Roots of Style: Prairie Architecture Ushers In Modern Design

Does your house hug and maintain the landscape and blend into the horizon? It could be Prairie structure or a derivation.

Consider the age. At the beginning of the 20th century, America adopted the Industrial Revolution while its population exploded as a consequence of immigration, enhanced innovation and health. Distance and abundant resources provided opportunity for psychologically, physically and expansion. Out of these seeds arose the Prairie style. Confident horizontal elements together with sturdy materials, while the Arts and Crafts movement inspired an overlay of fragile, hand-hewn particulars.

Three states define the significance of Prairie-style houses. To begin with, it’s an American original developed as a contemporary solution to some blossoming civilization and state. Second, it could be regarded as the first modern residential structure predating the West Coast–born Craftsman style along with the arrival of European modernism. Third, its original age temporarily lasted until around World War I, but its influence continued throughout the 20th century.

Northern Roof Tiles

Prairie traces to the late 1800s, when a set of Chicago-based architects started developing an aesthetic that dismissed classicism and medieval precedents since the framework for defining their residential designs. Amongst others, Louis Sullivan contributed to its evolution, but Frank Lloyd Wright became the most famous of the innovative group of architects and produced many landmark cases.

Situated in Buffalo, New York, the Martin house stands as just one instance of Wright’s prolific career, establishing the design. His exceptionally styled Prairie designs may be recognizable by the wide overhanging hipped roofs, contrasting concrete caps on preexisting brick walls, and one- or two-story massing arranged in a free-form asymmetrical manner. His Chicago Robie House remains the most notable landmark and closely resembles this layout.

Topped with a rare flat roof, the Wright designed Balch house in Chicago, revealed here, exemplifies progressive trends because of the time. The flat emphasis sharply contrasted other styles previously common. Notice how the window groups turn the corners, providing additional linear exaggeration, and predate the glass wall found in future modern structure. Windows articulate a geometric pattern, and balconies seem to float above the first-level porches.

Steven Corley Randel, Architect

Also called an American Foursquare, this Prairie sub-type developed as a vernacular response to Prairie design and can be found throughout the U.S.. A big square plan of two levels, with a huge porch and many times a basement, characterizes this design. As in this Long Beach, California, house, the porch expands into a carport along a single side. Hipped dormers commonly provide flexible attic area. Notice how the wood belt line, square porch columns and contrasting colour scheme supply horizontal emphasis.

PBH Construction

Prairie’s effect shows up in this suburban Dallas-area ranch-style residence. Though ranch originally developed in California, Prairie’s wide eave and hipped roof suited to this type of midcentury vernacular development across the country. Brick veneer became increasingly popular, especially in the Midwest, and successfully alluded to initial Prairie architecture.

Nicholas Design Collaborative

Although we readily associate Prairie with single-level designs, originals normally consisted of two levels. Pay attention to the confident altitude of the new Chicago-area residence. It closely resembles Wright’s original Prairie layout, the 1893 Winslow house. Imagine strolling through a neighborhood through Victorian times and coming upon this rectangular composition emphasized with flat detail. Notice the leaded and stained glass window sashes of the upper level center bank of windows. Arts and Crafts inspired these and other wooden particulars, which can be discovered in originals and faithful contemporary interpretations.

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Though hip roofs specify most Prairie designs, gable roofs seem in some, like this newer interpretation. Consider the foreshadowing of the glazed gable end of the house. This can be an important trait that shows up in midcentury modern houses.

Morgante Wilson Architects

In this contemporary interpretation of the design, the architects have given the stylish roof a floating appearance and used stone, instead of brick, together with stucco. Vertical elements contrast with flat rows of windows. Return to the picture of the Martin house at the beginning of the ideabook to see similarities in how the vertical lines encourage the overall composition.

Marshall Architects

The Prairie design here translates to some comfortable suburban massing. Vertical windows highlight the stairwell of the house, along with the stone veneer with a precast cap underscores the banks of windows.

Gelotte Hommas Architecture

Notice the massive masonry chimney on this fresh Richmond, Virginia, layout. Prairie chimneys often anchor the exteriors with their size and position. Characteristic of later variants of the design, this house sprawls and scattering the landscape. Large floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors establish the modern indoor-outdoor relationship.

VanBrouck & Associates, Inc..

In this newer Detroit house, the altitude stretches across its site but also descends to the right and back to show a multi-level strategy. Again, notice the contrast of the vertical stone veneered wall terminations with the extended flat eave line and rows of windows. This visual reinforcement provides the layout with a sense of permanence.

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Less the extensive and superbly detailed masonry here, this low-slung and rectangular layout resembles a frequent style found across the U.S.. While ranch design developed from the 1930s in California from the convergence of Spanish colonial and Craftsman architecture, among others, the Prairie aesthetic contributed to the proliferation of ranch architecture in the kind of the wide hip roof like exactly what we find in this example.


This Florida house adapts the Prairie theme to a warm climate and coastal atmosphere. Complex lighting highlights its own textures and vertical elements. Notice the use of the standing seam metal roofing, which has gained popularity because of its durability and contemporary aesthetic. Also interesting for this house is the Asian-inspired pagoda-type entrance gate.

As in most styles, the original eras lasted a few decades before being replaced in popularity by yet another brand new style or revival. The late 20th century created revivals or interpretations of pretty much every preceding fashion found across the U.S.. Some are executed with great precision and many others with less comprehension and often with influences of different styles.

These newer houses can often be considered diverse or even neo-eclectic. The examples here are referred to in the initial designation, though the newer versions are more precisely revivals or even “neo” interpretations.

Substantial time passes before the emergence of a specific stylistic designation. The team called the Prairie school weren’t termed as such before their job became studied by literary historians. Interesting is the preference for interpretation that converges with an architect’s creativity.

Roots of Style: Trace the history of your home’s layout

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