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What is the Prairie School?

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  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2016
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The Prairie School is a style of architectural design made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis H. Sullivan and other architects beginning in the 1890s. The Prairie School of design began in Chicago. Architects of the Prairie School were inspired by idea of incorporating nature into residential home design and breaking free of traditional architectural constraints.

Louis H. Sullivan was one of the movement’s most outspoken proponents. Sullivan taught other architects about the Prairie School, including Wright, who was heavily influenced by him. Wright and other notable architects such as Robert C. Spender, Jr. and Dwight Perkins began to live together and influence one another’s work in 1896. Their dwelling, housed in the Steinway Piano Company in Chicago, was referred to as The Loop. These productive exchanges continued when Wright built a studio adjacent to his own house.

Many of the Loop designers were employed in Wright's studio at various times, including Walter Burley Griffin, Barry Byrne, Marion Mahoney Griffin and William E. Drummond. These men and women all continued actively designing and influencing one another after Wright left the studio for Europe in 1909. These Prairie School designers were covered extensively by the highly regarded Western Architect magazine, beginning in 1911. This style remained popular and productive until the end of the first world word, when Wright’s aesthetics shifted toward Usonian homes and Americans as a whole adopted more conservative tastes.

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Prairie School homes emphasize natural material undisguised by paint or varnishes. Intended to blend in with the flat landscape of the Midwest, these houses were designed around a chimney, with an intentional blurring of indoor and outdoor space. Rooms were not divided by doors and had many windows, again an attempt to make the house and its surrounding environment one. Covered entryways and skylights were also a hallmark of Prairie School design.

Wright also had a tendency to act as interior designer for his Prairie School homes, selecting carpet and furniture for the owners. The nine-room Beachy house still contains a dining room set designed by Wright. Wright’s W.W. Willits house, located in Highland Park, Illinois, was constructed in 1902 and epitomizes Wright’s interpretation of Prairie School style. Another notable example of Wright’s Prairie School designs is Chicago’s Robie House, built in 1909. The Roberts house, built in 1908 for Wright’s secretary, features a porch built around an elm tree, another incorporation of nature into Wright’s designs.

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ZsaZsa56
Post 3

Is anyone still making building in the Prairie style? It seems like Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the most famous architects of all time but is his work still relevant? Has it had a lasting impact on the world of architecture or has it been relegated to text books and case studies?

tigers88
Post 2

I wish that Wright was still around. Some much of today's architecture looks exactly the same and when people try to do something different they often do it in very predictable ways.

I feel like most of the new "show buildings" that pop up around the would are based more on building techniques than aesthetics. They are feats of engineering rather than feats of beauty and imagination.

The Prairie school architects had a style that was completely their own and based on a philosophy that was fully formed in their minds. They believed that building not only could look this way but should look this way. That kind of commitment to artistic principles is sorely lacking in today's building world.

chivebasil
Post 1

Frank Lloyd Wright has always been one of my favorite architects. I was a very precocious child and had a strong interest in architecture. It began with the classical architecture of the Greeks and Romans and then developed into an interest in skyscrapers.

But when I first saw a picture of Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie style bungalows I was blown away. They are so amazingly organic looking, as if they grew straight up out of the field. He deserves all the accolades he has been given. His was a truly unique vision.

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