Visit to the Prairie Chicken House

This unique house on the edge of Norman, Oklahoma is known to most as the prairie chicken house. Designed by Herb Greene in 1960, he preferred to call it simply the Prairie House

Thanks to the Prairie House Preservation Society (PHPS) it is now possible for the public to experience one of Oklahoma's most unusual architectural treasures. 

Tours of the home are now available on the third Saturday of each month. The tours begin at 2:00 PM, and tickets can be purchased from the PHPS website.

Herb Greene attended the University of Oklahoma's School of Architecture. He was drawn to OU during an era of controversial change as Bruce Goff transformed the school's basic method of teaching. The emphasis on creativity versus copying past works was new and different. Greene would later join the OU faculty in 1956 after Goff's departure

The Prairie House gained worldwide acclaim after Life magazine published Julius Shulman's iconic photographs of architecture "between the coasts." The influence of Goff is evident throughout the house– the organic lines, communal spaces, use of natural materials... and those ubiquitous accordion room dividers! But even though much is reminiscent of Bruce Goff's work (even the location is only a couple of miles from the ill-fated Bavinger House) there is a unique feel that sets it apart. 

The bright skies were clear and cold when Jackie and I toured the house on a March afternoon. A stiff wind really was "sweeping down the plain." Once inside, our tour guides let us wander around the first floor while they prepared a video presentation upstairs. 

The 2,100 square feet are arranged on two floors with a small balcony on the roof. Standing in the entrance a central "catwalk" above you dominates the interior space. The ladder-like steps lead to the rooftop balcony for those daring enough to make the climb. Cedar shingles completely cover the walls and ceiling. 

Walking through the house, one space flows organically into the next. There are bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen. But they aren't what you would normally define as a "room." The sleeping area is really one curving space with accordion doors to make 2 bedrooms. The bedrooms flow into the kitchen, which opens to the entryway.

As we made our way upstairs, I noticed a hinge on the wall. And another. Tugging a knoblike piece of cedar I discovered a cabinet. There are several closets and cabinets throughout the house hiding under the camouflage of cedar shake. 

We all gathered around a computer screen to watch a short film about Herb Greene. It covered his trek from New York to OU to study with Goff and featured several of Greene's unique paintings and a couple of interviews. Our tour guide explained the background of Goff's time at OU and the advent of what has been called the American School of Architecture. 

Our visit was brief but memorable. The wind howled across the open prairie as we hurried back to our car and headed for home. As the Prairie House shrank in the rearview mirror we agreed, it's nice to know people are making an effort to preserve this unique little house "between the coasts."


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