Frank Lloyd Wright’s great contribution to American architecture was basically . . . defining an American architecture. Active throughout his life (1867–1959), he created the iconic Prairie style of homes with their flat, horizontal external lines and open interiors; he championed organic architecture (his philosophy of melding human-made construction with the nature that surrounds it); and he even had a thing or two to say about urban planning via his Usonian theory for post-Depression affordable housing. He was exceptionally prolific and designed more than 1,000 projects in his lifetime (though only about half made it into the real world).
In some lucky cases, Wright’s buildings are grouped close enough together for architecture buffs to make a pilgrimage out of them. And that’s what has just happened with the announcement of the new Great Frank Lloyd Wright Road Trip that starts in Buffalo, New York. Winding a scenic path between western New York and western Pennsylvania, the itinerary showcases nine Wright works. Of course, the famous Fallingwater home in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, is on the route. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2019, along with several other of Wright’s most well-known creations (including New York City’s Guggenheim Museum and Chicago’s Unity Temple and Frederick C. Robie House).
The new road trip leads architecture fans to less famous, but no less striking creations, including three that were completed after Wright’s death and one that was moved wholesale from California: his San Francisco office, which has been reassembled at the Erie County Historical Society–Hagen History Center.
Why this area? Western New York and western Pennsylvania are actually a hot spot for Frank Lloyd Wright works, thanks to the patronage of two wealthy families of the early 1900s, the Martins of Buffalo and the Kaufmanns of Pittsburgh. And he did notable work for them: Fallingwater was for the Kaufmanns, while the less evocatively named Martin House was for the Martins. Wright called the latter a “well-nigh perfect composition,” and you can judge that for yourself at the first stop on the Great Road Trip.
Why now? Because the Martin House and the Martin family’s summer home, Graycliff, only recently emerged from restoration projects. “While the Wright buildings at Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob have been long-time tourist sites and have never fallen into the kind of disrepair that required extensive and years-long restoration, Buffalo’s anchor Wright sites—the Martin House and Graycliff—both suffered from neglect, outright abandonment (in the case of the Martin House) and faced very uncertain futures at various times throughout their existence,” said Ed Healy, vice president of marketing at Visit Buffalo Niagara, in a statement. “They have only recently been restored and become fully operational tourist attractions; the final piece of the Martin House restoration—the restoration of Wright’s landscape—was installed in 2019.”
The route is detailed on the Visit Buffalo website, with basic background for each architectural work, info on how to tour it, and a few fun “Frank Facts” (look for ancient fossils in the limestone walls at Graycliff). And though you could do the four-hour trip in a day if you were satisfied with a drive-by wave to each building, the itinerary helpfully outlines a leisurely four-day itinerary through the area’s vineyards and farmlands—complete with suggestions for restaurants and lodgings along the way, including Polymath Park, where fans can round out the trip with an ultimate FLW experience: staying overnight in a Wright-designed home.
Book Now: The Mansion on Delaware Ave., from $209/night, expedia.com