A signle-family house designed and created for sophisticated needs.

Project details

Reference object

Renovation of the Martin House, Buffalo, NY, US

Architect

Hamilton, Houston & Lownie Architects, Buffalo NY

Project leader

Ted Lownie, Matthew Meier & Jamie Robideau

Main contractor

L.P. Ciminelli Inc., Buffalo NY

Project manager

Wayne Scott

Roofer

Grove Roofing Services, Buffalo NY

Clay roof tile used

Aléonard Pontigny

Koramic Partner

Northern Roof Tiles, Ontario, Canada

Project manager

Chris Gannon

Martin House, Buffalo, US

Martin House, Buffalo, US

Martin House, Buffalo, US

Martin House, Buffalo, US

Martin House, Buffalo, US

Martin House, Buffalo, US

Martin House, Buffalo, US

Martin House, Buffalo, US

An architectural jewel by Frank Lloyd Wright

The search for true-to-original roof tiles for the “Martin House”, an architectural jewel by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, saved from decay by a public campaign, was particularly tough. Having failed to find a suitable product in the United States, a direct hit was scored in the French factory of Pontigny with Aléonard clay plain tiles. The Martin House can look back over a long history. When Darwin Martin commissioned the now worldfamous architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) for the construction of his home in the Buffalo New York suburbs, he was the highest paid executive in the US and had been for the previous 3 years. Martin, a selfmade man and visionary who appreciated fresh ideas and original thinking, was the secretary of the Larkin Soap Company, one of the largest retailers in the USA at the time. A close friendship developed between the almost identically aged men – Martin was 37 when the order was placed, Wright 35 years old – and Martin became one of the architect’s most loyal supporters and patrons.     

For sophisticated needs

The Martin family moved into their new home in November 1905. At the time, the costs for building a nicely appointed singlefamily home in Buffalo were around 7,000 dollars. Martin had paid around 200,000 dollars for the complex of houses comprising five related buildings and a half hectare of land. The complex comprised the main building, the actual Martin House (with about 1,400 square metres of living space) with an adjoining colonnade to the greenhouse, a carriage house with living units for the chauffeurs, the Barton House for the sister and brother-in-law and the gardeners’ cottage. The Martin House was then and is now recognised as the ultimate expression of Frank Lloyd Wright‘s Prairie House style, in which he blended organic forms with geometric elements. Characteristic features include the strong, horizontal planes, deeply overhanging eaves, the central open fireplace, the basement, a cantilevered roof and the harmonious integration into the landscape. When the Martins moved into their home it had its own electric supply and central heating.

Chequered history

Darwin Martin lost most of his fortune in the stock market crash of 1929 and died just a few years later following a stroke. The house and ancillary buildings stood empty for sixteen years afterwards. Buffalo’s extremely harsh winters and repeated instances of vandalism took a heavy toll on the former architectural jewel. In 1954, an architect from Buffalo purchased the property to save it from imminent demolition. The main house was in a very bad state at the time, while the other buildings had to give way for the construction of three architecturally questionable apartment blocks. No other Wright site had withstood such degradation and remained standing.

Shining rebirth

In 1967, the ruinous estate passed into the possession of the University of Buffalo. However, a non-profit-organisation intended to save the Martin House was only created at the end of the 1980s and was made up of a group of dedicated local people. A huge fund raising campaign, which is running to this day, soon showed initial success. The goal of restoring the complex to its former glory has slowly but surely been achieved. The refurbishment was entrusted to the architecture office of Hamilton, Houston & Lownie and began with the taking of conservation measures to preserve the overall condition in the form of reinforcing brickwork and facades, both of the Martin House and the smaller Barton House. Then, however, began the long, drawn-out search for the right roof tiles, because the original roof tiles were no longer available and only a few originals from the 1950s roof still existed.

Magnificent roofing

Ted Lownie, who headed up the team of architects, scoured North American tile producers, but was unable to find any which could have reproduced the original weather-stained tiles. In 1994, Lownie turned to the small Canadian company Northern Roof Tiles, an importer of high-end clay roof tiles, reminiscent of the brown flamed clay plain tiles (Brun Flame) by French roof tile maker Aleonard and the planners eventually ordered the required product in the French town of Pontigny.

A special challenge

First, all the roofs were re-roofed as part of the gigantic 50 million dollar renovation. A very special challenge turned out to be the manufacture of the extremely low pitched Arris style hip tiles, which the French Koramic plant stubbornly addressed until the desired result was reached. The Martin House Restoration Corporation had in the meantime purchased the three apartment blocks for demolition in order to reconstruct the original ancillary buildings in their place. Thanks to the donations received, building work was able to continue in 2005 and will be completed in 2010. The property of the Martin family has already become a tourist magnet for visitors from around the world. And under the magnificent Koramic clay roof, this prestigious, American architectural landmark can face the next 100 years with confidence.

About Frank Lloyd Wright

The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) loved to overcome limits with his buildings. His structures ruffled feelings and were the cause of numerous controversies. Frank Lloyd Wright achieved world fame in 1959 with the New York Guggenheim Museum on New York’s 5th Avenue. One central aspect of his creativity lies in close contact with the landscape of his home state of Wisconsin and in the virtually seamless integration of his buildings into the landscape, as can be witnessed in one of his best-known buildings, the Fallingwater villa built alongside a waterfall. During the commission-scarce period after the stock market crash of 1929, Frank Lloyd Wright gave lectures at Princeton University, which were also published. He also wrote several books that dealt with subjects such as his ideas on town planning and published various periodicals. During the world economic crisis, he developed a new type of house, the socalled “Usonian House”. A cheap, single home on one level, which he implemented in numerous variations. Wright tried to use his architecture to express the American spirit of democracy, the pioneering spirit and solidarity. The central element was therefore most often the fireplace as a meeting place for the community, around which he developed the building. As one of the first architects ever to do so, Wright spoke of “organic construction”, by which he meant the organic relationship between architecture, art, nature and human living areas. Some of his works: Frederick C. Robie House, Chicago, Illinois (1908), Imperial Hotel, Tokyo (1916),  Villa Fallingwater, Bear Run, Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania (1935) and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1956).

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