Darwin D. Martin House Complex by Frank Lloyd Wright | Buffalo, NY
The Darwin D. Martin House Complex is an architectural complex and a National Historic Landmark designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the early 1900s in Buffalo, New York.
Widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of the Prairie School style, the complex consists of six buildings, five of which interconnected, by Wright, as well as an award-winning visitor center built in 2009 after a design by architect Toshiko Mori.
History and architecture
The complex was designed by Wright, between 1902 and 1905, for businessman Darwin D. Martin (1865–1935).
At the time, Martin was an executive at Larking Soap Company, for which Wright was designing his famous Larking Building, unfortunately demolished in 1949; therefore, Martin had the occasion to appreciate Wright’s work and commissioned him the design of a residential complex for his and his sister’s families in Buffalo’s Parkside neighborhood.
As anticipated, the complex is made up of various buildings.
The 4,400-square-foot Barton House was the first construction to be completed. It was designed to accommodate the family of Martin’s sister, Delta, and her husband George Barton.
The largest building of the complex is the residence of Darwin Martin’s family. The Martin house is a two-story red brick construction, with a floor area of 14,978 square feet, comprising a living room, a main dining room, a smaller dining room for the staff, a kitchen, a reception room, an office, a library, a sewing room, eight bedrooms, four bathrooms (all at the second floor), and a porch.
The original complex included other three buildings: the Carriage House (housing stables and the chauffeur’s apartment), the 2,655-square-foot Conservatory greenhouse, and a 100-foot-long covered passage, the Pergola, that connects all the complex’ buildings to one another.
A fourth building, the small Gardener’s cottage, was built in 1909.
The Carriage House, the Conservatory, and the Pergola, which were demolished in 1962, were reconstructed between 2004 and 2007, based on original drawings, following an ambitious $50 million restoration project, developed by Hamilton Houston Lownie Architects, started in 1996 and still ongoing. The project includes the restoration of the estate’s historic landscaping, also designed by Wright, based on a study developed by Bayer Landscape Architecture.
Overall, the Darwin D. Martin House Complex can be considered the epitome of Wright’s Prairie Houses, with all the distinctive elements of the style, such as strongly marked horizontal lines, cruciform plans often featuring pergolas and verandas, hip roofs with large overhanging eaves, masonry and timber construction, a simple decoration, and a strong integration of architecture and landscape.
With his Prairie Houses, Wright wanted to develop a modern architecture that, though influenced by European movements of the time, was deeply rooted into United States’ native culture, and influenced by the aesthetics of North America’s prairie landscape.
Model of the Darwin Martin House Complex and its buildings
General view of the complex from north-east; photo James Melzer
Toshiko Mori’s visiting center
Completed in 2009, the Darwin D. Martin House visitor center, also known as Greatbatch Pavilion, is a single-story steel-and-glass building designed by Japanese-born American architect Toshiko Mori.
Featuring an inverted hip roof as a subtle reference to Wright’s Prairie House architecture, this 7,775-square-foot pavilion contains a ticket desk, support spaces for visitors, a temporary exhibition space, and a permanent gallery.
Toshiko Mori Architect, Darwin D. Martin House visitor center (Greatbatch Pavilion), Buffalo, New York, United States; photo © Iwan Baan
Collections, permanent exhibition, and program of events
Along with Wright’s architecture, the Darwin D. Martin House complex also features an applied arts collection comprising pieces of furniture (including tables, couches, cabinets, and the first version of Wright’s Barrel Chair), decorative objects, and 394 panels of art glass (such as the famous “Tree of Life” stained glass window), all custom designed by Wright, as well as a number of original drawings and photographs, and a collection of twenty-four ukiyo-e Japanese color prints chosen by Wright himself for the client.
The program of activities of the Darwin D. Martin House includes temporary exhibitions, guided tours, educational activities and creative workshops, and special events.
View of the Darwin Martin House Complex’ permanent exhibition in the Greatbatch Pavilion; photo Paul Warchol
Darwin Martin House Complex, site plan; courtesy of Bayer Landscape Architecture
Martin House, exterior view from the south; photo Sean Marshall
Martin House, east facade; photo Keith Ewing
Martin House, exterior view from the east; photo Mark Hogan
Martin House, ground floor plan
Darwin Martin House, reception room, interior view; photo Biff Henrich
Darwin Martin House, “Tree of Life” stained glass window; photo Rocor
Darwin Martin House Complex, the Pergola; photo Allenhimself
George Barton House, north facade; photo Keith Ewing; and south elevation drawing
Conservatory, interior view; photo Biff Henrich
Cover image: Frank Lloyd Wright, Darwin Martin House, Buffalo, NY; photo Biff Henrich