Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Wright Stuff

One of the styles of architecture that we like, and which we think our new house lends itself to, is the Prairie style. This style is usually marked by horizontal lines, flat or hipped roofs with broad overhanging eaves, windows grouped in horizontal bands, integration with the landscape, solid construction, craftsmanship, and discipline in the use of ornament. One of the most celebrated architects associated with this style is Frank Lloyd Wright, and Robie House, the house he designed in 1910 for the Robie family in Chicago, is often considered to be the greatest example of this work. / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In designing this house, and others like it, Wright emphasized an open plan for the interior. He took the kitchen, sewing rooms and reading rooms, which were typically the domain of women in the house and hidden away at the rear of the house behind closed doors, and integrated them into the family space. The focus in the interior of the house is on the function of the family. Form then followed function. From this idea came today's open concept houses with the kitchen at the heart of the home.

Unfortunately, Wright's ideas had not been widely embraced in 1950s Ottawa, and as a result, the kitchen in our bungalow is securely ensconced at the rear of the house, through a door and down a passageway, thereby ensuring that whoever is working in the kitchen is separated from the rest of the family.

From the outset, we emphasized Wright's principles of interior design to our architect. Everyone knows that if you have a party, everyone ends up in the kitchen, so the kitchen must be at the heart of our renovated bungalow. You can see from our architects plans that she has done that, placing the new kitchen right smack in the middle of the house with excellent sight lines to all of the public spaces in the house.

On the exterior, I like Wright's emphasis on strong horizontal lines and the use of natural materials like wood and stone. As I mentioned, we already have a hipped roof with no gables, so the house already lends itself to the Prairie style. I also like Wright's idea of concealing the front door so that it cannot be easily seen when looking at the front of the house. This gives a sense of privacy and security, which is important when the interior plan is so open.

We have not yet seen our architects concept drawings for the front or sides of the house, but she knows our influences, so I am looking forward to seeing what she comes up with. In fact, today our architect, Linda Chapman, was featured in an article about the Prairie style in the Ottawa Citizen. The house shown below, which she designed, is showcased in the article. With its deep roof overhang, natural stone exterior and square columns, the house pays homage to Frank Lloyd Wright.

Interestingly, today's Citizen also ran a story about how major subdivision developers are starting to pick up on the Prairie style. Urbandale, for example, is marketing its new Horizon Collection of townhomes to be built in Kanata. Urbandale says that they are modeled on Wright's timeless classic, Robie House, although I would say its a fairly conservative take on Wright's house. Still, Urbandale says they have not revamped the exteriors of their townhouses since the '80s, and it was time for a new, fresh look. I find it interesting that they went with Prairie style. I am wondering if this will be the next trendy style in Ottawa as people start to feel that Modern is overdone? We'll see. Maybe we will be trend-setters with our house.

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