Frederick C. Robie House

Construction year: 1910
Address: 5757 South Woodlawn Avenue | CHICAGO-ILLINOIS | United States
Latitude/Longitude: 41.78980, -87.59596
Architect(s):

The Frederick C. Robie House is a U.S. National Historic Landmark on the campus of the University of Chicago in the neighborhood of Hyde Park in Chicago. It was designed and built between 1908 and 1910 by architect Frank Lloyd Wright and is renowned as the greatest example of the Prairie School style, the first architectural style that was uniquely American. It was designated a National Historic Landmark on November 27, 1963 and was on the very first National Register of Historic Places list of October 15, 1966.

The Robie House is one of the best known examples of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style of architecture. The term was coined by architectural critics and historians who noticed how the buildings and their various components owed their design influence to the landscape and plant life of the midwest prairie of the United States. Typical of Wright’s Prairie houses, he designed not only the house, but all of the interiors, the windows, lighting, rugs, furniture and textiles.

The projecting cantilevered roof eaves, continuous bands of art-glass windows, and the use of Roman brick emphasize the horizontal, which had rich associations for Wright. The horizontal line reminded him of the American prairie and was a line of repose and shelter, appropriate for a house. The exterior walls are double-wythe construction of a Chicago common brick core with a red-orange iron-spotted Roman brick veneer. To further emphasize the horizontal of the bricks, the horizontal joints were filled with a cream-colored mortar and the small vertical joints were filled with brick-colored mortar. From a distance, this complex and expensive tuckpointing creates an impression of continuous lines of horizontal color and minimizes the appearance of individual bricks.

In plan, the house is designed as two large rectangles that seem to slide by one another. Mr. Wright referred to the rectangle on the southwest portion of the site, which contains the principal living spaces of the house, as “the major vessel.” The living and dining rooms flow into one another along the south side of the building and open through a series of twelve French doors containing art glass panels to an exterior balcony running the length of the south side of the building that overlooks the enclosed garden. The west end of the living room contains a “prow” with art glass windows and two art glass doors that open onto the west porch beneath the cantilevered roof. Wright intended that the users of the building move freely from the interior space to the exterior space.

Most of the original furniture is currently in the collection of the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, although only the dining room table and chairs are on more or less permanent display. One of the most striking pieces of the furniture designed by Wright for the Robie House is a sofa with extended armrests, echoing the cantilevers of the exterior roof of the building, which effectively create side tables on each side of the sofa. The Wright-designed sofa has been on loan since 1982 from the Smart Museum to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and is on display as part of the furnishings in the reconstructed living room of the Francis W. Little House (1915) located in the museum.

The Robie House was one of the last houses Wright designed in his Oak Park, Illinois home and studio and also one of the last of his Prairie School houses.

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