As Simon and Garfunkel told us, “I can’t believe your song is gone so soon. I barely learned the tune so soon so soon.”
We visited Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, to tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio and see homes he designed. A century ago Wright started developing his Prairie homes, with external features such as a low-slung building profile and overhanging roofs. During the tour of his home and studio, we learned that he developed and used important design patterns for building interiors.
His home and studio are shown below. The house is the 2-story structure on the right, and the studio is on the left. The house front is dominated by a triangle. Wright used geometric shapes in his buildings, in contrast to the curves of art nouveau, a style of the era.
Wright tried design ideas in his home. The tour guide said that Wright pioneered the open floor plan. In his home, the entry, living room, and study are connected by wide 6′-8′ openings, instead of the usual doors that are smaller and opaque. Wide openings between rooms, especially when you can see rooms across a diagonal, makes the space feel larger. Today’s great room, combining the kitchen, eating area, and family room, is an example of an open floor plan. Wide openings are examples of Half-Open Wall, a design pattern (number 193) in Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. This excellent book identifies and provides examples of design patterns for communities and buildings.
Wright also employed varying ceiling heights — the hall to the children’s play room has a low ceiling, while the play room has a high, barrel-vaulted ceiling. Moving from the low hall ceiling to the high ceiling of the play room makes the play room feel more spacious. Ceiling Height Variety is pattern 190 in Alexander’s book.
A Pattern Language, written in 1977, doesn’t cite sources for the patterns, but Wright’s home clearly predates Christopher’s work. When designing our home, we used design several patterns from A Pattern Language, including Half-Open Wall and Ceiling Height Variety.
In the first picture Wright’s studio is to the left of the home. The entrance to the studio is shown below. To enter the studio, you walk up the stairs to this landing, then walk between the columns to discover the door to the studio. The guide said that Wright liked people to discover the door, so the location of the door isn’t obvious from the street.
Wright designed more than a dozen homes in Oak Park and another nearby town. Wright designed the Arthur Heurtley House, located on the same block as the home and studio. The Arthur Huertley House illustrates features of Prairie homes: the wide roof over a band of windows, stained glass windows, and horizontally textured brick walls. The front door is under the arch.
We saw the Wright homes and studio because of Wright’s fame as an American architect. We learned that his ideas and influence extend beyond the Prairie style to design patterns employed in many homes today, so his work lives on, even beyond the prairie.