“For several years I sat at the little Kindergarten table-top … and played … with the cube, the sphere and the triangle—these smooth wooden maple blocks … All are in my fingers to this day …” Alofsin, Anthony (1993). Frank Lloyd Wright–the Lost Years, p.359
Based on the above words from Wright, his style formed as did the first original architecture in North America. Clean horizontal lines, flat or gentle sloped roofs with broad overhanging eaves. His style created the Prairie school of architecture, closely linked with the Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century, later we will understand how this is important in relations to the Martin House.
So, who was Martin, a man that wanted a house?
He was, a businessman, co-owner of the E-Z Stove Polish Company in Chicago. He watched as his brother built a house in Oak Park. William, the brother, worked with an architect named Frank Lloyd Wright. The house impressed Martin that the next thing he did was to persuade Wright to build his own house in Buffalo, New York. He worked with Wright on a number of projects, including Larkin Administration Building, the first commercial building for the architect. Martin liked Wright so much that they began a lifelong friendship, helping him as his career progressed.
The House, Martin’s House!
The Martin House Complex wasn’t just one big house; it consisted of five different houses: The Martin House, The Barton house, The Carriage House, The Gardner’s Cottage, The Conservatory and The Pergola. Six, if you count the Pergola. Let’s dive “Wright” in, shall we?
The Martin House, built 1904-1905, a beautiful example of architecture, its strengths reside in the open plan and the unlimited budget Martin allowed Wright to use. With close to $300,000 Wright was able to design a library, dining room, living room, a porch at the ground level. These spaces morph one into the other. The second floor holds eight bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a sewing room. Ok, but how about the architecture? What makes it so remarkable?
The type of plan Wright uses is a Peripheral plan with heart at center. The special thing this plan type achieves is the strong relationship with the exterior while maintaining the introverted feeling of the center. He expanded on the idea of Palladio’s Rotunda with the central plan.
The materials he used are brick, steel, and glass. Modern and traditional in a delicious cocktail. The way he reinterpreted classical architectural of European descent, while covering his tracks became his signature look, just look at the entrance, that colossal order from the renaissance reshaped into brick, but maintaining the feeling, it’s commanding. The low profile with clear long and elegant lines make the project fit seamlessly with Americas open fields. We have to take note also for the way the house is implanted in the land, with so much care for the surrounding spaces, always controlling for perspective and shaping the land.
The interior, keeps the furniture, some fifty-five pieces designed by Wright. A collection of custom oak tables, chairs, couches, art glass doors, and massive bronze firewood boxes. Let’s not forget the barrel chair, which was used in later projects as well. Frank was influenced by Japanese art and craft and used Japanese ceramic vases, urns and about twenty prints to enhance the interior. Having so many different materials, the way he managed to create a harmonious whole stands tribute to his exquisite eye and mind. Let’s see the other buildings in the complex.
The Barton House, built 1903-1904, the same style as the Martin house it was the first building on the lot to be completed. You may ask why a second house? Well Martin also had a sister, Delta, and this house was for her and her husband. The building has a cruciform plan with the living spaces concentrated in the middle part. On the ground level the reception, living, dining areas that open into each other like we talked about above, and the kitchen separate near the porch. The second floor with two main bedrooms, two small bedrooms, and a bathroom occupy only the central part of the building.
The Carriage House, built 1903-1905 was the garage of the time, you could park your carriage inside, it had stables for the horses, and on the second floor an apartment for the chauffeur. As architecture goes the design mimics the main house with articulated corners, pier structure and brick finish.
The Gardener’s Cottage, built 1909 was a small house built for servants and an example of Wrights architecture on a budget. Although the house looks like a box, the architect tried to create the illusion of piers to brake the shape visually. The gardener, Reuben Polder, was very pleased with his house and continued to tend to the whole complex, including providing fresh flowers for every room in the Martin house until Martin’s death.
The Conservatory, rebuilt 2004-2007 is a greenhouse created for Martin’s passion of horticulture. This cathedral of plants has a cruciform plan with the central “nave” covered by a large glass skylight. In the northern niche a statue of Nike watches over the greenery. The conservatory was rebuilt in the third phase of the restoration project.
The Pergola, rebuilt 2004-2007 is the axis of composition for the whole complex, dividing the grounds and organizing all the elements in a coherent manner. The covered space, provides a good way of observing the gardens without fear of the elements. A good connection between interior and exterior. The pergola connects Martin’s House with the Conservatory and Carriage House. One of the best vistas is from the entrance of the house through the pergola and on to the statue of Nike in the Conservatory.
Frank Lloyd Wright tried to establish the first original American architectural style, he did it, and nobody can mistake him with a European architect. The American Dream, a prosper business, a happy family and a great house on your land. Wright believed he could make the world better, more beautiful, more organized and more interesting.