Frank Lloyd Wright’s Frederick C. Robie House is a real treat for anyone interested in architecture. It is conveniently located on the University of Chicago campus in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the south side of Chicago.
Tours begin in what was the three-car garage at the back of the house. From the courtyard just outside the garage, our tour guide led us around to the front of the house to discuss the Prairie Style of architecture and its emphasis on a strong horizontal line. The Robie House, completed in 1910, is an excellent example of the style.
We then continued walking around the house to get to the front door, which was tucked away on the side of the house. Our tour guide joked that this had the added benefit of making it inconvenient for door-to-door salesmen. Wright used the concept of compression, with low ceilings beginning just outside the front door, continuing into the foyer, and on up the stairs and into a narrow transitional space, to make the eventual entrance into the expansive living room all the more dramatic.
The detail throughout the house is amazing. Wright clearly designed all elements of the house, down to the light fixtures and radiator covers, to fit his vision for the design of the house.
One of my favorite features of the house is the glass used in the windows. It was specially treated to be iridescent on the outside, making it difficult for passersby to see inside. This also eliminated the need for draperies, of which Wright was not a fan. From the inside, however, the windows are mainly clear glass with colorful accents, arranged in geometric designs that echo the shape of wheat. The result is wonderful views of the house’s surroundings, and a well-lit interior.
The Robie family only lived in the house for a year before they were forced to sell it to help pay off debts accrued by Mr. Robie’s father. The subsequent owners also only lived in the house for about a year, before selling it to the Wilbur family, who lived in the house for 14 years. The house was subsequently sold to the Chicago Theological Seminary, which used it for student housing for married couples. In 1957, the house was slated for demolition due to being in disrepair, but was saved, in large part due to campaigning by Wright himself. The Robie house was the only of his houses for which Wright got involved in this way. According to our tour guide, Wright called the Robie House, now owned by the University of Chicago and maintained by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, his “first Fallingwater.”