My history series has taken us from Egypt and Turkey to Europe and Britain. Today we’re coming home to the United States. If you’d like a handout of the entire series along with illustrations, send me an email.
The many architectural styles around the world can be seen right here. For instance, our Craftsman style is heavily influenced by the subject in my previous column and father of the Arts and Crafts Movement, England’s William Morris.
Wisconsin-born architect Frank Lloyd Wright, 1867-1959, was a strong advocate of this movement and believed a structure should be in harmony with its environment. He promoted this idea as organic architecture. He revolutionized spatial concepts with his introduction of open-plan layouts — the first of today’s great rooms you might say. Like William Morris, he believed in natural, quality materials and craftsmanship.
Wright moved to Chicago where, after its Great Fire, there was much building to be done. Between 1900 and 1901, he built four residential homes and wrote two articles about them in Ladies’ Home Journal. “A Home in a Prairie Town” and “A Small House with Lots of Room in it.” His residential designs were soon known as prairie houses because the designs complemented the land around Chicago. They were low buildings with shallow, sloping roofs, clean skylines, overhang, and terraces.
Wright was also inspired by Japanese architecture. He appreciated the aesthetic nature and detail of joints, pegs and complex woodwork and the idea of externalizing the structure of a house rather than hiding it with decoration. This was a new concept in Western architecture as were long, low windows, which allowed the interiors to connect with nature outside.
Like fellow Wisconsinite, Gustav Stickley, Wright designed furniture in a style befitting the Arts and Crafts movement. Simple, honest construction and materials that were carefully stained so as not to obscure the grain of the wood and the mortise and tenon joinery. And, like Louis Tiffany, Wright also designed stained- glass lamps.
In the 1920s, Wright designed a number of houses in California. He had shifted away from his prairie style and towards the use of precast concrete blocks — but his designs continued to incorporate the surrounding landscape, which often required terracing and cantilevers. Wright managed to make large, concrete rectangles (one part Portland cement, four parts sand or decomposed granite) look like they had naturally formed on site. He used large expanses of glass to unify a house and blur its boundary between interiors and exteriors.
The best example of this is Fallingwater built in 1935 in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. The house was built over a 30-foot waterfall with a series of cantilevered balconies and terraces that expose the stream, trees and foliage around it. Wright not only wanted its occupants to see nature through its large windows but wanted them to live with it as well.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic theory demanded that all components of a building appear unified, as though they belong together. Nothing should be attached to it without considering the effect on the whole. But really, this applies to all design no matter the style, doesn’t it?
Wright was not the only architect influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement. In California, Craftsman-style homes are often associated with Bernard Maybeck, architect and instructor at UC Berkeley and his student, Julia Morgan, who went on to design more than 700 buildings, including Hearst Castle.
Just two more parts to this series. Next up, I’ll tie together many styles into one and then end the series with Mid-century Modern.