Canadian Contractor

Frank and me: Touring the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo, NY

Frank Lloyd Wright stands as the father of contemporary residential architecture in North America. Does he deserve it?

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February 19, 2013 by Robert Koci

A number of years ago, Canadian Contractor ran a short story on Fallingwater, a famous home in Pennsylvania designed by one of the fathers of modern residential home design, Frank Lloyd Wright. I was fascinated by the home, mainly because I didn’t like the design much and was trying to understand why this architect was given so much posthumous air play in the United States (Wright died in 1959 at the age of 92). Mostly, his designs reminded me of every post war split-level I have ever seen in the suburbs of Montreal and Toronto where I grew up. Bloody ugly, frankly.

I had a chance to see visit one of his more famous designs and learn more about the man on a recent trip to Buffalo. His favourite client, the tour guide told us as we walked through the Darwin Martin House in the suburbs of Buffalo, was compliant and rich. No surprise there. Wright liked to design the furniture as well as the house in order to control how the rooms were used and what they looked like after construction. He was such a control freak, in fact, that long after construction had ended Wright would drop by his job sites, unannounced, just to make sure his client was “behaving.”

The Darwin Martin House itself confirmed my feeling about Wright’s design sensibility. Though the tour guide took great pains to describe the purpose for the odd, often boxy  features of the home, what I walked through was still cold and uninviting. Though windows featured predominately in his design, the house was dark. The effort to “bring the outside in and push the inside out” that Wright was famous for struck me as more of a parlour trick that tortured the footprint and pocketbook of the house and client.

The trip did remind me of how fascinating architecture can be: How a building’s design changes thinking, behaviour and lives. And good architecture is fun to build. It makes you realize you can be a part of something bigger than yourself.

The visit inspired the new poll posted on the home page of where I asked how you perceive architecture. If you have an opinion, please answer the poll and comment here. I think there might be more room in Canadian Contractor for exploring design issues.

Robert Koci

Robert Koci

Rob Koci is the publisher of Canadian Contractor magazine. Tel. 647-407-0754
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2 Comments » for Frank and me: Touring the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo, NY
  1. Hugh George says:

    I’m not a Frank Lloyd Wright expert by any measure, but I do have an opinion 🙂

    Simply put, he had some visually interesting designs, but I do think that he often put form above function. I like things to feel good, as well as look good.

    And yes, it would be nice to have some attention paid to the design side of construction.

  2. Ben Kuypers says:

    I think architecture has more impact on us then most people realize. It can bring you up or bring you down. If you ignore it you are subjecting yourself to factors that can change your well being. Although people have different taste, your surroundings reflect how and what you think, and can affect how and what you think. There are books on the subject like ‘The Power Of Place’ and ‘Healing Spaces’ that have studied this in depth not to mention all the interest in the ancient art of Feng Shui, which basically teaches that a space is either auspicious or inauspicious. Anything that can affect mood effects productivity and a positive sense, so keep this in mind when you are redoing your home or work space.