“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” This quote signifies the rooted philosophy behind the greatest American architect of all time, Frank Lloyd Wright. Over a creative period of 70 years, Wright designed more than 1,000 structures starting from American homes to innovative offices to schools to churches to skyscrapers and many more.
Frank Lloyd Wright was a pioneer of what came to be known as “Prairie Style” architecture, a famous architectural style that was predominant in the Midwestern United States during the late 19th and early 20th century. The Frederick C. Robie House is one such significant structure that showcased Wright’s modern design innovations.
Design Philosophy and Concept
Frederick C.Robie House is a residence that was designed for F.C.Robie, an entrepreneur and owner of a bicycle and automobile company in the United States. This family home was designed and built in Hyde Park, a neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago, Illinois, United States. The meticulous design and construction of this 3-story structure took 4 years to complete (1906-1910).
Frank Lloyd Wright not only responded to the openness of the American landscape but also understood the informal quality of the modern American lifestyle. Emphasizing the design philosophy he always believed in, the house responds to the extensive American planes, establishing a bold horizontal form over the vertical. A dramatic 20-foot cantilever roof, long linear walls, and low terraces accentuate the beauty of the surrounding landscape.
Design Style and Overall Planning
Robie House is an amalgamation of two long rectangles placed on each other, generating a solid horizontal form. This leads us to a linear plan that creates a distinguishable arrangement between the public and private spaces. Frank Lloyd Wright was asked by his client Robie to play with privacy, insisting on the idea of “seeing his neighbors without being seen.”
So, Frank Lloyd Wright’s response to his client’s request was showcased from the very beginning of the entrance porch. By overlapping the rectangles, the interior space is expanded towards the outdoors while still maintaining privacy and enclosure indoors. The entrance to the house is not distinguishable, as Wright believed that every house should have a journey, to begin with.
As one enters the porch, it leads them to a 60-foot long interior space comprising the living and dining areas that are attached to a long balcony and an array of windows on the opposite sides providing ample light and ventilation. This 20th century home, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1900s accommodates the modern open floor plan that enhances the form and function of the entire house. This style of architecture revolutionized the idea of ancient American homes.
Construction and Details
Enormous cantilever roofs that were projected towards the outdoor areas were possible only with the use of I-Shaped steel beams that were placed beneath the roof for support. The cantilever over the porch facing the west stretches 10 feet outwards from its nearest structural member and 21 feet from the closest masonry pier. Frank Lloyd Wright also believed that the hearth in a home with a fireplace is an essential element of importance. He placed the fireplace and the staircase at the core of the house, dividing the space both horizontally and vertically.
The rooms were constructed on a modular grid design that emphasized order and continuity with the use of 4 feet window mullions. Frank Lloyd Wright also used the windows as an element of play complimenting the solid horizontal walls. These windows eventually lead to the French doors that opened up to the south side towards the balconies. Keeping in mind the sun angles, the cantilevers are projected in such a way that the sun rays hit the bottom of the walls and naturally illuminate the entire house cutting out the harsh sun.
Materials and Elements
The Robie House is sheathed in Roman brickwork. The horizontal nature of the brick was used as an advantage to emphasize the bold horizontal form of the house. The mortar joints were thoughtfully done in a way where the horizontal joints were filled with yellow mortar and the vertical joints were flushed in a brick color mortar. This highlighted the horizontal lines and defined them clearly.
Frank Lloyd Wright however did not use the standard design of windows. Rather he used light screens that consisted of clear and colored glass, depicting nature on them. These windows not only allowed ample light into the indoors but also gave a sense of privacy to the users. Wright also signified the importance of blurring the line between outdoors and indoors with the use of such elements in his design.
The Robie house also comprises 174 art glass windows that are carefully articulated with copper-plated zinc cames, holding the polished plate and cathedral glass in place. Every detail of Robie’s house is a creative wonder of the legend Lloyd.
The entire house comprises a living area, a dining area, a kitchen area, 4 bedrooms, a billiards room, a fireplace, a stair core, and a servant’s wing. All these places are very well-defined, yet flow into one another. Robie’s house influenced the dynamics of American Architecture. The influence was undeniable. The American Institute of Architects declared Frederick C. Robie House as one of the 10 most significant structures of the 20th century. Frank Lloyd Wright’s design of the Robie House has made its profound impact by fixing the benchmark against all the other Prairie-style structures.
In the words of Frederick C.Robie: “The Robie House is the most ideal place in the world.”