You heard it here first: the next big thing in Atlanta housing design will be Prairie style. This Midwestern-borne school of architecture originated in the early 1900s and is most closely associated with Frank Lloyd Wright, but there’s reason to believe we’ll be seeing more of it popping up around town in the near future. Here’s what you need to know.
What we now refer to as Prairie architecture was a reaction by Chicago architects to the Neoclassical craze that swept the country in the 1890s. They sought to develop a specifically American style, and the resulting buildings were characterized by open floorplans, grouped windows, overhanging eaves, controlled use of ornament, and an overall feel of horizontality. This last feature ended up giving the style its name.
Prairie style wasn’t a huge hit in Atlanta during its initial heyday. There are a few really genuine examples of this style in some of the intown neighborhoods, but for the most part our bungalows and foursquares are in the less edgy Craftsman mode. Oddly enough, Jacksonville, Florida has a strong grip on original Prairie buildings in the southern U.S., owing to a 1902 fire and a willingness to experiment. It took a while, but it looks like Atlantans are ready to give it a second chance.
In 2005, a Prairie-influenced home was built in the exurban-New Urbanist Vickery community as part of a Better Homes and Gardens contest. I remember thinking it looked a little out of place amidst the more traditional designs, but now it seems like Toby Long of Clever Homes was a few years ahead of his time. More recently, there's a trio of infill homes by Jones Pierce Architects going up in Virginia Highland that would probably make Frank Lloyd Wright smile, or at least grin. Jones Pierce was also responsible for the striking contemporary Prairie house that has majestically overlooked Euclid Avenue in Inman Park for the past few years. A quick Clickscape search turned up this Prairie home for sale in Oakhurst that was designed by Eric Rawlins, whose portfolio includes a number of similar homes around town.
So why the change of heart? Well, I think Atlantans are ready for something new, even if it is actually an old idea. We’ve been stuck in a Craftsman bungalow craze for the past 10 years, and Prairie isn't that far of a leap for a town that's still conservative architecturally, at least when it comes to our homes. Prairie homes are traditional enough to appease those who want to keep the look of older intown neighborhoods, and modern enough for those who like a little edge. But rather than looking like a compromise, they tend to embody the best of both worlds.