Frederick C. Robie House

Of the approximately 500 structures designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, about 400 of them were actually built. Of that number, the state of Illinois contains more than any other state in the Union. And the majority of those buildings are located in either Chicago or Oak Park, with a number of others in the northern suburbs. With few exceptions, these Chicago area homes were designed and built in the early 1900s, a time when Wright was beginning to forge the “Prairie Style” and “organic” architecture, for which he gained much acclaim. He was mid-30s in age at the time and, typical of the new style, his houses displayed low-pitched roofs and extended, horizontal lines that blend into the landscape.

Robie House

Hitting His Stride

Such was the style of the Frederic C. Robie house, designed by Wright in his own Oak Park studio when he was only forty-one years of age; by now he had already built over sixty homes and was truly just “hitting his stride”. On a lot that was barely one quarter of an acre (60 feet by 180 feet), a very young Robie – only twenty-eight at the time – commissioned the architect to build for him, his wife Lora and their two children, a home. Located on what is now the campus of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, Wright designed in 1908-1909 what may be the greatest example of the Prairie School style. Frank Lloyd Wright himself called his design for Robie House “a source of world-wide architectural inspiration.”

The long and low horizontal roofline, additional horizontal emphasis provided by Roman brick with brick-colored mortar in the cross joints and cream-colored mortar in the beds to create a joint profile with a horizontal feeling, large overhanging, cantilevered eaves, continuous ribbons of art-glass windows and an open living space at the home’s center – now found in homes across the country – are at the heart of the Prairie Style created by Wright.

Robie House

The Ultimate Prairie House

Inside – if you can find the front door (it is well hidden under an overhanging second story on the short, northwest side of the building) – is a pair of rectangles containing the principal living spaces of the house; support is provided by reinforced concrete girders. A massive fireplace divides the living and dining rooms and connects all three floors, as does a central stairway. Vertical support is tucked neatly into the spaces between the walls and windows and nearly disappears, again allowing for the expansive horizontal feeling to be accentuated.

Outside the home, a generous use of Bedford limestone for the lintels, sills, copings and even the giant planters provide an exclamation point on the horizontal lines of the home. Abstract geometric forms in Wright’s favorite 30- and 60-degree angles are prominently displayed in the 174 art-glass window and door panels.

Construction on the home began in April of 1909 and, although Wright designed – in addition to the home itself – all the rugs, furniture, lighting and textiles, he did not supervise the construction of the home except in the earliest of stages, as he had closed his Oak Park offices and headed to Europe. The Robie family moved in during May of 1910, although many items like rugs and furniture were not completed until eight months later. At just over 9,000 square feet, it is a lot of house on a small piece of property. And at a completed cost of $58,000 – $1.5 million in today’s dollars – it was a lot of money when one considers that the Robies only lived there for fourteen months, before financial problems forced them to sell.

Robie House

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Robie House

Location

5757 South Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, Illinois

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Tours

Guided tours of the Robie House are available.  Check the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust website for rates and times.

Quick Links

FLW Robie Art Glass Lightbox Accent Lamp  

Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House: The Illustrated Story of an Architectural Masterpiece (Dover Architecture)

Cut and Assemble Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House (Dover Children's Activity Books)