Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Triumph Returns

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie-style homes are some of the most recognizable pieces of residential architecture of the 20th century. Realized mainly in the first decade of the previous century, the homes have low-pitched roofs, horizontal windows, brick walls and heavy overhangs as signature components, and they simultaneously stand out from and echo the apartment complexes around Chicago, where Wright lived at the moment.

The Robie House is often considered the Prairie masterpiece (and possibly the last of his own projects in that style, because of the distinction and Wright’s want to go in other directions), but the largest is that the Darwin D. Martin House more than 500 miles off from Buffalo, New York.

The home, created and named for a president of the Larkin Company, was completed in 1904, but Wright’s involvement with the family and the provider predates the home and goes well beyond it to the 1930s. This ideabook tours what’s referred to as the Martin House Complex, comprising five Wright-designed buildings and a tourist center designed by Toshiko Mori and completed in 2009.

The complex was undergoing restoration since 1997. Its exterior is now in pristine shape, but the interior restoration is still in progress. Nevertheless the home is worth a visit.

Darwin D. Martin House at a Glance
Year constructed: 1904
Frank Lloyd Wright
Location: Buffalo, NY
Size: 15,000 square feet in the main house; 29,000 square feet in five buildings of this Intricate
Seeing information: Docent-led excursions can be found year-round.

In just about any opinion of the Martin House, the components of Wright’s prairie Design are evident: the roofs, the horizontal windows beneath the heavy overhangs, the concrete planters and the brick — Roman brick (thin and long), to be exact.

Here we are looking at the southeast corner of this 15,000-square-foot principal home — yes, it’s that big! This corner anchors the home at the intersection of Summit Avenue and Jewett Parkway; the home is accessed through the latter. Some privacy comes from the covered porch which extends toward us in the foreground.

To truly understand the entire project, it’s ideal to consider in one of Wright’s original renderings of this. This view is looking into the northwest — the two streets could be made out in the front of the home, as well as the vantage point of the preceding photograph, which appears at the construction on the far left. By the main home on the far left, a pergola extends into a conservatory and carriage home; into the right of these pieces is your Barton House, which is clarified in the next photograph.

The complex totals nearly 30,000 square feet on two acres. If you were to go to the website in, say, the late 1960s, one would see only the main house and the Barton House; they had been the sole surviving structures. Included in their restoration attempts, the pergola, conservatory and carriage house were completely rebuilt.

Before the building of the main house and its appendages, Martin commissioned Wright to design a home for his sister Delta, married to George Barton. The 4,400-square-foot home sits on the northwestern corner of the site (shown on the far right of the previous rendering). Its expression is like Martin’s own home, but its outside articulation and proportions make the earlier home seem skinnier.

The four buildings which Martin would add adjacent to the Barton House give the entire site an informal decoration, like a dumbbell running north–south.

The south elevation of the main house accentuates the lowness and horizontal nature of the plan, giving it less girth than its square footage could indicate. Like the majority of Wright’s Prairie-style homes, the entrance is concealed; a long route leads from the carport at the left to the main entrance in the center of this plus-symbol-shape program, aligned with the pergola beyond (scroll down to see the house’s floor plan).

This fish-eye photograph of this west side of the home is about the only way to grasp what’s going on from the back seat to the carriage home in its entirety. A slot close to the planter, just past the carport, is a service entrance to the main home. Beyond that is your pergola, a rather formal garden, and also the carriage house at the back of the website. Out of view to the left is Toshiko Mori’s customer center, which we’ll see later.

The rebuilt carriage home may look slightly different in its construction (mainly, the brick has less variation compared to the principal home), but overall it’s an impressive renovation, because of the restoration work completed on the principal and Barton homes.

The colors which Wright made with the concrete planters are accompanied by ornamental pieces atop the brick piers at the north end of the pergola.

Taking a look at the pergola from the other side (the Barton House is out of view to the right), we see the outside of the conservatory. The skylit space, on axis with the pergola, is highlighted by a full-size cast of Nike of Samothrace.

Given the magnitude of the website and the articulation of the buildings, the landscape took on a certain importance. Walter Burley Griffin worked with Wright about the scene, making both work together symbiotically.

Among the most essential components in the complex (and possibly the principal reason for reconstruction) is your pergola. The open-air walkway leads to the conservatory, but along the way it frames views of the landscape on both sides — the public side about the right and the private (driveway) side on the left.

The remainder of this area recalls Wright’s design for the Larkin Company headquarters, also in Buffalo and completed two years after the Martin House. Initially a soap business, Larkin expanded into other places and turned into a mail-order firm. Together with Wright it experimented using air conditioning in a big, central open area marked by piers reaching to skylights overhead. It was.

As mentioned earlier, architect Toshiko Mori made a visitor center for the Martin House Complex. Competed in 2009, the construction doesn’t attempt and replicate the plan of Wright’s home, rather choosing glass walls which open up the entire interior to the home on the east side.

The roof seems to magically float over the glass walls. It is actually an inverted hip roof (sloped on the bottom) which is mainly supported on four pillars in the center of the construction.

Like Wright’s Prairie-style homes, the visitor center has a roof which extends well beyond the walls to offer shelter around the construction and shade the glass and interior from sunlight.

The roof and glass may not mimic Wright’s design, but they mention it in a contemporary idiom and establish a frame of reference for the project across the driveway.

Within this ancient plan of this complex (north is to the right, incidentally), we may observe the main home on the left, the pergola leading to the conservatory and carriage house, and the Barton House sitting alone in the lower-right corner.

Also visible is that the extent of Griffin’s landscaping, a lot of it gone : the round planting round the east-facing porch, as an instance, and the rows alongside the pergola, since simplified to bud.

Historical photos of the interior display spaces much like the Robie House and other Prairie-style homes — especially, low nevertheless open spaces of brick and wood. Wright’s penchant for walnut has given owners of the buildings a hard time in terms of restoration, given how the wood’s open grain collects dirt.

Still another view of the living space points into how Wright managed to tip at the flow of space round even the most solid of walls. Over the sofa is an opening to the adjoining area, a curtain at left separates the living room and also space, and the door on the right leads to the large porch found from the first photograph.

The previous phase of the Martin House’s restoration is under way. It features an upgrade of its own heating, ventilation and ac system; electric and other solutions; the interior restoration — wood trim, paint, plaster; and outside site work.

First glasswork by Orlando Giannini will be reinstalled, marking the conclusion of this $50 million restoration and bringing the house back to the nation of more than a hundred years ago.

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