Table of Contents

Prairie School 1900-1925

Fig.47, Purcell-Cutts house in Minneapolis
Fig. 47
The Prairie School originated in Chicago as a loose group of writers, artists, architects, and landscape architects. The architectural style evolves from the principles of Louis Sullivan. The best-known architects of this style in the Midwest are William Gray Purcell, George Grant Elmslie, and Frank Lloyd Wright. The Purcell-Cutts house in Minneapolis (1911-1913), designed by Purcell and Elmslie (Fig. 47) is an excellent example of the Prairie School architectural style, while the garden pond in front, reflecting the lines of the house, is in the rectilinear Neoclassic style.

Although Frank Lloyd Wright is often included in Prairie School his designs are unique. As the American architectural genius of the early 20c, he designs the house relating it to the landform. He designs with nature, not against it. The horizontal is stressed with hipped roofs, and wide overhangs (to cool in summer but capture the light and warm in winter). Massive low chimneys are characteristic as is the use of native stone and unpainted wood. His homes have many built-ins but none of the decorative millwork of other Prairie style homes. Horizontal rows of windows often wrap a corner to capture the view. There is a blurring of indoor and outdoor living space. Often built on wooded suburban lots, there is an effort to preserve or create a woodsy view. The landscaping has a Japanese influence, appears naturalistic, with no obviously pruned hedges, and with asymmetrically planted trees, and a fair amount of lawn. Wright feels that the house should improve the landscape and is said to design houses that float among the trees.

In landscape, the Prairie style is most visibly expressed in public parks (built mostly by 1910). Instrumental in this design direction are Fredrick Law Olmstead, and H.W.S. Cleveland (designer of the Twin Cities Park system), Jens Jensen, Ossian Cole Simonds, as well as many others. In public parks or designed neighborhoods, the flowing drives and undulating lawns, dotted with trees and shrubbery promote a sense of serenity, with structures merging into the landscape (Tischler, 1989). Simonds’ Landscape Gardening, expresses the need to study nature for design inspiration, and ardently promotes the use of native trees and shrubs once considered weeds. The grouping of plants that would naturally grow together in nature, introduces the idea of "planting in the vernacular".