What started out as a challenge to do something different in Florida evolved into an homage to America's greatest architect.
Mattamy Homes USA Vice President of Architecture Paul Smith gave GrowthSpotter the inside story on the company's new Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Hawksmoor community in Horizon West.
"One thing we keep hearing is that some Orlando buyers are getting tired of the 'traditional' stucco home, and want something new," Smith said.
As the homebuilder steps up production in the Orlando market, launching seven new communities in the next 12 months, it brings in consultants and focus groups to help determine a theme for each development.
Smith said they wanted something unique for the former Zanzibar property, a 254-acre parcel in Winter Garden's Horizon West community. The community on Old YMCA Road in Winter Garden will feature a blend of residential products ranging from townhomes up to estate homes on 90-foot lots. It will have 461 units, and is slated to open in May 2017.
"We challenged our Urban Planners/Landscape Architect's to bring us several themes that were different from what everyone else was doing and something totally unique to the area," he said. "Through many back and forth meetings, where several themes were presented, reviewed and discussed, we eventually narrowed down our theme to the Prairie style. It's something no one else is doing, it is a style most home buyers identify with and aspire to, and it is versatile enough to allow Mattamy to design several different architectural styled elevations within the central Prairie theme."
Throughout his career, Smith has had clients request designs indicative of the iconic architect's work. "Mattamy builds all over the U.S. and Canada, and in each location you will find home elevations in the Prairie style," he said. "The style is very versatile and can be effectively executed in most traditional building materials: siding, stucco and brick, which means it can be designed to fit into many markets or price points."
With the theme selected, it was time for the design team to focus on the architecture. They drew inspiration from some of Wright's most famous works in the Oak Park neighborhood outside of Chicago.
"Our amenity, landscape features, and entryway are all designed in the Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie style," Smith said. "The theme permeates through all the community's features, from buildings, to walls, to signage."
The cast concrete planters at the main entrance resemble the ones that flank Wright's own studio. The striated brickwork on the decorative walls replicates the patterns used in the Arthur B. Heurtley house, built in 1902 and considered one of Wright's earliest examples of full Prairie style. And the stained glass features on the entry sign pay homage to his masterpiece, the Frederick C. Robie house.
Although they were designed and built during Wright's later Usonian phase, many of the buildings on the campus of Florida Southern College served as an inspiration and reference point.
Smith said the team met for an intensive week-long design charrette where they relied on market research that had been conducted specifically for this project.
"Lot fabric, product typologies, number and square footage of plans, and elevation theming are all determined," he said. "Over the week plans are designed, reviewed, refined and redesigned. All driven by what our research is telling us our customers are looking for. The process is repeated for the elevations."
The group came up with multiple elevation styles for sample homes and tested them with focus groups. "We ask prospective homeowners from that specific area to provide feedback on community theming, design, amenities, plan designs, and elevation styles," Smith said. "Our Prairie, Craftsman, and Prairie modern elevations were well received. They are different from what most new builders of new communities are offering, yet with roots to historical architecture in the region."
The Prairie Contemporary will be all stucco and will feature clean detailing and strong geometric design.
Craftsman elevations will feature stucco, lap siding or shakes, with brick accents. Large front porches will be typical of this elevation.
The Prairie elevations will feature more brick and classic horizontal geometry.
"The key elements to Prairie style are clean, horizontal lines, simple detailing, geometric window placement and open floor plans with lots of natural light," Smith said. "Certain elements also associated with the style, while still very relevant, can sometimes be challenging to achieve in today's production housing."
For example, many jurisdictions don't allow flat roofs, and zoning restrictions may prohibit large overhangs. Classic prairie-style homes employed heavy use of brick -- a material that isn't appropriate in some regions.
Today's floorplans are radically different from Wright's early 20th century homes, which were often commissioned by clients who had live-in domestic help.
"We're talking about a style that's over 100 years old," said Frank Renz, a Lakeland ophthalmologist who considers himself a Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast. "The Prairie style homes were large homes for wealthy families. They were a bridge between Victorian and modern eras."
Renz, who volunteers as a docent at Florida Southern, said he's intrigued by the concept of a Wright-inspired community in Florida.
"He always wanted to build a city, but he never did," Renz said. "I think some aspects of Wright's work will always be sellable. But then again, you're asking someone in the choir if he likes the song."
Horizontal construction should be underway by October. The community is expected to open in May 2017.