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ABCs of American Architecture (Twentieth Century)

Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


accented by wood strips, continuous bands of windows and strongly defined copings. Generally, the materials used for building were wood frame and stucco, but brick was often used in combination or as the chief surface material. The Prairie house first emerged in the Midwest, and its lines echo the flat prairie land of the region. Many of the early ones echoed the past in their Tudor timbering or classical columns. It was Wright who first broke the mold of the past and created what he called "organic architecture", the antithesis of the classic cube.

Frank Lloyd Wright was a product of Victorian training and the challenge of contemporary technology. Unlike his European peers, he endeavored to eliminate the "box" from his design and explore new forms combined in new ways. His style, easier to identify than describe, has been imitated and circulated through his Taliesin Fellowship, now known as the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, where the objective was to imbue the apprentice with the principles of organic architecture. To summarize a few general characteristics, the main theme is horizontality, a flat or shallow roof which is made an important part of the design, and the use of strong natural materials for building. We are most fortunate to have in our area one of the most exciting of Wright’s designs, Fallingwater, a home built for Edgar Kaufmann at Bear Run, Pennsylvania (near Ohiopyle). Open to the public by reservation, a visit to Fallingwater would be an interesting field trip for students of architectural history.

Somewhere along in the Thirties there emerged a different look, a style of ornament called Art Deco, or Modernistic. It was rectilinear, geometric, with concentric or repeated curves and angled setbacks. Popular motifs were zigzags, chevrons and stylized flower forms. Concrete, smooth-faced stone and metal were favorite building materials and vivid colors were added through the use of paint, terra-cotta and colored glass. Picture, if you will, the multitude of extinct gas stations with their rounded corners. One fine example of Art Deco that we live with is the old Embassy Theatre building at 49 Cumberland Mall. It features the typically fluted columns topped with a chevron, that at one time was topped with a ball of blue mirror. The building is in excellent condition, and we should relish our period representative of what became a passing fad.

One more style bears recognition, the International style, which had its beginnings in Germany, Holland and France. It is characterized by a complete absence of ornament, a balance of unlike parts and smooth and uniform wall surfaces. It is vigorously functional, stark but flexible, and although most architects have since chosen to design in a more personal fashion, the International style continues to exert a strong influence on modern architecture. The Museum of Modern Art in New York has been one of the chief exponents of the style, and visible evidence of it is seen not only in industrial building, but also in some homes. According to Foley (The American House), "this movement provided the necessary backbone for the development of a new architecture which might otherwise have floundered without certain shape or purpose. Frank Lloyd Wright was a genius who could create great buildings without a formula. Most of his followers could not. The International style consciously defined a formula by which any architect (supposedly) could design a good building...and remain basic reference points even today."

We have not attempted too elaborate or extensive definitions of architectural styles here. Rather, we hope to whet the appetite of the reader to investigate for himself the various trends


Page #:

Cumberland Historic Preservation Commission

City of Cumberland


Collection Location:

Original Size:
22 x 29 cm.

Helene L. Baldwin, Joy W. Douglas, Gary Bartik and John Eiser

Historic buildings, Maryland, Allegany County; Historic buildings, Maryland, Cumberland.

Cumberland (Md,); 1742-1980

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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