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Published: July 18th 2019
Atrium of the Rookery
A central space was unusual in 1888 and designed to let light into interior offices. Note the FLW lights added on his 1905 redesign
I have always loved the work of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright for his clean, modern lines so no trip to Chicago would be complete without doing a tour of his work there.
We met at the Rookery building downtown so named because of the previous City Hall built on that site - an allusion not only to the crows and pigeons that inhabited it but also to the politicians. The name stuck. The new building in 1888, was one of the earliest buildings built with a steel skeleton frame. Frank Lloyd Wright was asked to update the interior in 1905.
Two very knowledgeable guides, Joan and Bill, shared so much information with us - they have to be certified to talk about specific buildings. After a tour of the Rookery we headed out to Oak Park a beautiful leafy suburb containing a number of Wright homes as well as his first public building the Unity Temple.
The photos will tell you all. I’ve tried to select ones that show specific features of his style in each of the three buildings we looked at - the Unity Temple, his own home and studio in Oak Park and the
first long, low prairie style house known as the Robie House out where the University is. He was very influenced by Japanese style and design when he first visited in 1905. The Imperial hotel in Tokyo, finished in 1923 was designed by Wright when he lived there from 1917 to 1922. It was demolished in 1968.
A brief outline of his style:
Privacy was a big concern, windows were easy to look out but hard to look in. Stained glass panels were lined with zinc to give a stronger straighter line. Iridescent glass faced out giving a mirror effect. A unique pattern was designed for each client, e.g. a diamond pattern for the Robies. This was in the gates as well as the windows.
The entrance was always hard to find.
Lighting was hugely important and as electricity to light houses was in its infancy he experimented with the use of lights - cantilevered lights usually with the cords showing, patterned reflections, tall thin lancet windows and recessed lighting We’re signatures.
Colours in these buildings were soft prairie colours of red, green and yellow.
Features were often hidden and a surprise would meet you
at almost every turn.
The function of a room determined its form with thoughtful use of space.
A lot of his houses were designed in the early 20th century and are as modern today as they were then.
In his own home and studio Bill mentioned Marion Mahoney (later Marion Mahoney Griffin) and Walter Burley Griffin who both worked for him there. These two were the architects who won the competition for the design of Canberra. Marion Mahoney was the first woman to qualify as an architect and did the beautiful water colour plans of the city which you can see in Canberra.
There were a few Aussies on the trip as well as some Canadians. We were a couple of blocks from Barack and Michelle Obama’s home but we couldn’t go past as the road was closed. It was a great day.
I have another of his houses on my bucket list - Falling Water
- in the Allegheny Mountains SE of Pittsburgh. Watch this space!
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