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Robie House: Location & History

Instructor: Jennifer Keefe

Jennifer Keefe has taught college-level Humanities and has a Master's in Liberal Studies.

It's a house that helped define the new American architecture of the 20th century. In this lesson, learn about the history and location of Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House. Then, take a short quiz to test your knowledge.

A Young Architect's Life

Think about where you live today. Are there a lot of wide open spaces in your house, like a combined living and dining room or a kitchen that overlooks the TV area? If so, you can thank the architectural innovation of Frank Lloyd Wright for changing the way we view our living spaces today.

Wright in 1926
Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was one of America's most well-known 20th century architects. During the 1890s Wright developed his signature style of architecture, which would become known as the Prairie School. The Prairie School of architecture was also sometimes called organic architecture. A far cry from the European villas and Victorian mansions of the 19th century, the Prairie School was a style that sought to make buildings become part of their environment. It transformed the way Americans thought about living by opening up rooms into more common spaces, such as the living-dining room, and by utilizing windows to bring in natural light.

Prairie School homes also had low, pitched roofs and long rows of casement windows, Wright's way of helping the building to 'fit in' with the site it was on. Builders utilized local materials, and the beauty of the home was meant to be as much in the architecture itself as it was in the way the materials were presented. Prairie style homes were also integrated, meaning Wright wanted the viewer to see a connection between all parts of the home from the site, from the structure to the furniture. One of Wright's most famous Prairie School buildings, in addition to being his last, was Robie House.

The Robie House Design, Location, and History

The Frederick C. Robie House is located at 5757 South Woodlawn Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. It is near the campus of the University of Chicago in the Hyde Park/Kenwood area. Known just as Robie House, the building is one of the best examples of Wright's Prairie School work. This schematic drawing shows Wright's original plans for the front of the home.

Plans for Robie House
Schematic of Robie House

Notice how long the house was designed to be and how the eaves hung over the windows to create a sheltered effect, while also allowing a lot of light to come in. The brick and limestone exterior almost seemed to anchor the house into the ground. Wright even gave consideration to outdoor living with the home; he created several balconies large enough for furniture and plants. This exterior view of the home showed just how many windows there were, even in the back of the house. This style is a predecessor to the sliding glass and French doors popular in homes today.

Back of Robie House
Robie House Exterior 1

The home was designed for Chicago businessman Frederick C. Robie and was completed in 1910. Robie, however, never lived in the house. He was forced to sell it when his father died. Two families lived in the home. The Taylor family was there during 1911 and 1912, and the Wilbur family lived there from 1912 to 1926.

From 1926 until almost the turn of the 21st century, Robie House was a dormitory, a classroom building, and a dining hall. It also served as an office space for several groups. In 1941, and again in 1957, there were threats to tear the house down. Wright came to the rescue both times and kept the structure standing. In 1991, The American Institute of Architects recognized the Robie House as one of the ten most significant structures of the 20th century.

Robie House
Robie House Exterior 2

Today, it is a museum that showcases its own contemporary design. You can tour the home and see such rooms as the entry hall, living and dining rooms, several bedrooms, the children's playroom, and the kitchen.

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