On a recent trip to Buffalo New York, I had the pleasure of visiting the Darwin Martin House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I love buildings, but I know nothing about them – so, who better than Jamie Kwan our resident Architect to write this article to accompany my photos to really do this building justice.
Where the Prairies Meet Buffalo, NY: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House
Of all the architects in the world, the one name that probably most resonates with those in North America is Frank Lloyd Wright. Heck, he was even named by the AIA (American Institute of Architects) as “the greatest American architect of all time”.
When you think of big-named architects, they’re most often associated with big-named/scaled/budget projects – museums, concert halls, stadiums, etc. Interestingly, Frank Lloyd Wright is most well known for the smaller end of architectural projects – furniture, windows, and single-family homes. His work is speckled all across the north-east region of the United States, however one of the most iconic houses, the Darwin Martin House, is located in the unlikely city of Buffalo, NY.
In fact, there are about ten projects by Wright in the Buffalo area – once a booming industrial city. Of his work, the Darwin Martin House (and its surrounding complex) most represents his core visions for the early Prairie Style architecture that he worked towards – one influenced by the flat, quiet, and peace of the Prairie landscapes. It was built over a century ago – really hard to believe, considering the majority of modernist buildings didn’t appear until 30-40 years later!
If you’re in Buffalo, or even passing through, a visit to the Darwin Martin House is a must! It’s located in the historic Parkside neighbourhood, and open all year-round. When you get there, you’re greeted by their beautiful (and award-winning!) Visitors Centre – Greatbatch Pavillion. Designed by Toshiko Mori in 2009, the building is as contemporary and public as it can get, complimenting yet completely contrasting with the Darwin Martin House. The inverted hip roof echoes the horizontal forms of the house and floats atop floor-to-ceiling glass, offering uninterrupted views of the complex. Here you’ll find special exhibitions on Frank Lloyd Wright and his life, as well as other admissions-related information.
Try not to just pass through the Visitor Centre after you grab your ticket – take advantage of the views from the Visitor Centre and marvel at the overall form of the Darwin Martin House in the context of its surrounding site. Wright designed the house to reflect the image of the Prairies and blend completely with nature – the house’s overall form lies very low to the ground, thanks to an exaggerated hip roof that extends well past the exterior wall in true FLW style. He even takes it as far as to use bricks that are horizontally thin, as if you didn’t get the message already! He takes a lot of influence from the serene image of Japanese art and architecture, so if you get in a mindset where you’ve just seen the most peaceful of landscapes – well it’s all in the design! The walls almost disappear under the canopy of the roofs as if the house is completely exposed to the elements.
As you enter the house, you really notice the amount of detail that went into the design. This was the type of project where the client gave the architect complete creative control and a virtually unlimited budget– and one of the reasons why the Darwin Martin House remains one of the best examples of his style. Wright was famous for a really holistic design approach; every chair, every lamp, every table, and every stained glass window (including its placement in the floor plan) was designed to emphasise the aesthetic of the building. So much so, that he would often even permanently fix furniture to the floor so that they couldn’t be moved around! Darwin Martin truly was a fan of Wright, and completely surrounded himself with his designs at home and at work – the Larkin Soap Company, of which Martin was amongst its partners, boasted Wright’s first commercial design which ALSO had fixed, Wright-designed tables.
Not much more can be said aside from the backstory and history of his life; even as someone who studied architecture, the experience of Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses can’t be put into words, and is really what makes them true masterpieces.
Thanks so much Jamie!
Here are some more photos of the building. Unfortunately, photos of the interior are not permitted but let me assure you – the detailing is unbelievable and it isn’t fully restored yet! To see some interior photos visit the Darwin Martin House website.
At the end of the hallway the most amazing statue awaits you…
Have you visited any of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in your travels? We’d love to hear about them….let us know in the comments below.
Darwin Martin House
125 Jewett Parkway, Buffalo, NY 14214.
My tour was courtesy of Buffalo Niagara CVB, all opinions are our own.