What Is The Prairie Architecture?

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Written By Staff Writer

Prairie style emerged in Chicago, Prairie Architecture is an ode to nature and all things down-to-earth. The low-lying form of construction is often termed the “marriage of buildings to the ground.” 

The reason? First, the architectural form celebrates laid-back structures in its literal meaning. The Prairie houses are characterized by their vertically suppressed but horizontally-expanded design.

Next, the style is a homage to the surroundings of an artificial structure. The architect uses materials, colors, and shapes that turn the focus of the beholder towards the grounds rather than the building itself.

But where did Prairie Architecture come from? Who fathered it? And what do these houses look like? If you are looking for answers to these burning questions, you are in the right place. This blog post covers all the basics of Prairie Architecture’s origin, evolution, and execution. 

So keep on reading.

Origin of The Prairie Movement

Prairie-style architecture is the work of several young architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1893, Frank Lloyd Wright laid the foundations of his architectural practice in the quiet suburbs of Chicago, Oak Park. 

With an aim to get over the archaic European styles, the new design intended to represent American life in the Midwest. Wright’s architects combined preliminary principles from the Arts And Crafts Movement and the legendary work of architect Loius Sullivan.

The result was buildings and homes deeply rooted in nature and simplicity but with modern aspects of horizontal planes and ornamentation. Wright published building plans in 1901 with the title “A House In The Prairie Town”. That was when the aesthetics became officially renowned and remained popular till 1915.

Although live-lived, Prairie houses caught the public eye due to their distinct American aesthetics and influenced the architecture of several prairie style buildings like schools, park buildings, warehouses.

Influence Of Prairie Style homes On Modern American living

To date, the Prairie art form continues to affect modern architecture throughout America. Structures and buildings seem to be heavily inspired by the low-laying Prairie style.

You can find the style in its most abundant form in Oak Park, Illinois, where it originated. The houses focus more on the horizontal lines, roofs are cantilevered, natural elements prevail in the space, and there is an evident flow of outdoor elements inside the structure.

Modernist architecture found its roots in the Prairie style. Like Prairie style homes, modern houses have expansive windows and an influx of nature incorporating modern elements. 

However, the two differ due to their most focused planes. While Prairie style homes are flat and horizontal, modern homes celebrate a balance between the two planes.

Characteristics Of a Prairie Style Home

prairie design

Wright designed the Prairie-style house with the notion that architects should construct a dwelling to serve the dweller. Hence, the art form features a heavy emphasis on simplicity, elements of nature, natural light, and open spaces.

A few common characteristics among these houses are:

  1. Heavy Geometry

Prairie architecture is famous for its focus on the geometry of structures. The horizontal plane was of utmost importance, and houses were spread-out with suppressed roofs and sharp flat lines. 

A large central chimney and shallow roof lines further contribute to the geometrical mass.

  1. Horizontally Placed Windows

Windows are usually installed in rows across a straight horizontal line and are wide and open to welcome the elements of nature.

  1. Natural Exterior

The exterior of these homes is usually brick or stucco to pay an ode to the natural materials.

  1. Open concept and open Floor Plans

The floor plans were usually symmetric, and more spread out to give a feeling of vastness to the whole space.

  1. Natural woodwork

Subtle detailing in woodwork is pretty standard in Prairie homes. The carvings were kept to a minimum to celebrate the raw form of natural elements and keep the grain of the wood intact.

  1. Built-in Arts
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Windows had painted glass that served as art pieces, and several furniture pieces were built-in to keep the accessories in the house to a minimum.

  1. Inside-Out Spaces

Unlike most houses with a floor plan corresponding to their outer environment, Prairie houses are inside-out. The idea is to let the outdoors flow inside to stay connected with nature instead of being confined in a home.

  1. Consistent Motifs

These houses featured consistency with the choice of motifs and designs throughout the structure. One shape or pattern took over the building’s woodwork, glass art, chimney, furniture, plaster, and all other forms.

FAQs

  1. What was the Prairie style of architecture, and give an example?

The Prairie style of architecture was a purely American art form featuring low-laying houses, flat cantilevered roofs, rows of windows, and a focus on natural elements. The Arthur B. Heurtley House is an example of a home constructed with Prairie aesthetics.

  1. What is modern Prairie-style architecture?

Modern Prairie architecture combines the modern-day affinity of high ceilings with the Prairie inclination towards horizontality, large windows, open spaces, and natural materials.

  1. What is the difference between Prairie style and Craftsman?

The Prairie art form is newer than the Crafstman, hence more contemporary. The Prairie homes are more refined and sleek, while Craftsman houses are chunky and conventional. However, the essential details are similar, such as simplicity, natural materials, and clean lines.

  1. Which features are found in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie-style architecture?

Wright’s Prairie houses shared shallow, low-laying roofs, suppressed walls, spread-out structures, large, heavy ventral chimneys, rows of expansive windows, open floor plan, fine woodwork, glass art, and inside-out spaces.

  1. What was the first Prairie-style house?

The Stockman House in Iowa was built in 1908. It is the first house built in the Prairie School style.

  1. What makes a Prairie house?

Heavy geometry, emphasis on the horizontal plane, overhanging eaves, rows of windows, bricks or stucco exterior, and ornament wood carvings are characteristics of a Prairie house.

  1. Where are Prairie houses located?

You can find Prairie-style houses in most numbers in Oak Park, Illinois.

  1. When were Prairie homes built?

Wright published a building plan in 1901 titled “A Home In Prairie Town.” He built the first house in 1908.

  1. Is Prairie-style organic architecture?

Yes. The prairie style follows the organic approach of keeping a close connection with the surroundings and welcoming the outdoors within the house through natural materials like wood, stone, and glass.

  1. Who designed the Prairie style?

The Prairie style was pioneered by a group of young architects led by Frank Lloyd Wright.

  1. How is the Prairie like a house?

Just like a Prairie which is a vast wide-spread stretch of low-lying grass, the Prairie-style houses are spread-out, suppressed, and lowly laid.

  1. What were the houses made of in the Prairie?

The Prairie School-style homes use natural materials throughout their construction. The exterior is made of bricks and stucco, with the interiors featuring wood, glass, and stones.

Conclusion

In an era when most houses in the US relied heavily on European architectural forms, the Prairie style home was the first purely American school of design. Then, with a heavy influence from the Craftsman houses, Prairie houses showed extensive use of natural materials, rich geometry, open spaces, inside-out structures, and fine artwork.

Finally, Even though the art form was short-lived, it is marked as the beginning of modernist architecture. Oak Park, Illinois, is the birthplace and still exhibits a few museums and private residentials featuring the typical design.

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