AD Classics: Frederick C. Robie House / Frank Lloyd Wright

© Columbia University

Designed and built between 1908-1910, the Robie House for client Frederick C. Robie  and his family was one of Wright’s earlier projects. Influenced by the flat, expanisve prairie landscape of the American Midwest where he grew up, Wright’s work redefined American housing with the Prairie style home. According to Wright, “The prairie has a beauty of its own and we should recognize and accentuate this natural beauty, its quiet level. Hence, gently sloping roofs, low proportions, quiet sky lines, supressed heavy-set chimneys and sheltering overhangs, low terraces and out-reaching walls sequestering private gardens.”More on the Robie House after the break.

© Nat Hansen

The Robie House creates a clever arrangement of public and private spaces, slowly distancing itself from the street in a series of horizontal planes. By creating overlaps of the planes with this gesture, it allowed for interior space expanded towards the outdoors while still giving the space a level of enclosure. This play on private spaces was requested by the client, where he insisted on the idea of “seeing his neighbors without being seen.” Wright specifically approached this request with an enormous cantilever over the porch facing west that stretched outwards 10′ feet from its nearest structural member and 21′ from the closest masonry pier.

© Nat Hansen

As is seen in many of Wright’s project, the entrance of the house is not clearly distinguishable at first glance due to the fact that Wright believed the procession towards the house should involve a journey. Wright also expressed the importance of the hearth in a home with a fireplace that separated the living and dining room that is open to the ceiling above the mantelpiece for the billiard room and playroom. The program of the house includes a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, a billiards room, four bedrooms, and a servant’s wing which are defined while still flowing into one another.

Section

The rooms were determined through a modular grid system which was given order with the 4′ window mullions. Wright, however, did not use the standard window in his design, but instead used “light screens” which were composed of pieces of clear and colored glass, usually with representations of nature. The purpose for these windows was to allow light into the house while still giving a sense of privacy. Wright also stated about the light screens, “Now the outside may come inside, and the inside may, and does, go outside.” There are 174 art glass windows in the Robie House made of polished plate glass, cathedral glass, and copper-plated zinc cames, which are metal joints that hold the glass in place. The protrusions of these windows on the East and West facade, along with low ceilings, emphasized the long axis of the house and directed views towards the outside. These windows were also stretched on French doors along the entire south wall on the main level, opening up to a balcony. The sun angles were calculated so perfectly with this cantilever that a midsummer noon’s sun hits just the bottom of the entire facade while still allowing light to flood in to warm the house during the spring and autumn months.

© Thomas A. Heinz/CORBIS

The entire house is sheathed in Roman brick with yellow mortar, and only the overhangs and the floating brick balcony have steel beams for structural support. Using the horizontality of the brick, Wright added the finishing touches to the Robie House to create the ideal modern Prairie style home where he was able to build with the principles he believed in. The sweeping horizontal lines, extensive overhangs, warm well-lit interiors with furniture designed by Wright himself, and the balance of public and private spaces made the Robie House, in the words of Frederick C. Robie, “…the most ideal place in the world.”

Architect:
Location: , Illinois, USA
Client: Frederick C. Robie
Project Year: 1908-1910
Photographs: Depending on the photograph: On Flickr, Nat Hansen and matt72. and www.greatbuildings.com
References: www.gowright.org and Knight, Caroline. Frank Lloyd Wright. Parragon Publishing, 2005. Print. and
Storrer, William Allin. The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: A Complete Catalog. 3rd ed. London, 1979. Print.

Cite: Perez, Adelyn. "AD Classics: Frederick C. Robie House / Frank Lloyd Wright" 16 May 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 25 Jul 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=60246>

9 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    I was there a couple of months ago and it was kind of dissapointing. The first floor was under rehabilitation, it was all dirty, “grey”, you could see cables and outlets everywhere, and the guide we had didnt help at all either. Second floor compensated a lot the impression I had on the first one, but you know first experience is always the most important one?

    I gotta say that between the feeling I had visiting this house and Farnsworth house, farnsworth gave me a better image of the house itself, while visiting this, I left with a concept of the house poorer than the one I had.

    In other words, what I had seen in books about Robie house I felt was much better than what I saw once there, while with Farnsworth house, it was completely the opposite.

    Still, a place to visit and see. I dont regret it because it is a piece of an important part of architectures history.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      Yes, you´re right. And I got the same impression back in 2004 when I was there. There´s a lot of contraston how some of these houses are kept in shape. For instance, Frank Lloyd´s own house in Chicago was in much better shape and had much better guides than Robie, Fallingwater was in another level yet with the excellent service provided by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
      That raises the issue of how valued are these architectural “munuments” to today´s conservancy sponsors and the people that actually shape public opinion. It didn´t seem there was a lot of awarness to Robie House´s state back in 2004 and it doesn´t seem to have gotten any better today.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    One of the only pieces of architecture that really made me shiver when i visited it… Amazing

  3. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    Thanks so much ArchDaily!! It´s been awesome to take a look at these classics! You´ve been making my days brighter! :)
    Not that I don´t like contemporary architecture, but some classics are just ‘hors concours’.

  4. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I would appreciate comments from anyone who has visited the home, of their impressions of the space itself, on how they were affected by the volume of the various rooms, by ceiling heights, and of movement about the building and property, etc. Thank you.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      Hey! I can tell you about my experience in the house. I’ll only talk about what I experienced in the second floor though, because as you can see in my other comment (first one of all), the first floor did not give me a good impression of the house.

      Ceiling, as you want to know, was about 2,5 meters tall, which gave me the impression of a compact space, “highlighting” the perspective of the house (since you can kind of see both, ceiling and floor at the same time) and horizontality itself. Because of this, I was constantly getting the feeling of being controlled to look farther, as if the perspective of the ceiling and floor together guided my view towards the end of each room.

      The materials used in each room made me constantly feel warm and surrounded by nature.

      Regarding movement around the house, that is one of the parts that let me down a little bit. In my opinion, the house as a whole loses some of the great properties each room has individually (again, only the ones on the second floor). The kitchen was kind of apart, as if it wasnt a part of the house for instance, and really different from what you saw in other areas of the house. In other words, I found the kitchen too “servicy” compared to the other rooms, and the connection between them wasnt the best of all either.

      I hope this could help you. I’m sorry if I was too “mean” with the house, but after seeing it in person, and getting what you can read in my first commentary, my opinions about it are now kind of biased…

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