If you have been reading my blog for a while you may have figured out that I am a Frank Lloyd Wright fan. I collect FLW house tours like one collects ball-caps of their favorite baseball team. There are a few houses that Wright designed that one should visit in my opinion: Fallingwater, Taliesin, Taliesin West, Wright’s Home and Studio and lastly The Frederick C Robie House. The Robie House is a stunning representation of Wright’s Prairie Style work.
The Robie house is unique in the fact that Wright only supervised the construction of the house for a few months before heading overseas with his mistress, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Wright had always been deeply involved in the construction of his homes but left the Robie house in the capable hands of Hermann von Holst, a fellow Chicago architect. Holst acquired the services of some of Wright’s staff and partners in order to complete the Robie house.
Construction began on April 15th 1909 with a budget of $60,000 USD. Wright homes were notorious for going over budget and perhaps because Wright was not overly involved with the building, the Robie house came in under budget at $58,500 USD (about $1.4 million USD in today’s money). The house took just under a year to build with the Robie family moving in, in May of 1910.
The house was not occupied by the Robie family for long, about 14 months. Financial and marital problems plagued the Robie family forcing them to move out of the house. The Robie house changed hands three more times, finally ending up with the Chicago Theological Seminary in 1926. The house was used as a dormitory and dining hall by the seminary. While the seminary occupied the house they had plans for expansion, which would have resulted in tearing down the Robie house. The most serious threat to demolish the building was in 1957. The seminary made their intentions known on March 1st of 1957 and on March 18th 1957 Wright, at the age of 90, showed up with the media in tow protesting the demolition. Wright was successful with his persuasion and the Robie house was saved. It was later placed on the Chicago Landmark list that year, thus preventing any further danger to the building. After his triumph, Wright in his crotchety old way, got his point across stating “It all goes to show the danger of entrusting anything spiritual to the clergy.”
The Robie house is my favorite house designed by Wright. From the beautiful art glass windows to the stunning cantilevered roof eves, this house embodies everything about Wright that I love.
A few interesting points about the house: the exterior of the house has very few vertical lines. Looking at the brickwork the vertical lines between the bricks have been filled in with mortar matching the bricks. This was to create horizontal symmetry. It was no uncommon to see this technique in a Wright house, but the Robie house seems to take the horizontal symmetry to the ultimate level along with its overly exaggerated cantilevers.
Another unique aspect of the house is that the upper levels are filled with windows and French doors, however the exterior decks all have a knee-high brick wall. The placement of the knee-high walls prevents people from the street from being able to see in while allowing the homeowner to still enjoy their view as well as taking advantage of the natural light.
Like most Wright houses, interior photography is not allowed, hence why I do not have any photos of the interior. Also like most Wright houses, The Robie house was in need of some repair. Restoration was in progress however the Robie house was not in terrible shape. Due to its construction with steel beams supporting most of the house’s weight the structure of the house was in better shape than most of the Wright houses I have seen.