By Melissa Mitchell
Louis Sullivan. Frank Lloyd Wright. Even people who have never flipped through the pages of Architectural Digest probably would recognize these names. And many may even be able to associate them with the Prairie School, a group of architects who defined a new modern American architecture at the dawn of the 20th century.
But in his book "Walter Burley Griffin" (UI Press, 1996), UI architecture professor Paul Kruty argues that Griffin deserves his own place in history, near the head of the class in the Prairie School. In the coffee-table-style book, which includes photographs by Chicago State University professor Mati Maldre of Griffin buildings constructed in the United States, Kruty notes that "the remarkable body of work [Griffin] produced" between 1899 and 1914 mostly in the Chicago area "forms a neglected chapter in the history of American architecture."
"Of all the architects of the Prairie School who were practicing at the turn of the century, only three stayed loyal to their ideals and fought to their dying days for their personal visions of modern architecture," Kruty said. Sullivan and Wright "have been immortalized among the legion of great architects. It is time to accord Griffin a place near them."
A Chicago-area native and UI graduate, Griffin worked for Wright until the pair had a falling out in 1906. Griffin initially created building designs that shared many features with Wright's: open, flowing interior floor plans, hipped, overhanging roofs; and the use of organic, exterior building materials, such as brick, stone and concrete. By 1910, however, Griffin developed a truly original style that was quite distinct from Wright's and was characterized by "a preference for severe, undecorated masses," Kruty said.
Certain architectural inventions usually attributed to Wright such as the L-shaped floor plan, attached garage and carport actually appeared first in Griffin's work.
"Wright has so overshadowed everything that the real story got lost,"
said Kruty. In addition to organizing the Oct. 2-4 symposium "The Griffins
in Context: America, Australia, India," Kruty is working with Paul
Sprague, a professor of architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,
on a catalog of Griffin's U.S. designs, including all buildings, landscapes
and town plans.