Domestic Symphony: An Appreciation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin D. Martin House

In Five Versions of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Boynton House, George Cassidy Payne explores Wright’s architectural marvel on 16 East Boulevard in Rochester. Today he takes us down the thruway to one of Wright’s architectural marvels in Buffalo.

One of Wright’s masterpieces that I have always wanted to visit is The Darwin D. Martin House on 125 Jewett Parkway in the Parkside neighborhood of Buffalo, NY. Recently my wish was fulfilled when I got a chance to stop by for a short yet enthralling visit.

Started in 1903, the Darwin D.Martin House was actually a complex of buildings, including a conservatory, carriage house-stable, gardener’s cottage, and two family homes. Most architectural critics and historians rank the Darwin House as one of Wright’s most impressive achievements, and certainly the pinnacle of his Prairie-style. And for good reason, every inch is designed to enhance the feeling that you are not just inside a place of residence but fully immersed in a spiritual setting like a Shinto temple or Japanese Zen monastery. From the art glass windows to the pergola, the house is a perfect example of what can happen when the elegant and organic elements of the East meet the ambition and technical vitality of the West.

Photography by George Cassidy Payne

 

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The Darwin D. Martin House. Frank Lloyd Wright said it was “a well nigh perfect composition.”

 

 

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Unlike many of his earlier buildings, Wright had an almost limitless budget for the Martin House Complex. Darwin D. Martin, a millionaire co-owner of the E-Z Stove Polish Company based in Chicago, spent close to $300,000 on this project. By comparison, the house Wright designed for his brother in Chicago, cost $5,000. With the resources and size needed to experiment with his vision, Wright was able to develop what he believed was the first true American architecture.   

 

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Many architectural historians contend that the Martin House is the single most important house design of the first half of Wright’s career. In this structure, Wright said,  “elements of light, air, and vista permeate the whole with a sense of unity,” 

 

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Perhaps only his Fallingwater (designed 30 years later) matches the “domestic symphony” of the Martin House pergola, which was meticulously restored in 2007. 

 

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Crafted by the Linden Glass Company of Chicago, the 394 art glass windows in the Martin House are made up of 750 pieces of jewel like iridescent glass. The windows in the building give the heavier components a sense of translucent visibility. The barriers between inside and outside are merged into a singular aesthetic experience.  

 

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Frank Lloyd Wright is unquestionably the greatest American architect. He designed over 1,000 buildings, completed 500 of them, and fundamentally changed the art form. Wright called the Martin House his “opus.” 

 

 

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I look forward to someday giving my son a copy of The Fountainhead and hopefully sparking a lifelong love affair with the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright. 

SEE ALSO

Five Versions of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Boynton House

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