The State of Wright: Darwin D. Martin House
Location: 125 Jewett Parkway
Status: Open for tours
History: The Martin House is the ultimate expression of Wright’s Prairie house ideals as first unveiled in his sketches for A Home for a Prairie Town. Here, he could take those ideas and develop them to the fullest with a house built for one of the wealthiest executives in the country. Much like a Chicago skyscraper, the house uses steel, brick, and reinforced concrete. Wright created a bold cross-axial plan with strong north/south and east/west axes. By removing the load-bearing function from the exterior walls and creating a hierarchy of exterior and interior piers, Wright was able to create an expanse of open spaces.
What to look for: Spend some time outside to see the historic Parkside neighborhood, originally a first-ring suburb of the City. Then realize that Wright strove to create a style of architecture that would be appropriate for America, and would not copy styles from Europe. Observe the strong horizontal lines; the Martin House does not just sit on top of the site, but is of the site. Note the repeating bands of horizontals in the massive water table, the walled terraces, the deeply-raked brick, broad roofs, and wide sheltering eaves. The dramatic use of cantilevers, terraces, massive chimney caps, and porte-cochere complete the composition.
Inside the house, look for the continued use of the same natural materials used on the exterior. There’s no flocked wallpaper here! The finish and texture of the golden brick in the walls provides the decoration. Experience Wright’s devices—the compress/release of space, the subtle manipulations of room function and procession, and the connections to nature.
Comments: Now deep in Phase V of the restoration, furniture and color have been returned to the Reception Room and the Unit Room (a groundbreaking seventy foot-long unification of dining room, living room, and library).
In the Reception Room, notice the dazzling “Tree of Life” windows that wrap the south wall of the room. These are probably the most famous of all of Wright’s art glass window designs and perhaps the most labor-intensive. (Many of the clear glass windows throughout the complex will be replaced with Wright-designed art glass as funds allow and the restoration continues.) Secondly, look for the barrel chair. Perhaps Wright’s most well-known and most comfortable piece of furniture, it would be used in a number of his subsequent projects but was originally designed for this room.
The barrel chair and gorgeous sunburst fireplace are two of the places where Wright broke the rectilinear grid of the estate. Fifty-five masons worked for two years on the brickwork for the house, an amazing statistic that can be understood by admiring the tapered bricks of the room’s handsome fireplace.
Watch for the sensational Orlando Giannini glass mosaic tile fireplace, which is being restored for the central pier of the Living Room.
Over the next two weeks we will post a series that organizes each Wright gem by location, history, what should be seen, and additional information that may pique visitor interest. There are many more resources, including guided tours for most sites, excluding the private homes. It is hoped that this guide will inspire readers to see firsthand the reasons why visitors from all over the world make the trip to Buffalo to experience Frank Lloyd Wright.