You’d Be Surprised How Much Stunning Architecture This State Has

published Jul 30, 2020
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The Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison, Wisconsin

When you think of cities with phenomenal architecture, giants like New York and Chicago probably come to mind. 

But you might be surprised by the architectural prowess of a certain Midwestern state that’s home to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail and some mighty lakeside mansions. We’ll give you a few hints: This state is known for its cheese, has lots of glacial lakes, and the average home price is $202,676—significantly below the national average. 

Did you guess Wisconsin? If so, high five. You’re gouda! 

“Wisconsin’s architecture has many amazing historic and modern buildings with a strong preservation ethos,” says Sara Meaney, Secretary-designee at Travel Wisconsin

Here are a few good reasons architecture buffs should turn their attention to Wisconsin—whether you’re visiting and looking for an architecture-centric itinerary or you’re considering moving to a new state and appreciate good craftsmanship.

It’s the birthplace of mid-century modern architecture

People often consider larger cities like Chicago to be the hub of modern architecture in America, but the style has humble beginnings in rural Wisconsin at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, studio, school, and agricultural estate.

“From there, Wright created beautiful architectural buildings all throughout the state,” Meaney says. 

Visitors and residents alike can go on a self-guided architectural adventure and learn about how mid-century modern design is woven in Wisconsin’s DNA. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trail spans nine counties in southern Wisconsin. Highlights include Taliesin, Wright’s 800-acre estate in Spring Green; the curvilinear Monona Terrace in Madison, which was Wright’s lakeside “dream civic center”; and a docent-led tour of Burnham in Milwaukee, which is one of the few remaining examples of the affordable American System-Built Homes the famed architect built between 1915 and 1917.

Credit: Juli Hansen / Shutterstock.com
Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin

You could buy your very own mid-century home

The strong influence that Wright’s work has had on Wisconsin’s architecture is evident in its housing market.

In fact, a Zillow search for mid-century homes in Wisconsin turns up more than 80 results. Many of the homes currently on the market—like this textbook mid-century home in Mayville—are under the $200,000 price point.  There are some mid-century marvels, too, up for sale, like this $2.49 million, 6-bedroom home in Racine that’s on the shores of Lake Michigan and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architect Hans Geyer. 

Judy Kordt, realtor at Edina Realty in Wisconsin, says her millennial buyers are opting for eco-friendly homes right now, and the clean lines, minimalist aesthetic, and open spaces that define mid-century modern design have a special appeal to them. 

Where can prospective buyers find some of these mid-century gems? “Searching for $500,000+ homes along the St. Croix river in Wisconsin is a great place to find Frank Lloyd Wright style-infused homes,” she says. 

One of her current listings in Hudson is a case study in mid-century architecture, with sleek lines and a thoughtful integration into nature—plus deeded access to the St. Croix River and a beach.

You can marvel at grand mansions

In addition to mid-century masterpieces, Wisconsin is home to some impressive mansions in Lake Geneva. How did this lake town become such a posh place? After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, many Chicagoans flocked to Geneva Lake to build opulent summer homes.

Luckily for you, it’s totally acceptable to gawk at these colossal homes without trespassing. The Shore Path is intentionally open to the public, as it’s required that the 20 feet leading to the lake’s shoreline be preserved as public land. This way, residents and visitors can walk along the shore, checking out the mansions, antique boats, and stunning landscaping. Because property owners are responsible for maintaining the path that cuts through each of their properties, the trail has personal touches with benches, artwork, and gardens along the way.

Walking the Shore Path is best done in sections, as the path meanders for 26 miles in and out of the woods. Those who go on the walk can download the Visit Lake Geneva App to get details on the properties.

Among the must-sees is Stone Manor, a grandiose, 40,000-square-foot, 50-room lakefront home that was built in 1900. There’s also the Wrigley Estate and its sprawling grounds, which was once the summer estate of chewing gum maker and Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley.