City: Buffalo, New York
Restoration status: Demolished, 1950
Established in 1875, the Larkin Company was a national mail-order business that sold soap products to middle class consumers. Its managers, including John D. Larkin, Elbert Hubbard, Darwin Martin, and William Heath ascribed to the belief that hard work was a moral imperative, and attempted to foster a familial office culture. The construction of a new headquarters was intended to ensure the highest levels of efficiency, productivity, and cooperation among its employees. The mottoes adorning the structure’s balconies and exterior plaques, written primarily by Heath, reinforced these ideals. The structure’s plan, interior and exterior design, and furnishings responded to the daily operations of the company and provided for the welfare of its employees—an early form of air conditioning cooled the space while a communal dining facility, classrooms, and lounge area with a fireplace promoted a congenial office culture.
Martin, the company’s secretary, pushed Larkin to hire Wright for the design of their new headquarters. Wright called on his experience working with Adler and Sullivan to convince Martin of his capabilities in the execution of his first independent, large-scale commercial project. In contrast with Wright’s residential projects of the period, in which the primary spaces radiate out from the core of the building, a steel frame sheathed in masonry encloses a large, open, five-story well illuminated by skylights at the heart of the building. Executive staff occupied desks in this space, and a grid of thick balconies extended up and around it. The building’s exterior was volumetric and grandiose, and a geometric program of ornament complemented assertively rectangular buttresses surmounted by globes and figural sculptures by Wright’s frequent collaborator, Richard Bock.