Arthur and Grace Huertley House
Arthur Heurtley was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s wealthier Oak Park clients, as seen in this impressive structure. This would have been one of the houses that the folks at the Unity Church admired in selecting Frank Lloyd Wright as the architect of the Unity Temple. The house built for Arthur Heurtley in 1902 is a tangible representation of Wright’s radical modernism, and it maintains nearly all of Wright’s characteristic Prairie features.
Beginning at the bottom, the Arthur Heurtley house is resting on a base of concrete. This is known as a concrete stylobate or concrete water table, and is a good indication that there is no basement in the house. Wright would eliminate both the basement and the attic of a house. He considered them to be unnecessary vessels of clutter. More importantly, Wright didn’t want to dig a hole in the ground and put the house in this hole. Rather, he wanted the house to gently rest upon the Prairie.
The house is everything horizontal. Stripes of brick pull the house outward. Some of the stripes are flush with the house, while some of the stripes protrude from the house. What’s more is that he had the vertical mortar between the bricks dyed the same color as the bricks, while leaving the horizontal mortar it’s original color, thus bringing out even subtler horizontal stripes of brick within the larger stripes.
A privacy wall extends from the south facade, bringing out another horizontal line, and elevating the idea of intimacy and privacy. The top floor of the Heurtley house is a nearly uninterrupted ribbon of art glass windows. These again promote privacy by allowing the occupants to look out without being looked in by outsiders. The art glass windows are casement windows that extend out into nature and comprise a strong, geometrical design. By the early 1900’s, Wright abandoned the use of diamond paned art glass windows for a much more intricate design, as seen here in the Arthur Heurtley House. Because the windows are aligned in such a manner, it decreases the available wall space of the interior. The walls are no longer walls; they become light screens.
Most of Wright’s Prairie houses have either a flat roof or low hipped roof. The Huertley House has a low hipped roof. What this does is push the building down into the earth, and really ground it to its specific location. The roof also allows for the overhanging roof eaves, which provide shelter for the house in a literal and metaphorical sense. They also affect the heating and cooling of the house. Notice how the windows are touching the underside of the roof eaves. During the summer, with the position of the sun high in the sky, the overhanging roof eaves protect the windows from receiving too much direct sunlight. During the winter, with the sun being much lower, the interior receives more direct sunlight as the ribbons of windows allow for maximum light.
The house is capped by a broad, central chimney. This leads one to believe there is a broad central fireplace within the home. Wright felt that the fireplace should be the hearth of the home, where the family could gather, and all of the rooms of the open floor plan circulate around the central fireplace. Note that the chimney is slightly offset from the center. The left edge of the chimney aligns with the central, exterior pier of the house, which in turn aligns with the right edge of the porch, creating an appearance of asymmetrical balance.
Wright would typically place the main entrance of his Prairie houses on the side, or even in the back of the house. Since the houses are defined by long, horizontal lines, a prominent opening in the front of the house would interrupt its horizontality. In the Arthur Huertley House, the lines remain uninterrupted because of the horizontally streamlined nature of the porch. The arch itself is reminiscent of Wright’s Leibermeister, Louis Sullivan, whose favorite architectural motif was the arch. Built in planters enforce a connection to nature.
Together these characteristics create an organic whole. The sum is greater than the parts. The most shocking and inspiring facet of the Arthur Huertley House is it’s age. Built in 1902, it was incredibly modern in a time period still engulfed by the so-called Queen Anne Style.