ARC 331: Legacies of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the United States

week of

February 15-21


What happens when a politically-motivated and indigenously-influenced approach to design finds a new context?

With no geographic limits, the Arts and Crafts Movement spread far and wide, affecting the architecture of other regions as it tended to follow the waves of industrialization that it originally meant to correct. But it did have limits that were even evident in Morris' day. For all its desire to make art available for all, capitalism (a prevailing force in Great Britain, the US, and elsewhere) ensured that mass-produced, industrial goods were always cheaper, and thus handmade goods were relatively expensive.

As Arts and Crafts ideals spread, its later practitioners in the United States and Europe deftly absorbed its emphasis on craft, vernacular aesthetics, but within the realities of modern, industrially-based capitalism, and in very different physical contexts--especially in big countries with distinct regional climates and preferences. While Morris' aesthetic ideals were more likely to be adopted by Americans than the more radical aspects of his socialism, issues of construction technology and vernacular idioms would also be addressed and adjusted in the new context(s), as well as in the hands of architects with stunningly diverse approaches to design.

learning objectives

At the conclusion of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Identify main modern monuments in the period by name, date, designer/client and location (KNOWLEDGE)
  • Define terminology specific to technique, style and structure (KNOWLEDGE)
  • Describe integration of technology (material and non-material) in individual monuments (KNOWLEDGE)
  • Explain stylistic/technical differences in design as they relate to cultural/political/physical context (COMPREHENSION)
  • Summarize the main concepts in important works of theory by key writers (especially Ruskin, Morris, and Wright) (COMPREHENSION)
  • Visually analyze buildings from this period to suggest date, place, and designer (ANALYSIS)
  • Recognize change in architectural style by comparing formal and technical characteristics (ANALYSIS)
  • Critique the agency of people and technology w/in the process of design (EVALUATE)

part 1

Arts and Crafts Beyond British Borders

As we saw in Britain, the Arts and Crafts Movement found its home, so to speak, most readily in residential designs. As its application in public buildings in Great Britain aligned with Victorian Gothic developments, in the US it would correspond to medievalizing tendencies that took a different shape, especially in the hands of Henry Hobson Richardson, but that could also be fused into work as diverse as Bernard Maybeck's and the productions from the most important mouthpiece of the Arts and Crafts in the US, Frank Lloyd Wright. At the residential scale, we might see stronger comparisons between developments in Britain and the US, but here too, several factors appear to cause a divergence between the countries, especially definitions of vernacular, indigenous, and traditional.

  • Read: Colquhoun: read Intro. & skim chap. 2 (read pp. 49-55)
  • Read: Gelernter, chap. 6; preview chap. 7 (pp. 207-225)

part 2

Public Buildings

Whereas in Britain we saw the strongest alignment of Arts and Crafts ideals in public architecture with the Victorian Gothic, in America, the apparent greater diversity of architecture also provides various frameworks into which Arts and Crafts ideals could be integrated.

Trinity Church, Boston

Henry Hobson Richardson, whose "Richardsonian Romanesque" is somewhat akin to Victorian Gothic in being a modern use of medieval principles infused with Arts and Crafts construction and decorative ideals, designed and built the church between 1873-77 with the collaboration of decorative artists Edward Burne-Jones, Morris & Co., and John La Farge.

The Auditorium Theatre, Chicago (Adler & Sullivan, 1889)

Louis Sullivan, who was a great admirer of Richardson (compare the latter's Marshall Field Wholesale Store with the facade of the building your'e about to study), can be grouped with the latter-day Arts and Crafts but also with parallel developments in Art Nouveau (which are, of course, also outgrowths of Arts and Crafts).

The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Berkeley CA (Bernard Maybeck, 1910)

Maybeck's training and education (more of that in a future lesson) were as diverse as the elements he fused into his work: Arts and Crafts traditions and industrial innovations; Gothic frameworks and Ecole planning.


Consider these buildings: how much do they reflect ideals of the original Arts and Crafts Movement (especially as espoused by Ruskin & Morris)?

part 3

New American Houses

The diversity of approaches seen in the integration of Arts and Crafts ideals in public architecture is echoed in private, residential projects. While American architects might have liked to follow Ruskin and Morris in drawing from medieval prototypes, they had less of a vernacular heritage to draw from.

The Glessner House (& Richardsonian Romanesque)

Richardson's architectural idiom, applicable to churches and libraries, courthouses and warehouses, appears in elite homes, too. (As a side, but important note, Europeans took such an interest in Richardson that they called his style "American Romanesque.")

The Isaac Bell House (& the Stick and Shingle Styles)

One of the earliest echoes of Arts and Crafts was in two idioms that, conjoined with other influences, represent new styles particular to the United States: the Stick and Shingle Styles. While drawing on certain "American" traditions, it also utilized some exotic imports. Tour a great Shingle Style house here:

The Gamble House (& the Bungalow)

The parallel development of bungalow construction, both as the main unit of mass residential developments and as grand, stand-alone residential monuments, gained great popularity across the country.  For the former, see the "Bungalow Belt" in Chicago and "Bungalow Heaven" in Pasadena. For an example of the Bungalow As Big Kahuna, you need to meet the Greene Brothers.


Consider these buildings: how much do they reflect ideals of the original Arts and Crafts Movement (especially as espoused by Ruskin & Morris)?

part 4

The Art and Craft of the Machine

Frank Lloyd Wright

In many ways, the culmination of Arts and Crafts in America is its most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. After cutting his professional teeth in the offie of Lyman Silsbee, noted for many fine Stick and Shingle Style houses, and working for Louis Sullivan, with whom he shared an abiding admiration for H. H. Richardson, Wright struck out on his own, creating a personal style that was indebted to many sources: Arts and Crafts among them. And yet he is also properly acknowledged for his many technical innovations in architectural design, from conditioning and structure to publications and his personal hobbies, too.

An early work, the Winslow House (1894) shows Wright's highly synthetic approach.

Within about 15 years, Wright had worked through a lot of these different influences and brought them together in the cohesive masterwork that epitomizes his "Prairie House."

As construction progressed on Frederick and Lora Robie's house, Wright faced significant public outrage over his private life. Finding his way to Europe, he spent some time (and made some money) by overseeing the publication of a portfolio of his work to date. Entitled Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright but better known by a nickname after the publishing house, the Wasmuth Portfolio had a curious impact: on the one hand, portraying the mature (to date) work of this 43-year-old architect so embedded in the Arts and Crafts and "organic" architecture; on the other, inspiring a new generation of European architects who would lead the charge in shaping what we now call early European Modernism. The impact of the book was largely carried by its stunning illustrations of Wright's work, about half of them drawn by longtime associate in the office, Marion Mahony (and the other half inspired by her unique style of drawing).

Wright's first commercial building was completed in this period, too. The Larkin Building opened in Buffalo NY in 1906. On a larger scale than the Prairie Houses, it encompassed a similar diversity of technological developments and Arts and Crafts traditions. Although now lost (demo. 1950), you can visit it via this reconstruction:


In addition to his works, Wright left many writings completed throughout his long career. One of the earliest and most important of his essays--a lengthy, self-conscious rumination on his use of Arts and Crafts ideology--is recorded in the form of a lecture that he presented to the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society in 1901.

Now, bring together what you've been learning about the ideals of the British Arts and Crafts movement, its application in American buildings, especially in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Contribute to one of the following discussion forums, to which I am assigning everyone randomly. Look ahead to make sure you're aware of your upcoming due dates.

  • Group 1: Wahlfeld, Burkhart, Carballo, Collins, David, Bradman, Brown,Taylor
  • Group 2: Medina, Nickell, Okesson, Pelley, Wills, Wise Done, Filipowski, Foster
  • Group 3: White, Rogers, Romero, Rutter, Starcevich, Pletcher, Rodriguez, Van Bruggen
  • due dates on this Saturday, Wednesday, and next Saturday

additional resources

Additional Resources