Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo - Architects and Architecture Lesson Plan

Architects and Architecture

Subject Areas:

ELA, Math/Technology, Social Studies, Art, Career Development & Occupational Studies


9, 10, 11, 12

Student Materials:

magazines, newspapers, internet access

Teacher Materials:

Related songs to play for students

Lesson Objectives:

  • Students will develop a working definition of architecture based on observation, interviews, and research
  • Students will will recognize the different forms buildings have

Teaching Ideas:

Have students work as architectural reporters. They should ask their fellow students, family members, and teachers the question “What is architecture?” and record their responses. Back in the classroom, write their responses on the board. Keep a tally of repeated ideas. Ask the class to summarize their findings and state their definition of architecture based on their interviews. Compare this definition to one in a dictionary. Compare their definition to Wright’s ideas about architects and architecture:

“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill, belonging to it. Hill and house should live together, each the happier for the other.”

“A great architect is not made by way of a brain nearly so much as he is made by way of a cultivated, enriched heart.”

“The mother art is architecture. Without architecture of our own we have no soul of our own civilization.”

“True ornament is not a matter of prettifying externals. It is organic with the structure it adorns, whether a person, a building or a park.”

“Buildings, too, are children of the Earth and Sun.”

“Every great architect is—necessarily—a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.”

“Architecture is life, or at least it is life itself taking form and therefore it is the truest record of life as it was lived in the world yesterday, as it is lived today or ever will be lived.”

Within the classroom create a display with two headings—Homes and Public Buildings. Ask the students to clip magazine and newspaper photos or print internet images that illustrate buildings and pin them under the correct heading. Using the images, lead a discussion about what is valued in each kind of building.

Make lists of what is liked and disliked by focusing on surface textures, patterns, colors, materials, lines, and human scale. Notice the details of the building.

For example:

  • Where is the front door located and does it allow easy access?
  • Is a clock tower high enough to read the time from a distance?
  • Does the color of the building make it take root in the landscape or stand out?
  • What’s the scale of the building to surrounding buildings?
  • What decisions are made using aesthetic judgments and what decisions are rooted in their personal memories?
  • Focusing on a building, what was important to the architect—the building’s function, its aesthetics, or both?

How does a home and a city sound? Explore songs written about cities and homes. (For example, Home Sweet Home, Buffalo Gal, St. Louis Blues, NY NY, Take Me Home Country Road, Shuffle Off to Buffalo, I’ll be Home for Christmas, Beale Street Blues, Memphis in June, Davenport Blues, Chicago, Penny Lane, The Long and Winding Road, Spanish Harlem, New Orleans, 52nd Street Theme, and Back in Your Own Backyard ) Have the students compose music for their home, the Martin House, Graycliff, or Buffalo.

Make a list of the geometric shapes found in the Martin Estate and Graycliff. Make a reference book or bulletin board that includes the mathematical description of each shape.

Using the Martin estate or their neighborhoods, continue their work as architectural reporters.






 Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo - Friend or Patron? Lesson Plan

Friend or Patron?

Subject Areas:

ELA, Social Studies, Economics, Art, Career Development & Occupational Studies


9, 10, 11, 12


What would you do for a friend? We need friends. Friends provide us with more than shoulders to lean on. Friends make our worlds better.

Frank Lloyd Wright was more than an architect to Darwin Martin and Darwin was more than a client to Frank. They began as businessmen interested in constructing a new office building in downtown Buffalo. Over the years, they became friends. Wright admired Martin’s business acumen—even asking him to be his partner. Martin offered Wright encouragement and helped him pay his bills.

In a letter to Wright, Martin wondered if other people would see him as an angel or a sucker but Darwin Martin was neither. He was a special kind of friend—he was a patron. Darwin celebrated Frank’s achievements, gave him a hand up when he needed money, and comforted him during family tragedies. He offered a helping hand without any regrets.

The word patron is from Latin and means father—one who protects and is responsible.

Patrons have been popes, business men and women, upper class families (like the Whitneys, Rockefellers, and Carnegies), kings and queens, and everyday people who ask, “When can I help?” Sometimes patrons help individuals—like Darwin helping Frank. Sometimes they find ways to help lots of people by setting up foundations, scholarships, and prizes. Patrons help scientists, writers, artists, architects, musicians, filmmakers, scholars, historians, teachers and curators create and discover. If you have a family member who is in college on a scholarship, there was a patron that provided the money to pay their tuition. If you go to a public library chances are it exists because Andrew Carnegie gave money to build libraries all across the United States. If your family buys artwork at local arts festivals or galleries, they are patrons. If you are a Girl Scout, regularly visit a Boys and Girls Club, or are on a sports team, you have patrons. How can you become a patron—how can you extend a helping hand?

Lesson Objectives:

  • Students will identify and examine what it means to be a friend and to help and encourage others
  • Students will recognize the need for patrons
  • Students will become aware of the importance of friendship and patronage

Teaching Ideas:

Ask: How do you help a friend? Ask your students to think of a friend who needs encouraging words. Their friend may have a family member who is seriously ill or they may have a friend who needs help celebrating.

Lead a discussion or have your students write a short essay about a friend they have right now. They can mask the friend’s name to keep secrets. Create an art book that will be a gift to that friend.

Wright and Martin became friends because they shared common interests. Have your students create artworks that celebrate an activity they each do with a close friend.

Who are the patrons at your school? Have your students research the names and backgrounds of individuals that have made your school a better place. Have your students interview patrons, creating an oral history for your school. If possible, create a patrons’ wall of thanks or create artworks that represent the patron or his or her good work.




 Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo - Graycliff: Summer Solace Lesson Plan

Graycliff: Summer Solace

Subject Areas:

ELA, Math/Technology, Science, Social Studies, Art, Family & Consumer Sciences, Career Development & Occupational Studies


9, 10, 11, 12


If you could choose to be anywhere in the summer, where would you go? Would you climb a tree to your private tree house, find a beach house close to sand dunes and the ocean, build a cabin in the mountains near a lake, or find a slow-moving lazy river and fish off of your houseboat?

Darwin Martin decided to spend his summers in Derby, New York not far from Buffalo on the top of a tall gray cliff that overlooks Lake Erie. He hired Frank Lloyd Wright to design and build his summer home—Graycliff.

Graycliff is different than Darwin Martin’s regular home in the city. It has lots of green grass—a huge lawn for playing sheltered under big fir trees. There are gardens to pick flowers and steps that lead down the side of the cliff to the lake. The house sits low hugging the land. Imagine waking up with the lake breezes and looking out the windows watching sailboats and seagulls, eating lunches outside, decorating your house with big bunches of summer flowers, and taking the night chill off with a warm fire in the living room. Darwin Martin’s granddaughter, Margaret, remembers Graycliff as a place filled with sunshine. She liked the lake breezes that filled the house and remembered playing in the stone fountain and sitting in the shade created by the big stone overhangs.

Lesson Objectives:

  • Students will identify and examine familiar and favorite summer vacation destinations
  • Students will recognize the need for architects to build homes that satisfy human needs
  • Students will become aware of the natural environment and how it affects home building

Teaching Ideas:

Ask: Where would you build your summer home? What is it about that place that makes it special for you?

Have the students write a story that describes their dream of summer home and illustrate it with drawings, family photos of vacations, and images from the internet and magazines. Make sure that their drawings capture their needs in the way they have planned their homes.

While Graycliff sits on top of a seventy-five foot cliff, it is only two stories tall. Wright used big local stones and many clear glass windows. He created places to observe the lake—from sunsets to gathering storms. While big French doors open out onto the lake views on the back of the house, the front door is sheltered under a stone overhang. Wright also used a lot of horizontal lines when he drew up his plan. Wright used horizontal lines to make the house seem quiet and restful. He also wanted to connect the house with the land so instead of building the house up into the sky, he followed the curves of the hilltop.

Have your students draw their plans for a summer home. Like Frank Lloyd Wright, take the lay of the land into consideration and decide whether or not to hug the earth or soar up into the sky. Use visual resources that offer lots of different shapes and materials they might use in their designs. Have them think about approaches to their homes and where they will put the doors. Make sure they can describe the interior and exterior of their creations and how it satisfies their needs for a summer home.

Vary the above lesson by creating teams of two—an architect and a client. The student architect should interview their client about their dream home and the two of them should create drawings together and present their plans to the class.




 Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo - Destined to Be an Architect Lesson Plan


Destined to be an Architect

Subject Areas:

ELA, Math/Technology, Social Studies, Art, Family & Consumer Sciences, Career Development & Occupational Studies


9, 10, 11, 12


What makes a house a home?

What makes a group of people a family?

A family shares the same bloodline—you see your Dad’s nose when you look in a mirror. Your sister has your Mom’s curly hair. Your uncle has long legs like his brothers.

Yet, it’s more than the color of your eyes that connect you to your family. It is closeness and love you have that make you a part of a family.

In Frank Lloyd Wright’s book "The Living City" he wrote about the importance of filling your heart with “the song of birds, wind in the trees, animal cries… [and] songs of…loved ones.”

Imagine having your sister next door, your brother across the way—all of your cousins sharing the same yard. You’d smell food from the kitchens and laughter from the living rooms. You’d never feel alone. This is what Darwin Martin wanted when he created his family home and estate in Buffalo. Home was his favorite place to be.

So, what makes a building a home? A family of buildings, the Martin complex houses are connected by their looks—they all have the same warm colors, long horizontal bands of windows that look out on gardens and trees, and beautiful light that sparkles through green and gold stained glass windows. And like your family, they are more than how they look. What makes them more is Mr. Martin’s family. He had them built to have his sister and brother across the way and next door.

Lesson Objectives:

  • Students will identify and examine familiar and favorite places within a home
  • Students will recognize the need for architects to build homes that satisfy human needs

Teaching Ideas:

Ask: What’s your favorite place at home? (It might be their bedroom, a closet, the backyard, under the kitchen table, in the garage…) Examine that place. Make a list of why that place is their favorite. For example, it might be the security of having their parents nearby, the secret place they share with their best friend, memories created with their grandparents, a place to listen to great music, breathing in a beautiful view, a place that’s filled with their “stuff,” or just a sense of play and freedom.

Make a list of what makes that place unpleasant. It might be mosquitoes, rude brothers, messy sisters, parental interruptions, loud music or too many strangers.

Have them imagine themselves without their favorite place. What would they do? Have the students write a short story or paragraph and draw or paint a picture about their favorite place. Tell the readers where it is, who goes there, when they go there, and what is there. Most important, why is it their favorite place?

Create a family oral history project. Record their conversations with older family members discussing their favorite childhood places.

Divide the students into small teams. Using their drawings and writings as their inspiration, build model homes and landscaping using scrap mat board, cardboard, paper, pencils, markers, glue, tape, scissors, and rulers. Challenge the teams to create a home that has good function, aesthetics, and allows the family members to have favorite places.

Create a reading list of favorite books about neighborhoods and home




 Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo - Lines in the Glass: FLW's Light Screens Lesson Plan


Lines in the Glass: FLW's Light Screens

Subject Areas:

ELA, Math/Technology, Art


6, 7, 8

Student Materials:

ruler, paper, drawing implement(chalk, pen, pencil, marker, crayon)

Teacher Materials:

photos of Frank Lloyd Wright homes and windows

Tree of Life image


Many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s window patterns tend to reflect natural forms in an abstract style.

On the first floor of the Martin house, he used glass designs that resembled the wisteria plant, which grew on the site. In the first floor reception room and in the second floor windows, he used what came to be known as the “Tree of Life” pattern.

The “Tree of Life” pattern was the most complex pattern ever designed by Wright and had over 750 pieces of glass in each window.

Other designs for the Martin complex were geometric patterns and did not reflect things found in nature. These were in the horizontal skylights and lay lights (skylights illuminated by electric lights). These may have been more of a reflection of the geometric lines of the house itself.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed more separate window patterns for the Martin complex than for any other of his commissions. The house has fifteen different designs and an astounding total of 394 Wright designed windows were installed in the whole complex.

Lesson Objectives:

  • Students will respond critically to Frank Lloyd Wright’s art glass window designs
  • Students will apply mathematical concepts in a real world setting
  • Students will be able to identify synonyms
  • Students will create a geometrical design in a limited space
  • Students will use oral and written language to express their analysis and opinion of Frank Lloyd Wright designs

Teaching Ideas:

Frank Lloyd Wright designed a WHOLE house. He even designed the patterns that would be in the art glass of the windows. Mr. Wright designed this window. It is one of his most famous designs. The name of this window is “The Tree of Life”. Look at the window and label the parts. The parts are: 




pot or ground

Ask students "what is your favorite thing in nature?" 

Frank Lloyd Wright designed his windows to look like nature, but he always used straight lines!

Ask students “what can you think of in nature that has straight lines?

Use this idea and draw a nature design for a Wright-style art glass window. Just as Mr. Wright did, you must only use straight lines.



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