Commission brief: verbal obligation to build a house worth at least $20,000, design included boundary walls that ran to the very edges of the lot on the north and east
Design brief: Robie has done some sketches of the kind of house he wanted, probably simple diagrams showing the arrangement of rooms, and when he showed them to contractors and architects he kept getting the reply,” I know what you want, one of these damn Wright houses.” In his reminiscences of 1958, Robie claimed that he went to Wright knowing exactly the kind of house he wanted: “no junk” in the way of shades or curtains; maximum sunlight, with the shading provided only by broad overhanging eaves; separate nursery facilities; a yard with a wall to keep a children in and kidnappers out; rooms without interruptions; and a view out over his neighbors without relinquishing any his privacy. On the surface, it sounds as if he could have designed the house without Wright. However, it might be safer to assume that Robie did not know quite so specifically what he wanted, that aside from rejecting some conventions, the positive side of his program was.
Main features: It looks extremely complicated as a total composition, but it can be broken down visually into simpler parts. The law of interlocking masses - each large component of the house is designed in strict symmetry, but the components are allowed to combine in a fluid way. It is though the laws of physics had been momentarily suspended so that one solid mass could interpenetrate another until at a certain point these laws were suddenly reasserted and the drifting masses locked into place.- master bedroom wing on uppermost story. It follows a T-shaped plan and left to itself It would have been almost completely symmetrical. Strictness of symmetry – two giant flower urns obviously balance one another, but so do the piers on which they stand, the piers on which the long balcony seems to rest, and even the clusters of piers that hold up the roof. Exterior was shaped with colossal Froebel blocks but Wright wanted, make one forget the whole Froebel system with a few brilliant psychological tricks.- Garage wing stands at the rear of the house could not possibly have a pendant on the opposite side. There was no need for one and no space. - Wright cleverly detaches the garage from the main house, not physically but perceptually. Just at the point where the garage roof and the roof of the main house should merge.- Wright opens up a long, narrow slit that separates them again at least in a visual sense.- Just beneath the slit there is a grid of posts and lintels, which lines up with windows on both the south and north side of the kitchen and acts like a series of perforations, allowing the eye to pull the whole garage wing apart with just a gentle tug. Other perceptual tricks- The long balcony that runs along the side of the house is in fact supported by metal beams that protrude at regular intervals from the living and dining room floors.- With the stone copings above and below, the balcony itself looks like one giant I-beam, supported by a great brick post at either end.- It functions as a metaphor for an old-fashioned system of support, post and lintel construction, next to which the bold cantilever of the roof appears all that much more bold and soaring. - On the north side of the house, where there is no balcony, the same cantilevered roof looks slightly tamer.- In bright sunlight the balcony casts a broad band of shadow and reinforces the horizontal lines of design.- Horizontal joints deeply underscored for the masons conceal reinforce the dominant horizontal lines. French doors open out onto balcony from living and dining rooms. Featuring sweeping horizontal planes and a low-pitched roof cantilevered dramatically beyond the walls. Lightness and transparency provided by 174 art-glass windows and doors. Construction and materials: There is much more steel in the house than is usually supposed. Masons conceal all vertical joints while all horizontal joints were deeply underscored. Exterior walls are constructed of a red-orange brick. The capstones, lintels, sills and other exterior features are of a light gray stone, similar to sandstone. Art glass window dapple the house with color and light. It has no street façade and no obvious door. There are hardly any solid walls. Instead, it seems to be a building assembled out of giant blocks, free-floating roofs, and endless ribbons of windows. The distinguishing feature by which the house is immediately recognized is the famous cantilevered roof that extends twenty feel beyond the last masonry support and provokes the troubling thought that no wooden roof could possibly extend that far for long. Its relentlessly straight lines make the house look like the least natural of objects. It shuns the foliate ornament and historical detail that characterize the other houses on the block, most of which were constructed from progressive designs of the decade immediately preceding that of Robie House, 1900 to 1909. Its only ornament seems to be the abstract patterns in its windows and hundreds of flowers that blossom in season from planters hidden in nearly every horizontal ledge. Peering through the screen of plants and glass, one wonders where the inhabitants could possibly live. Comparing the house with its generous and graceful neighbors, one senses a sharp social break, a tone of emphatic dissent. On a street of large, stately houses the Robie House looks small and severe and, one might rashly judge, cheap, like an interloper from a different class, a mechanic among the gentry.
60-foot lot that Robie purchases in 1906 is the narrowest lot on this stretch of Woodlawn Avenue.
A new U.S. postal stamp featuring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House was made available February 4th, 1998 as part of a series of 30 stamps that honored important people and events of the 20th century.
‘Most ideal place in the world.’ said Fred C. Robie A few houses of the previous generation had experimented with similar ideas, but comparisons serve merely to show how distinctive the Robie House really is, and how complete was its rupture with convention. Canonical status: One of the best known early examples of Prairie style architecture. According to the Historical American Buildings Survey, the city of Chicago’s Commission on Chicago Architectural Landmarks stated: “The bold interplay of horizontal planes about the chimney mass, and the structurally expressive piers and windows, established a new form of domestic design.” When the Seminary again proposed to replace the house with a high-rise dorm in 1956-7, Wright visited and gave a much-quoted statement: “To destroy it would never be permitted in Europe. It could only happen in America, and it is particularly sad that professional religionists should be the executioners…It all goes to show the danger of entrusting anything spiritual to the clergy.” Soon after, the city’s new Commission on Architectural Landmarks named Robie House its first “honorary” landmark, although the commission lacked power. The Seminary’s response was to suggest giving Robie to the city if the city would relocate it or to build a model in a museum. Robie House epitomizes Wright’s signature Prairie style, while Wright made significant contributions to modern architecture during his prolific 70-year career. It was considered by Frank Lloyd Wright his quintessential Prairie School creation, a work of both art and spirituality. The house is generally considered a turning point in modern residential architecture. It was voted one of the ten most important buildings in America – in its structure, as design, as integration of materials, as design for domestic life and layout of living space. The Robie House contributed to a totally new conception of the façade and thus broke with an age-old tradition in architecture. For centuries the façade had been the static face of a building, solid, symmetrical, and set at right angles to the axis of approach. Wright’s reputation as a great innovator in the realm of structure has obscured the fact that he was also a brilliant visual psychologist with many perceptual tricks found in Robie House as instance.
The Robie House preservation fight in the 1950s was the spark behind the city’s first landmark protection ordinance.
JOSEPH Connors, The Robie House of Franke Lloyd Wright, Chicago and London; The University of Chicago Press; 1984; ISBN 0-226-11541-0
DONALD Hoffmann, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, The Illustrated Story of an architectural masterpiece, New York, Dover Publications, Inc., 1984, ISBN 0-486-24582-9
(http://frank.lloydwright.info/architectural/robie-house.html, (http://www.wrightplus.org/robiehouse/robiehouse.html), (http://tw.traveleredge.com/USNP/STATE/IL/robie.asp)