It all started when Frederick C. Robie purchased a 60 by 180-ft. lot at 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave. from Harold Goodman. This was the beginning of what would change the face of architecture in Chicago and beyond.
Fred and Lora Robie commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to create a masterpiece. Mr. Robie and Mr. Wright admired each other and were both forward thinkers who weren’t afraid to push limits. Wright would later call the house he built for the Robie family as his best work.
Beginning of The Robie House (1908-1910)
While other architects designed structures that rose to the skies, Wright designed buildings that brought them back down to earth. Applying long spans of Roman brick on the inside and outside of the house, Wright was connecting the indoors to the outdoors. The low profile and use of Roman brick are hallmarks of what we know today as the Prairie Style.
The house also featured flower beds under the windows. This created a sense of being outside when looking out from the inside. With the exceptional cantilevers extending so far, it seems like they’re floating in air. The hipped roof adds to this effect.
The house also features 175 art glass windows, which are an intricate part of the design. The design allows an array of natural light to enter and flow throughout at all times. Mr. Wright considered light the beautifier of the building and glass being the incarnation of light.
In 1928, Mr. Wright wrote in Architectural Record, something he often stated:
Glass and light — two forms of the same thing.
The Robie House is the first structure to be designated as a Registered National Historic Landmark based solely on architectural merit and the first such landmark for Chicago.
Given its value, it’s hard to believe that this gem almost faced the wrecking ball several times. In 1957, Wright (then 90 years old) came out to defend his masterpiece while others were attempting to demolish it and said:
To destroy it would be like destroying a great piece of sculpture or a great work of art.
The Robie Family and Later Residents
The Robies–Fred, Lora and their two children–was the first family to live in the house. But the household lasted there for only a year. Death, debt and divorce were major factors for their departure in 1911.
After the Robies, David Lee and Ellen Taylor and their six children moved in. Like the Robies, death also played a part in their quick departure only a year later in 1912.
The last family to take up residence in the Robie House was Marshal and Isadora Wilbur and their 2 children. The family lived there from 1912 until 1926.
The first threat of demolition surfaced in 1941 after the Wilburs sold the Robie House to the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS).
Transfer of Ownership from CTS to University of Chicago
In 1958, William Zeckendorf of Webb & Knapp, a New York-based development firm purchased the house for use by his firm for a project in Hyde Park. There were plans for Wright and his foundation to use it, but he died before those plans could happen.
Zeckendorf donated the house to the University of Chicago in 1962, and the rest is history.
Design and Construction of the Robie House:
- Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) architect
- George Mann Niedecken (1878 – 1945) architect
- Harrison B. Barnard (1872 – 1952) contractor
- Hermann von Holst (1874 – 1955) architect
- Marion Mahony (1871 –1962) architect (2nd female architect to graduate from MIT)
The house was recently nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust offers guided tours, so you can see this amazing house for yourself.
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- Frederick C. Robie House (Frank Lloyd Wright Trust)
- Robie House on “10 Buildings that Changed America” (wttw)
- Frank Lloyd Wright biography (biography.com)