7 In Your Neighborhood: Frank Lloyd Wright

March 3, 2012 9:00:22 PM PST
Chicago's famed skyline continually wins praise for its innovative architecture -- but it's not only the skyscrapers that show off the region's impact on creative design.

In our "ABC 7 In Your Neighborhood" segment, we stop in Oak Park and Hyde Park to see some of the handy work of one of the world's most influential architects.

From 1889 to 1909, Frank Lloyd Wright called Oak Park his home. The budding young architect built his first house on Chicago Avenue with money borrowed from his boss.

"The home features an exterior that's heavily influenced by the American shingle style of architecture and an interior that borrows heavily from the Arts and Crafts Movement," said David Bagnall, curator of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. "The studio was an 1898 addition to the home."

The married father of six included enviable features, like a children's playroom that had balcony seats for best viewing of their performances. The property also employs some architectual marvels.

"The drafting room for example is a two-story space," Bagnall said. "If you look around this space, you'll notice that on the main level there are no columns to support the upper level. The upper level is completely supported by a system of chains and weights."

What some deem most spectacular is that this is where he revolutionized home design with his expansive Prairie style.

It was here that he developed the key buildings of the Prairie style: the Larkin Building in Buffalo, NY, Unity Temple right in Oak Park and, of course, Wright's Prairie-style masterpiece, the Frederick C. Robie House.

Robie House is nestled among campus buildings at the University of Chicago in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Designed in 1908, it's widely known as Wright's signature creation.

"Previously you had miniature rooms for various functions," said Adam Ross of the Wright Preservation Trust. "Here, Wright breaks that box and in the living room dining room area for example, it's only separated by a large chimney space."

The home was originally commissioned by a bicycle manufacturer who was also a car enthusiast. Wright addressed that by including a three-car garage.

"At the time, 1910, that was very forward thinking," Ross said. "Most people didn't have a car let alone a garage attached to their home."

The art-glass windows giving way to a flood of natural light and custom built furniture to complement the home design set a standard that persists even today.

"Robie House was designated as one of the top 10 structures of the 20th century according to the American Institute of Architecture," Ross said. "It was also the first structure to receive landmark status based solely on its architectural merit."

Both the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio, and Robie House are open daily for public tours. Coming up in June, nine privately owned homes in Oak Park that were designed by Wright and his contemporaries also will be open to the public.

For more information, visit www.gowright.org