Our guest today at Home and Living is Brian Reis, Director of Archives and Collections for the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, who is going to talk with us about the Robie House.
Q.: Brian, welcome! For Readers who do not know architecture, could you say a few words about Frank Lloyd Wright.
B.: Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the most well-known architects and was certainly responsible for changing the course of American architecture. He was born in Wisconsin in 1867 and lived until 1959, giving us over 70 years of extraordinary designs. Some of his famous structures are the Unity Temple in Oak Park, IL, the Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago, Fallingwater in Pennsylvania and the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Q.: You are the Director of Archives and Collections for the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, what does that involve?
B.: I am responsible for the care and interpretation of the artifacts and archives in our collections. I also see to the display of materials within our museum sites.
Q.: Three part question: We are here today to talk about the Robie House. First, where is it located? Why is this structure significant in the world of architecture? How was it viewed for the times?
B.: The Frederick C. Robie House is located at 5757 South Woodlawn Avenue in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. The home is what Mr. Wright would have called the Prairie house type (later know as the Prairie Style of architecture). The home and style is known for its ground-hugging hipped roof, central fireplace and chimney, horizontality in the design of the structure, and a great attention to nature both in how the structure was originally situated on the site and in the built-in planters and urns that allow nature to grow among the walls and vast porches of the structure.
The Robie House with its sweeping cantilevered-roof and use of brick and limestone for ornamentation and texture became a transition point for Mr. Wright and a vision toward modernism in American domestic architecture. There was a dual perception about the home when constructed in 1910; architects and art historians found it to be groundbreaking, while neighbors were not always certain what to think of the radical design.
“…organic architecture was about the marriage of the building to the land and using natural colors and materials for the home…”
Q.: Can you talk about the spatial qualities of the interior of the house.
B.: The main floor is raised above the ground floor of the home. It consists of a living room, dining room, guest bedroom and bathroom, kitchen, butler’s pantry and servants’ rooms, with a great portion of the space containing the living and dining rooms. These two rooms flow into one another and are partially interrupted by a massive brick and limestone fireplace (matching the exterior materials of the home). The fireplace has a cutout section at the top center that allows views from one room to the other. Side aisles pass the fireplace on the north and south and connect the rooms for an uninterrupted flow. Steel beams in the ceiling allow the room to be free of upright support beams and also allow for the great cantilevered roof.
Q.: The glass and lighting fixtures are special in the Robie house, did the furnishings suit as well?
B.: Furniture was custom-designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Robie House. Not all rooms were commissioned for furniture; however, most of the main floor and entry hall originally displayed Wright designs in red quarter-sawn oak, matching the wood trim and built-in cabinetry of the home. Custom made carpeting and other textiles were also incorporated as part of the plan.
Q.: Did Frank Lloyd Wright have an environmental mission?
B.: Mr. Wright’s principle for an organic architecture was about the marriage of the building to the land and using natural colors and materials for the home. He incorporated ribbons of artglass windows and in the Robie House, a whole wall of artglass doors that open onto a terrace in order to open the inside to the landscape. The Robie House is surrounded on three sides by planter boxes and urns, and originally looked out to the south over the greenery of a field and park setting.
Q.: How does this house compare to Wright’s other projects?
B.: The Robie House shows the culmination of the prairie house type and signifies the next era in Mr. Wright’s career: pushing the boundaries of domestic structures and reinventing the American home. He of course goes on to create inspiring commercial buildings such as churches, office buildings, and hotels, but domestic architecture was the mainstay of his practice for most of his long career.
Q.: Can you tell us about the new book on the Robie House?
B.: The new book includes professional photography of the Robie House taken by photographer Tim Long, an introduction by Paul Golberger, and descriptive captions written by staff at the Preservation Trust. The photographs are stunning and the writing is insightful making this small volume a perfect read for any architecture fan.
Q.: How would people be able to see the house in person?
B.: Information about booking a tour or signing up for a special event can be done through our website www.GoWright.org.
Q.: Is there anything else you would like to tell Home and Living Readers?
B.: Visiting our two museum sites, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park Home and Studio and the Frederick C. Robie House, gives visitors an appreciation for the first two decades of Wright’s prolific career. The structures are amazing and if possible should be witnessed in person.
(See: photos in the slideshow of the Robie House.)