Designed to evoke the expansive landscape of the Midwest, the Robie House characterizes horizontality with its forms, spaces and even construction materials. For example, the proportions and arrangement of the main living room and dining hall (one next to the other, aligned along their longitudinal axis) as well as, the repetition of the vertical windows and doors along these main spaces, underline the horizontality of the residence. Even the brickwork emphasize the horizontal plane. Roman brick (characteristically more elongated than regular brick) is set on cement mortar. However, contrary to tradition, horizontal mortar joints are differentiated from the vertical ones. The former are highlighted with white cement, while the latter are camouflaged with the red bricks. Needless to say, the highlight of this masterpiece is its spatial sequence, which is exacerbated by the guided tour, although sadly, not by the tour guides. As with every great architectural work, one is guided by spatial elements and can easily traverse the spaces without having to repeat spaces along the spatial sequence. As it was customarily for Wright, the main entrance of the house is hidden away from the street. Setback from the sidewalk, the entrance allows passage through the northwest side to the under level where a staircase invites you to climb towards the lighted upper level. Once upstairs, the space opens up towards the living room while circling the fireplace that divides the living room from the dining room. From the living room the view opens up towards the street inviting one out to the open terraces. The continuous horizontal band of the wood and stained glass doors invites to the dining room concluding the spatial sequence of the main spaces.
Until fairly recent I wasn’t a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. For some reason since my days at school of architecture I’ve always rooted against the great masters in favor of secondary-role (thus lesser known) architects. Even if I still root for the underdogs, nowadays — forced in great part by the impartiality required to teach objectively a course on History of Modern Architecture — I’ve come to really appreciate and understand the works of architects such as Wright.
During my trip to Chicago, where avoiding Wright’s work was simply not possible, I visited several of his buildings including his Home and Studio in Oak Park. At first I felt like it was going to be business as usual but there were so many instances in this place to ascertain Wright’s greatness as an architect (even if personally I still believe he was a huge S.O.B.) that if I had just visited this one place I would have felt the same way about his work. The structural achievements, material selections, attention to details and quality and greatness of its interior spaces all attest to his place in history as one of the most influential architects of the century.
Here are a few sketches I made during my visit.