5757 Woodlawn Avenue
Frank Lloyd Wright 1909
Wright built this extraordinary residential home for wealthy bicycle and motorcycle manufacturer Frederick C. Robie in the first decade of the twentieth century. To understand the extraordinary leap from the Victorian to the Modern that Wright takes with this work, take a good look at the contemporaneous house to the right of the Robie House.
The Robie House gracefully receeds from the street in a series of horizontal overlapping planes; this exterior spatial overlap is complemented by an interior that is open to the outside, yet sheltered.
This delicate balance of private and exposed space (requested by Robie himself, to shield his family from outsiders, but a constant theme in Wright's domestic architecture) is remarkable, as is the suitability of the house for modern living. Note also the huge drop in ceiling heights. The guides at the Robie House assert that the low ceilings were not only modeled for bodies of Wright's height or less (about 5' 7"), but that they expressed his committment to "democracy."
The University of Chicago owns the Robie House, donated in 1963 by Webb & Knapp, Inc., a contracting firm that bought the home in 1957 from the neighboring Chicago Theological Seminary.
Paul Kruty, in the AIA Guide to Chicago, describes the Robie House in terms that apply to much of Wright's work: "Space is defined not by walls, in the conventional sense, but by a series of horizontal planes intercepted by vertical wall fragments and rectangular piers. These horizontals extend far beyond the enclosures, defining exterior space as well and echoing the flat midwestern landscape that so inspired the architect."
Text Christy Rogers 1998
Photographs Simon Glynn 2007
How to visit
The Robie House is a National Historic Landmark and is operated by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. Tour information (times and prices) is available at their site www.wrightplus.org. Please note that their site covers two different buildings; make sure you are looking at information for Robie House.
To get there from downtown Chicago, take Lake Shore Drive (41) south to the 53rd street exit. Take 53rd to Woodlawn, and a left on Woodlawn. The house is on the corner of Woodlawn and 58th street. We had no trouble finding on-street parking.
The closest public transportation is via the Metra, a commuter train (with conductor) that can be boarded from several stops in downtown Chicago, near Michigan Ave.
Books and other web sites
Click the book title to view and to order direct
Edgar Kaufmann, Jr.
Grand coffee-table book by the late owner of the house, with fantastic color photographs but architecture-free text.
Accessible and well illustrated account of the house.
Arlene Sanderson (editor)
A practical visitors' guide to thirty six publicly accessible Frank Lloyd Wright sites, with a straightforward one or two page description of each, with black and white photographs.
www.allwrightsite.net provides both its own Frank Lloyd Wright content and a set of links to other Frank Lloyd Wright sites on the web.
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