by Scot Zimmerman

Frank Lloyd Wright called Prairie Style a truly American form of architecture. At the point in his career where he immersed himself in this style, he was working in the Midwest and was inspired by the landscape. The style is rooted in the earth, the long rectangular forms capture the horizontal planes of the prairie, and the broad overhangs protect the buildings from the Midwest skies’ tumultuous changes in mood, from violent thunderstorms and thick snow to penetrating heat.

I just returned from photographing a Prairie Style building in Kanab, headquarters for the Kane County Water Conservancy District. It is located along the south shore of the Jackson Flat Reservoir south of Kanab. The Sherry Belle Trail runs between the reservoir and the District’s offices.

Scott Gilberg, AIA, and Ben Rogers, AIA, NCARB, both with CRSA Architects, designed the building. The forms of the gently sloping rooflines mimic the hills behind them, and the building’s color palette picks up the red of the surrounding sandstone. The landscape is xeriscaped, an appropriate example to be set by a conservancy district. One of the features I truly like about Prairie Style, evident in this building, is how the forms honor and designate the entry with a lowered cover to the porch. The cover shades and protects those transitioning in and out of the building, but also lowers to a very human scale. To me, by doing that, it welcomes rather than intimidates and awes.

Visually, the clerestory windows repeat the horizontal banding, a form that is key to the Prairie Style’s ability to anchor the building to the earth. It also functions very practically as fenestration. The high windows provide even daylight to brighten the conference room without glare because of the convenient shade from the building’s overhangs. The windows behind the conference table look north on the reservoir, almost a metaphor of the district’s mission to provide water. All the blinds close for viewing the flat screens that are part of the conference room’s sophisticated A/V system.

The entry features cabinetry in rich dark wood that suggests timelessness, appropriate for the Prairie Style. The director’s office in the southwest corner of the building has an enviable view, doesn’t it?

My take on Prairie Style in redrock is that it works, and it works well. As far as the photographs, my only mention is that when photographing Prairie Style architecture, never ignore the connection to the earth and the surroundings. Without seeing the connections, the viewer of the photographs won’t understand the building.

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