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Architecture of the Week: The Darwin Martin House

By Lucas Watson, Features Contributor

In the dense neighborhoods of Buffalo lies an architectural masterpiece, The Darwin Martin House. It is the most prestigious and prominent example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s distinctive Prairie style. It harkens back to 1906, but with designs that feel futuristic even today. The Darwin Martin house is largely considered one of the most significant pieces of American architecture in the country. Furthermore, it is the largest house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed. It brings tourists and architectural enthusiasts alike to tour the grounds and embrace his unique style shown so perfectly in the Darwin Martin house.

The Martin House is an outstanding example of Wright’s prairie house ideal, a uniquely American house type characterized by a low, pavilion-like structure in which space flows freely, halted only by the rhythmic occurrence of piers. Space is such an abstract thing but has such incredibly strong influences in buildings all over the world, space being a symbol of freedom and openness. Over 60 of these houses were designed between 1900 and 1915 by Frank Lloyd Wright. The most defining characteristic of the Darwin Martin House out of all of the houses that he designed is its size, budget and intricate interior design — examples of this interior design have been showcased in museums across the country and the world.

The namesake of the building comes from Darwin D. Martin, a self-made millionaire, renowned philanthropist and top executive at the Larkin Company. Martin commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright during his early career for two landmarks, which would make his name known in the architectural community – the Larkin Administration Building (since demolished) and the Darwin Martin House being the two prominent buildings. Frank Lloyd Wright would continue on to create such masterpieces as the Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater and dozens more across the span of his life.

Along with many buildings in Buffalo, the Darwin Martin House fell into a period of disrepair and vacancy following Martin’s life there. They lived there until 1937 and for two decades, it fell into neglect before the pergola, garage, stable, conservatory and greenhouse were demolished in the mid 1950s. With the help of many, an ambitious restoration project to save this treasure began in 1992 and was completed in 2019, with the whole complex and Frank Lloyd Wright’s original design being brought back to life for the public to see.

Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the most famous and prestigious American architects ever, his designs inspired a whole school of architects and his influence has been seen throughout the world and is still replicated today. The work he made over 100 years ago still feels modern even today. Today, the Darwin Martin House stands as a symbol of civic identity and cultural pride.

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