Prairie and Foursquare
PERIOD OF POPULARITY: Roughly 1900 – 1920
BACKGROUND AND INSPIRATION: This is one of the few indigenous American styles, developed by a creative group of Chicago architects known collectively as the Prairie School. Frank Lloyd Wright is essentially the “father” of the Prairie style, and the acknowledged master of the prairie house. Considered one of America’s most influential architects, Wright proclaimed that “Democracy needed something better than the box”.
Wright’s prairie style focused specifically on midwestern regionalism, with its horizontal, open floor plans representing the expansive prairie region. Though avoiding historical stylistic trends of the competing revival styles, the prairie style made subtle use of Japanese architecture, specifically its use of horizontal space, flowing interior spaces; low-pitched, hipped roofs with broad eaves, and long bands of windows that apparently invoke the idea of Japanese screens (small, patterned pane glass). Though short-lived in the U.S., this is the first American style to be taken seriously in Europe (Source: McAlester & McAlester).
A vernacular variant, and much more common, is the so-called American Foursquare, or “Prairie Box”. These are simplified Prairie houses (though occasionally with elaborate facades and porches), named “Foursquare” due to their characteristic boxy shape and four rooms per floor. They are typically two-and-a-half stories with a large, central dormer. They often include a full-width front porch and four-room over four-room floor plan. Many foursquare homes include various craftsman features including heavy piers and square columns, 4-over-1 or equivalent craftsman windows, wooden shinges, and exposed rafter tails.