Resources to learn Frank Lloyd Wright architectural style?
July 3, 2016 5:55 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are buying a house that's been remodeled in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. Thing is, we're not architecture students. Help us learn more so we can maintain and build on what we have!

So the house was remodeled a few years ago and takes a lot of notes from Frank Lloyd Wright. Sight lines, more things being long and horizontal, things like that. I clearly have no idea what I'm talking about, though. The house is in good shape, but eventually we'll want to do work on it and change things around.

Neither of us really understands design particularly in the Wright style, so I'm turning to the hive mind. What resources can we use to understand aspects of the house as it is? What can we read or watch to understand Wright's style and people who follow in his footsteps, and then apply that to our house?

(Apologies if this is a little scattered.)
posted by gchucky to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The term you want to google for is “Prarie Style”.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:22 PM on July 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

The long, horizontal thing is Japanese inspired. So, in addition to the link (below), you would benefit from googling "frank lloyd wright japanese inspiration".
posted by Michele in California at 6:34 PM on July 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you know if you live near any Wright houses that are open for tours, or are you close enough to visit Fallingwater (PA), Taliesin (WI), or Chicago (several houses and the Art Institute collection)? I think touring them is extremely helpful and the docents re very knowledgeable. It helps to see the furniture, windows, fences, landscaping, etc., that he designed for his spaces ... indoors, especially, the furniture really makes or breaks it. The Art Institute of Chicago has a spectacular Wright collection and you can do a Chicago Architecture Foundation Frank Lloyd Wright tour ... they have a few to choose from. Their web shop also has some good FLW books to choose from.

Really you can't beat a Chicago trip to see Wright's work and those of his predecessors like Sullivan, as the Prairie Style was born out of the Chicago School and Chicago is the best city in the world for architecture of that era (to the point that it's called the Chicago School!) but possibly I just think everyone should visit Chicago as often as possible!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:54 PM on July 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been a confirmed Wright fan since my teens, a trait inherited from my father (who had his mother salvage a Wright-related item from a dumpster, now one of only two still known to exist), and this was all long before the resurgence of interest in Wright in the 90s. I've toured several of his structures, and I concur that this is the best way to get to know Wright's organically-inspired architectural style. There are a fair number that are open for touring, and even a select few that you can stay in, AirBnB style.

As you may know, Wright is considered one of the greatest American architects, and is emblematic of the architect-as-auteur, with personality to boot (he had quite a colorful, and at times tragic, personal life). A select few of his buildings have been nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a bit unusual in our era of buildings mostly designed in-house by contractors and engineers. This is just to give you a sense of the veneration he receives.

All that said, there's a touchy part here and that is the question of what is Wright-inspired. I am sure you may encounter snobs who look at your house and don't see the value in the "Wrightian" remodel, particularly if it had a distinctive character before the previous owner retouched it. There's also the aspect of real estate agents, often meaning quite well, describing things as "in Wright's style". The way you've put it, though, it sounds like you have a bit of understanding that this is a tricky kind of question to answer. The thing is, Wright's style evolved over his lifetime, and involved some sidebar experiments as well as things that were more about functionality than design per se (e.g. the Usonian house, a kind of inexpensive kit house for the masses). A fair number of legitimate Wright apprentices worked for him at the Taliesin Foundation, and still more of his influence spread, even to the basic design of the post-WWII ranch house of no real style. Occasionally, people mistake other styles for his, such as Craftsman bungalows, but again it sounds like you're more on target here than that.

But yes. Start with visiting the nearest real designs of his that you can, and perhaps buy some of the better books about him (or some by him), so that you can understand more of his philosophy and approach. It wasn't just a style for style's sake, it was an entire ideology of architecture that was by turns contrarian, populist, organic, experimental, and even confounding. I would also try to raise your general level of knowledge about American architecture and look at some other works that might cause you to be inspired in other ways such as A Pattern Language, which has been discussed here and there at MeFi over the years, it's that influential. In other words, don't get to know Wright in a vacuum. If you ever do modify your home, hopefully it will be in a way that respects the building and its alterations yet improves its functional purpose as a home in which humans live, today, in the 21st Century. Good luck!
posted by dhartung at 11:39 PM on July 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Have the roof inspected. Wright's houses are notorious for roof failures.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:55 AM on July 4, 2016

Just Googling "frank lloyd wright houses" brought up quite a display of pictures.

You don't say if the remodel of your house included the interior. You will want to check out his habits in interior design because they are as important and distinctive as the exteriors, and more under your immediate control. He was well known for designing to his own shortish stature and not allowing for taller clients. For example, see here.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:14 AM on July 4, 2016

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