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The Prairie School of Architecture: 1895-1920

prairie style home dallas

Prairie School architecture was developed by a group of architects in Chicago and the midwest in the first two decades of the Twentieth Century. Frank Lloyd Wright was prominent in the movement.

(The name "Prairie School" was not used at the time, it was invented by architectural scholars in the 1960's.)

dallas prairie style home

During the closing years of the Nineteenth Century, the large, architect-designed homes of the wealthy class were mostly built in some variation of Neoclassical architectural style. (The middle-class version of this design trend is called "Queen Anne" architecture.) The Prairie School architects felt America needed to break away from its long reliance on European historical modes. They felt America needed an authentic architecture of its own, born and bred in the USA. The Prairie School architects designed homes for "nouveau-rich" clients who (unlike the "old money" back east) were willing to allow their architects to experiment with new styles.

The Arts & Crafts Movement was the mother of two similar schools of thought regarding residential architecture. The Craftsman Bungalow came out of the work of Greene and Greene in California. The Prairie School arose in the Midwest.

The Craftsman Style and the Prairie School are alike in many ways: Both types of home represented a break from the Victorian ideals of home design. Both rejected the slavish imitation of classical forms from Europe. Both emphasized simplicity of ornament and honesty of materials and surface finishes. Both sought to unify the exterior form, interior decorative scheme, and the furniture of the home into one consistent artistic vision.

The Prairie School was developed by a group of architects in Chicago. Frank Lloyd Wright is the icon of the movement.

willits house

Wright's design for the William Willits House in 1902 included major elements of Prairie School design: the cross-axial floor plan, the center fireplace, and the low-pitched hip roof with wide extended eaves.

By enclosing the eaves (in contrast to the open eaves of the Craftsman Bungalow), Wright created a strong horizontal emphasis.

But the Willetts house was only a first step in developing the design vocabulary of the Prairie School.

As the years passed, Wright and his fellows used additional architectural elements to reinforce the horizontal emphasis. For example the manner of bricklaying might include belt courses in the brick. Or there might be a continuous horizontal accent running between the upper level window sills. Or there might be a change in material on the upper section of the wall. Finally, the house might be extended visually by the inclusion of a porte-cochere.

The arrangement of windows was also used to emphasize horizontal lines. The windows are large units installed in multiples, commonly three to five in a row. The Chicago School Architects preferred the casement window (often with elaborate stained leaded glass decoration), but the casement window is not well-suited to the hot climate of Texas. Double hung windows were used here instead of casement windows. Mullions on the upper lite are common here, while the lower sash usually has one large pane of glass.

Brick is the dominant exterior material in the "academic" prairie-style home. Front columns are simple massive masonry columns without the half-wooden box column of the Craftsman houses. Entry porches are broad and large, usually placed off-center on the front elevation. Sleeping porches became common elements of these homes.

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