I know of no forest school of architecture. Nor wetland school. Nor savanna, nor bog, nor fen, nor dune nor panne. But there is a Prairie School of architecture. Originated in Chicago, but inspired by the dominant landscape of the entire Midwest. And no prairie pilgrimage worth its salt would be complete without a day spent at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin.
No architect is more closely associated with the Prairie School than Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright preferred the term “organic architecture,” meaning that beyond serving the individual needs of the client, his work should reflect “the nature of the site and the native materials available.” Thus were born his many “Prairie Houses” – their low-pitched roofs, deep overhangs, natural materials and often long rows of casement windows reflecting the long, low horizontal prairie on which they sat.
Just minutes away from American Players Theatre (see Prairie Pilgrim’s Progress Pt. 1) lies Taliesin. Welsh for “Shining Brow,” it served as Wright’s home and studio for many years, and today continues to anchor the architecture school he founded.
As an indication of just how deeply the Midwest landscape influenced his work, in his autobiography Wright recalled that “As a boy I learned to know the ground plan of the region in every line and feature. For me now its elevation is the modeling of the hills, the weaving and fabric that clings to them, the look of it all in tender green or covered with snow or in full glow of summer that bursts into the glorious blaze of autumn. I still feel myself as much a part of it as the trees and birds and bees are, and the red barns.”
There are no Frank Lloyd Wright homes at Midewin. (The closest one is the B. Harley Bradley House in Kankakee.) But Midewin affords the kind of unique source material that inspired Wright. And many others. And not just architects.
Midewin attracts birders, botanists, girl scouts and boy scouts, ecologists, historians, church groups and civic groups, artists, photographers, former arsenal workers and volunteer restorationists.
The list goes on and on. Because Midewin – even at this early stage in its recovery, even beyond the rare birds and recently-discovered new plant species and hands-on opportunities to heal a landscape – affords a big sky, an unbounded horizon and solitude. The chance to be alone with your own thoughts and the healing earth. To be inspired. Rejuvenated. That’s my kind of school.