Frank Lloyd Wright home now more accessible

May 29, 2011 7:07:34 AM PDT
Most historic buildings and landscapes were not designed to be physically accessible for people with disabilities.

Since the Americans with Disabilities Act was implemented, many have found ways to make accommodations. One example is Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio. The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust has made a number of physical to educational modifications to this property.

Located in Oak Park, the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio has thousands of visitors every year.

"Frank Lloyd Wright was an architect and an artist with a uniquely American vision and we see that expressed in the Chicago community through many of the buildings that he designed and built here," said Celeste Adams, president and CEO of the preservation trust.

The Oak Park home is where Wright spent the first 20 years of his life.

"The home was built in 1889 but the home includes also Frank Lloyd Wright's studio, and over the years that he lived here, he continued to make additions to the house so the house is kind of laboratory for Frank Lloyd Wright," Adams said.

At the time this house was built, the idea of accessibility was non-existent. However, when the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, modifications had to be considered, says Karen Sweeney, director of restoration and facilities.

"We worked with the Oak Park Committee on the Disabled on the best way to not negatively impact the historic fabric of the building but provide access to as many people as possible," Sweeney said. "We have a ramp that leads up into the studio space so you can see Wright's drafting room, his office, the entry hall and the library."

Sweeney continued: "We have props available for the visually-impaired so they can better understand Mr. Wright's aesthetic as they go through the building ? We also have scripts available for those who arrive on site and need interpretation of something written as they go through on tour."

They also have video that shows significant elements of Wright's work and buildings. Sweeney says making historic landmarks accessible is not so easy.

"We look for the minimum impact on historic fabric of the building so that we can maintain that for generations but come up with the most innovation ways to get into the building," Sweeney said. "For access in the building here to the studio, we're able to hide the ramp behind the garden wall and tuck it into the building."

Sweeney continued: "Things like not having them touch everything in the building, if you're a blind visitor, but having props available so that they can experience those pieces in the building."

The interesting thing about Wright is that he designed his rooms open, but to access them is challenging.

"We have narrow passage ways. In fact, Wright would purposely have a narrow passageway so that then when you walk into the next space you feel the drama of that place exploding because you would manipulate your mind to have this marrow walkway," Adams said.

For more information on Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio, visit

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