On the prairie grasses of Norman, Oklahoma sits an utterly unique and curious structure — appearing to some as a large bird or creature; to others as perhaps the result of tornado devastation. This gamut of puzzling wonder over first sights of The Prairie House — also known as the Prairie Chicken House for its resemblance to the bird — was fully intended by architect Herb Greene when he built the dazzling home in 1961.
However strange the 2,100-square-foot, two-story home might appear from the outside is quickly forgotten upon stepping through the doorway; a swirling feast for the eyes of rough sawn cedar boards and unfinished cedar shingles swirl and unfold, a fantastic display of Greene’s “freestyle” interpretation of his learnings and influence from both Frank Lloyd Wright and Bruce Goff. Greene’s Prairie House, built for himself and his family, was considered to be an early symbol of Organic Modernism.
Some 60 years later, The Prairie House was in need of some love and maintenance, and Austin Hacker and Bryan Bloom, owners of design/build firm OXBloom, came along and purchased the property in March. Austin and Bryan, whose firm focuses on residential architecture and academic partnerships, plan to restore entire property, inside and out, working with Herb and the Oklahoma University College of Architecture.
“Growing up in Oklahoma there’s a sense of renewal from what’s relevant in the world’s cultural hubs,” Austin and Bryan tell us. “Maybe even a certain notion of being confined due to the distance from either coast or the conservative nature of our culture. So when we saw this place for the first time and then dove into everything Herb Greene and his philosophy, we felt an immediate kinship with the place and knew it could be brought back to life to serve as an example of what it means to love an artist wherever you are, with whatever you’ve got.”
The team got to work making some immediate fixes to maintain the structural integrity of the home, and plan to roll out the end result of their full-property restoration sometime this fall.
“Once we stopped all of the leaks by putting on a new roof, the interior now functions properly as it did some 60 years ago. The big challenge now is the skin of the building. Clad in simple tar paper and overlaid with an intricate pattern of cedar boards of varying sizes that give it the appearance of a bird or a bison or some other animal not yet discovered, the big task is to replicate the original while utilizing modern techniques to ensure that this version lasts another few generations.”
With the most pressing of improvements to the home completed, Austin and Bryan had photographer Mel Willis come through and photograph The Prairie House in its current state. We’ll touch base with the OXBloom team again this fall to take in the architectural treasure’s restoration in-full. But for now, Austin and Bryan, working alongside the architect they admire so much, will revel in the mastery of Herb’s work as they embark on bringing his vision back to its clearest light. “There’s a surreal warmth to the place,” they share. “The entire interior is comprised of thousands of raw cedar shingles, arranged in these beautiful patterns, so not only are your eyes constantly seeing new forms, but the scent of cedar gives one the sense of being in the woods after a light rain. Every single time we’re here. It never grows old.” —Kelli