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What is a Prairie Style House?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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A Prairie Style house is a home which has been designed in accordance with the architectural style known as the Prairie School. Prairie School architecture emerged in the Midwestern United States in the early 20th century as an alternative to traditional European design forms as well as machine-driven construction. Characteristics typical to the exterior of a Prairie Style house include strong horizontal lines, a low-pitched, hipped roof with wide eaves, and “bands” of windows. The interior of a Prairie Style house is designed to provide functionality and comfort, and often features open spaces, a central fireplace, and large amounts of natural light.

It is generally agreed that the Prairie School was originated in the late 19th century by Chicago architect Frank Lloyd Wright. After being mentored by older architect Louis H. Sullivan, Wright in 1893 founded a design firm which sought to shrug off the ornate European forms then popular in America and to favor artisanal construction over mass production. Wright believed that houses should appear to be an organic part of the landscape on which they are constructed. Thus the flat, treeless landscape of the Midwestern prairie called for low houses characterized by a strong sense of horizontality, creating the appearance that they have grown out of the ground.

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The highly distinctive exterior of a Prairie Style house can be recognized, first of all, by this perceptible sense of horizontality. The house appears to be spreading itself over the ground rather than soaring up toward the sky. Its roof is almost always hipped, or sloping downward on all sides, and this downward slope tends to be low-pitched rather than steep. In addition, the eaves, or edges, of the roof often protrude significantly beyond the house’s walls, seeming to reach toward the ground. Finally, the windows of a Prairie Style house are often arranged in wide bands which further emphasize the building’s horizontal lines.

Wright and his followers believed that a house’s style should serve the owner’s comfort and provide maximum functionality. Thus the interior of a Prairie Style house generally features a broad, open space which constitutes the main living area, a conscious refutation of the Victorian tendency to subdivide houses into small rooms. Division of this space is often suggested by a large central fireplace. Another feature common to the interior of a Prairie Style house is an abundance of natural light, which arises from the conscientious placement of the structure’s windows.

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