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Chicago in July

Posted by on 9/24/13 at 04:11pm

This July my wife Peggy and I spent a few days in the Chicago area. Most notable about our trip was a visit to a few museums, a delightful Italian Restaurant near Michigan Avenue and several Frank Lloyd prairie style houses in Oak Park. The highlight of the trip was a tour of the Frederick C. Robie House in Hyde Park.


Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois, built in 1889 with a $5,000.00 loan from his former employer Louis Sullivan. Twenty-two years old at the time and married to Catherine Tobin, the Wrights raised 6 children in the home. The home and studio had many interesting features including an upstairs vaulted ceiling performance room for the children, while the design studio had a chain supported mezzanine for craftsmen to conduct their work. Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney started their careers in this early office. A Richard Bock sculpture is set in the garden on the east side of the house.


The Frank Thomas House was built in 1901 and is one of many Prairie School houses in Oak Park. Dismissing the Victorian style the prairie style emphasizes the horizontal to reflect the prairie. Flat or hipped roofs with broad overhanging eaves integrates with the landscape. The use of craftsmanship and disciplined use of ornament reinforces this architecture. Some architects did not use the term Prairie Style to describe their work. For instance Marion Mahoney used the phrase “The Chicago Group”.


The Frederick C. Robie house, designed and built in 1909 and 1910, ranks up there as one of my favorite modern buildings. This building exhibits the properties of Prairie Style perhaps better than any other. The vertical mortar joints were colored the same as the brick so the horizontal white joints would stand out, emphasizing the horizontal nature of the building. Wright designed a total package where the lighting, rugs, furniture and textiles were as important to him as the building. Wright wrote in 1910, “it is quite impossible to consider the building one thing and the furnishing another….They are all mere structural details of its character and completeness”.  About this time Wright began his infamous affair with another client’s wife, Mamah Borthwick Cheney, which affected his career for many years.


Gate and brick detail from Robie House


Detail from nearby Unity Temple in Oak Park.


Not a prairie style building, this crazy canoe sculpture is near the waterfront in Chicago.

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