The quiet neighborhood of fine homes and old oaks not far from the heart of Stanford's campus gives no hint that it harbors a revolutionary. But climb the curving driveway at 737 Frenchman's Road and you'll find the unlikely culprit—a low, spreading house of redwood, glass, and earth-orange brick that hugs the contours of its hilly site.
Stanford's Hanna House, also known as the Honeycomb House, isn't just another Frank Lloyd Wright design. Built in 1937, it occupies a pivotal place in the career of a man whose roughly 450 buildings helped define architecture as we know it. It is one of 17 Wright works selected by the American Institute of Architects as his most treasured gems.
In 1936, when Stanford professor Paul Hanna and his wife, Jean, had Wright design a house for them and their three youngsters, the architect was enjoying a career comeback. Behind him were triumphs like Tokyo's Imperial Hotel, which had survived a cataclysmic earthquake, and important future projects like the Johnson Wax Building and Fallingwater were already on his drafting board.
In the Hannas, Wright found the clients he needed. "For quite a while Wright had been interested in the use of unconventional geometry," says Stanford architectural historian Paul Turner. "He wanted to break out of the rectangular box that dominated architecture, and he needed clients who would let him do that."
At Hanna House, Wright turned to the hexagon, the shape of honeycombs, which he found more conducive to human movement than the square. He designed an open floor plan of interlocking hexagons—there are no 90-degree walls in the entire house—and the pattern appeared in floors, tiles, and furnishings. According to Turner, the house was Wright's first nonrectangular design that actually got built and "it inaugurated the last phase of his career, when shapes like circles, hexagons, and triangles dominate his work." That phase, many argue, culminated in New York's spiral wonder, the Guggenheim Museum, which was completed in 1959 after Wright's death.