Domestic Work Image Map

Concurrent with the commercial building boom of the late 1890s and the aftermath of the World's Columbian Exposition, a group of four young, progressive architects came together in the loft space of Chicago's Steinway Hall Building to form the initial core of what would become known as the Prairie School. Robert C. Spencer, Jr., Dwight Perkins, Myron Hunt, and Frank Lloyd Wright, were soon joined by others including Thomas Tallmadge, Irving and Allan Pond, Walter B. Griffin, and Marion Mahony Griffin. United by the question of the future of American domestic architecture, they sought solutions which responded to the regional characteristics of the Mid-West. Much of the Prairie School theory was based on the English Arts and Crafts Movement, advocated by William Morris and C. R. Ashbee, among others; however, the American Arts and Crafts movement, unlike the English movement, was primarily concerned with aesthetics rather than social reform.

There were different regional responses to the Arts and Crafts movement in America that, within the canon of modern architecture, have been represented as visually independent and antithetical. New England tended to embrace the architecture of its colonial past, while the Prairie School sought inspiration from other sources. As a result, the Prairie School is characterized as an indigenous and unique architectural phenomenon, devoid of all influence from the East. The writings of Wright and Louis Sullivan have done much to perpetuate this image, as each sought to divorce his work from that of Eastern colleagues.

However, this characterization does not fully represent the sources and influences that provided inspiration for the works of the Prairie School group. Maintaining a conceptual separation between the architectural impulses of Boston and Chicago fails to address the common educational experience that served as the generative source for the theories of many of these architects. Spencer, Perkins, and Hunt were all educated at MIT, as was J. Lyman Silsbee, Wright's first employer. Louis Sullivan himself attended MIT for a year in 1874. Nearly half of the other early Prairie School architects including Marion Mahony, Thomas Tallmadge, and Herman von Holst were at MIT or had their early professional experience in the Boston-based firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge.

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