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What's Chicago without a little Frank Lloyd Wright?

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jan 04, 2012 03:06 AM
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by Edward Lifson ( last modified Oct 01, 2010



Heading west from Chicago, looking for modernity, had to stop at


No, that's Bruce Price in Tuxedo Park, New York (1885/86).

I stopped at

Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois - 1889/98.  Restored to its 1909 appearance.

Wright pushes six panes together, lifts the arch above them and all but begins to make a modern ribbon window!

The triangle reminds me of Venturi's post-modern house for his mother, in which he also plays with the windows, and I loved the proto-post-modernism or maybe more mannerism, in Frank Lloyd Wright's Studio, when he stops the posts before they rise up to meet the heavy beams.

How does it all stand up?  Show off!  Between the posts and beams, tranquilly repose, at least now, houseplants, as calm as the magician's girl about to be sawed in two, or the innocent bloke standing unknowingly under a grand piano.  At first you're shocked to see it, then your eyes tell you it will all be alright.  The man in charge here has some talent, indeed, is masterful.  Look up and you'll see chains holding his dome together, a wink in the studio perhaps to architectural history, to the medievalism of H.H. Richardson or even to the Renaissance when Filippo Brunelleschi famously circled chains around the base of the otherwise impossible to construct dome of Florence Cathedral.

I hadn't been to Wright's place in a while, not since the business and marketing of Frank Lloyd Wright really took off. Sure I'd seen the recent knicknacks and novels, but I didn't realize there's a whole lotta Loving Frank going on.  Is this nostalgia?  People catching up with homegrown American genius?  A new definition of the "Ken Burns effect"?  On this day Italians abound.  I overhear one U.S. couple ask another, "Didn't we see you at Monona yesterday?   (Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin- a post-Wright Wrightian work for all Wright-lovers.)

 At Unity Temple you wander on your own.  Led and conducted by Wright's rigorous, flowing and "musical composition" you absorb this sacred space as you will, pass through it as you like, and as it passes through you.

At the FLW Home and Studio you first enter the gift shop to buy tickets for the tour.  That's a sad sequence of spaces confusing the soul seeking beauty.  Next it's a docent-led tour.  You can't but marvel at the creativity here, the modernity and the genius; that Wright designed in this place Robie House, the Larkin Building and Unity Temple, and that he designed his house in so many ways to instill creativity in the six children he raised here with his wife Catherine.

The docents are well-informed and tell Wright good stories, but I would also appreciate the option of visiting in silence.  Facts can be learned before you enter, on YouTube or a smartphone.  The architecture can only be experienced here; and you've made the effort to physically come here.  Let the architecture do its thing.  If conditions are right and you're quiet and open, architecture can do things to you that nothing else can.

So now I head in the direction indicated by the prow of Wright's Robie House.  As we all do at a certain point in our lives, I head west.




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