The Prairie School style emerged in Chicago in the 1890s, influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement and advanced by legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It is best known for deep/projecting eaves, horizontal lines, geometric patterning of finishes and windows, solid construction, and restraint in decoration. Unpretentious building materials such as stone, brick, and natural wood are often used in Prairie School buildings.
The Prairie School is closely tied with the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century and share many common features.
“The building is of great architectural significance, being a rare example, of exceptional quality, of the Prairie School of architecture in Canada as used in a civic/public building.”Opinion of Luigi Ferrara, OAA, MRAIC, Hon. ACID O, ICSID Senator, Dean of Arts & Design, George Brown College and one of the world’s leading design strategists
Prairie School in Canada
Francis Conroy Sullivan (1882-1929) was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and was the style’s main proponent in Canada. Sullivan was Frank Lloyd Wright’s only Canadian student.
Born in Kingston, he had a private practice in Ottawa from 1911 – 1920 when he moved to Chicago. He died in Arizona in 1929. He frequently designed schools in the Ottawa area and is known to have constructed buildings in Toronto, Cobourg, Guelph, and Kingston as well.
He differed from Frank Lloyd Wright by using verticality in his designs; Wright is known for his strong emphasis on horizontal forms. Sullivan did not design exclusively in the Prairie School style and some of his buildings show the influence of classic forms and Edwardian Classicism as well as the Arts & Crafts Movement.
Could the Wooler Scout Hall be an unknown Francis Conroy Sullivan design? More research is required.
Wooler School in Context
Wooler School is a three storey (including partially exposed basement) building constructed of concrete, which only came into common use about 5 years before the school was built. The basement floor employs cement render with sparse pargetting to suggest it is made from blocks. The second storey is faced with rusticated stone. The final storey is currently covered in insulbrick but early photos suggest a stucco or cement render facing. First floor classroom windows are linked with common string course lintels. A central tower is crowned with a classically-inspired triangular pediment form and blank tympanum. The main doors are covered by a small porch with curvilinear supports and fine dentil decorations. The eaves are decorated with modillions and fine dentils.
Wooler School shows many influences of the Prairie School:
- Deep eaves;
- Upper windows are constructed to touch the eaves of the building;
- Use of understated interior wooden geometric forms as decoration and regular stiles and rails without mouldings;
- Use of natural earthy colours and unpainted wood;
- Interior transoms with figured glass;
- Strong sense of horizontal lines in window patterns, geometric patterns, size and placement of doors and horizontal patterns reinforced in door design;
- Tin ceilings;
- Use of pocket doors.
The building also demonstrates the verticality of Francis Conroy Sullivan through the use of a central tower structure with inset wings on either side. This is similar to Sullivan’s Ottawa Horticulture Building, Lansdowne Park, Ottawa. The influence of Arts and Crafts and Edwardian Classicism on Sullivan are potentially reflected in the curvilinear supports on the porch, the pediment/tympanum, and the use of modillions and denticulation on the soffit.