories
William R. Heath House
.

Exterior: Buttress piers
Darwin D. Martin House

Exterior: One-story wings or porches
George Barton House
.

Exterior: Roman brick
Darwin D. Martin House

Exterior: Pedestal urns
William R. Heath House
.

Exterior: Eaves, cornices, and facade emphasizing horizontal lines
William R. Heath House

Exterior: Stucco
Gardener's Cottage
.

Exterior: Built-in planter box
Gardener's Cottage

Porch: Massive, square porch supports
Darwin D. Martin House
.

Porch: Deep, horizontal
George Barton House

Porch: Hipped-roof over
George Barton House
.

Exterior: Widely overhanging eaves with enclosed rafters
Gardener's Cottage

Roof; Low-pitched
Walter D. Davidson House
.

Roof; Hipped usually
George Barton House

Roof: Clay tiles
George Barton House
.

Roof: Broad, flat chimney
William R. Heath House

Windows: Grouped casements ("ribbon" windows)
Darwin D. Martin House
.

Windows: Geometric patterns of small pane window glazing
Walter D. Davidson House

Windows: colored glass ("art glass"), leaded glass
George Barton House
.

Interior: Built-in cupboards
George Barton House

Oak doors, sometimes with lead glass
George Barton House
.

Exterior: wide soffit under projecting eaves
George Barton House

Interior: Roman brick
George Barton House
.

Exterior photo -

29 Tillinghast Pl.

36 Tillinghast Pl.

 


Text sources:


See also:


Photos and their arrangement 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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