Living green, the Wright way
Frank Lloyd Wright homes open doors to the idea of organic architecture.
Sunday, August 1, 2010 - 19:08
GREENHOUSE: Oak Park is home to many Frank Lloyd Wright works of organic design. (Photo: truzirconia/Flickr)
A home built in 1906 is on the Chicago land real estate market for $1.5 million. It's an outrageous amount of money for some prospective buyers who see overwhelming horizontal lines and a long, broad, overhanging rooftop.
Other buyers see a historical work of art, designed by an original.
There was a time when houses were built in conjunction with the natural resources around them. One particular architect appreciated the value of wood, stone and brick materials. He designed his homes as shelters in nature, instead of following common European design. Frank Lloyd Wright is responsible for a movement called organic architecture — using a buzzword way ahead of his time.
"Wright's homes were unique to anything built during that time period," said art historian Jeff Mishur.
Recently I attended one of Mishur's presentations on Frank Lloyd Wright and his significance in Chicago's architecture scene.
Mishur gives tours across the U.S., taking visitors inside some of the most celebrated homes in the industry. His presentation focused on Wright's impact on the Oak Park neighborhood, a town that sits just outside of Chicago.
Mishur explained the importance of the Prairie Style homes designed by Wright.
The homes' distinct style represents the native landscape of Middle America. They emphasize horizontal lines and flat roofs. They're built on big lots and embrace integration with the surrounding landscape.
"Wright really appreciated Japanese architecture, and modeled his homes after that style," said Mishur.
The Asian influence is seen in many features of Wright's designs, including his own homes and his studio. The 5'8" architect designed with his size in mind. His homes featured low ceilings that manipulated interior space.
"If you were tall, you'd have to duck in most of Wright's homes," said Mishur.
In addition to shorter confines, Wright's Prairie homes were symmetrical with bands of windows, sculptures and unbelievable detail. Mishur also mentioned the importance of stained glass windows featured in Wright's home studio in Oak Park, as well as "Taliesin" in Spring Green, Wis.
The Prairie homes of Illinois were the primitive beginnings of Wright's creativity. He later continued elaborating organic architecture in homes like "Fallingwater" in Bear Run, Penn., and "Taliesin West" near Scottsdale, Ariz. Such homes featured elaborated landscape using sunken gardens, terraces and balconies. Fallingwater was actually built on top of natural streams and running water.
Throughout his career, Wright faced success and hardship, designing his homes based on emotion and experience. Across the country today, Wright's homes are on the market not just for families to call home, but to restore a piece of organic architectural history.
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