The Prairie School of Architecture was primarily a residential architectural movement that began in Chicago, Illinois, and then rapidly spread across the Midwest. Its origins date from the 1890s, then lost popularity during World War I when homebuilder's looked to more conservative concepts that were more traditional.
The concept of The Prairie School of Architecture focused on ideas such as the relevance of a building to the natural environment surrounding it, a visual expression of natural materials that weren't hidden behind paint and wallpaper, and the use of open and integrated interior space within the building.
The Prairie School of Architecture was closely intertwined with the Arts and Crafts Movement (1860 - 1910) which embraced simple form that emphasized the qualities of the materials that were used, a subtle rebellion against the Industrial Age of machinery. The writings and works of John Ruskin, William Morris and other philosopher-artists inspired it. Both movements advocated traditional craftsmanship.
The Prairie School of Architecture also nourished the goals of dedicated individuals who were obsessed with the idea of creating a new American form of architecture, appropriate to the American Midwest that was also independent of historical styles.
The Prairie School of Architecture is a North American architectural movement of which Chicago architect Louis Sullivan is the spiritual father and Frank Lloyd Wright the most famous practitioner.
The Prairie School of Architecture took its inspiration from Sullivan and the first Chicago School. And became recognizably distinct around 1900. Though there were public and commercial buildings built in the style, it was chiefly a residential phenomenon. For two decades it found favor with progressive clients in the upper Midwest and elsewhere. However, but by 1920 it was disrupted by the World War I and overshadowed by the revival of fashionable historic styles and inchoate Modernism brewing in Europe.
The Prairie School is ideologically (though not necessarily stylistically) related to the contemporaneous work of Gustav Stickley, Elbert Hubbard, Greene & Greene, Bernard Maybeck and other American advocates and practitioners.
Led first by Wright, Sullivan's former chief draftsman, the movement attracted other talented artists, a number of whom had worked for Sullivan and/or Wright. Collectively, they are known as the “Prairie School.” A group of early practitioners, known as "The Eighteen,” shared office space in Chicago’s Steinway Hall, designed by Dwight Perkins. A listing of the best known as well as some lesser known would include the following (listed alphabetically):
Percy Dwight Bentley
F. Barry Byrne
William E. Drummond
George Grant Elmslie
Hugh M.G. Garden
Walter Burley Griffin
Henry John Klutho
Marion Mahony Griffin
George W. Maher
William Gray Purcell
William L. Steele
John S. Van Bergen
Charles E. White
Frank Lloyd Wright
Their commitment to the pure goals of the Prairie Style varied. For some, it was an artistic, philosophical and moral imperative. For others, it was just another pleasing style desired or accepted by some clients.
Regional architects who designed in the Prairie Style in Iowa included Einar Broaten, Howard Burr, Mortimer Cleveland and William Steele. Unsurprisingly, their buildings are derivative of the “iconic” practitioners such as Wright, Griffin and Elmslie. But these and other local and regional architects ably filled a need for modern and progressive design sought by clients who might otherwise have had to settle for a “builder’s job”.
Prairie School architects strove to produce a distinctly modern American architecture, one inspired by our relatively new country and its democracy, one that did not recall the form or decoration of historic European buildings. The characteristics of the Prairie Style generally include wide-overhangs, hip or flat roofs, bands of windows, horizontal compositions, simple lines and geometric volumes, and flowing floor plans, in place of individual rooms, that attempted to accommodate the way modern people of the day lived.
In Mason City, at least 32 houses and one commercial building were built in the Prairie School Style between 1908 and 1922. Seventeen are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Eight more are contributing properties to Mason City's historic district.
In addition to the Prairie School Style of architecture, Mason City is the home of extensive Victorian, Craftsman and Bungalow style homes and historic commercial structures dating between 1892 and 1940.
[This summary was adapted from articles on prairieschooltraveler.com and iagenweb.org.]