Architecture Around the World

Frederick C. Robie House
5757 South Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

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Front (west) and side (south) of house



Right side of photo is front terrace. Entrance (in next photo) is below the left of this photo

"Hidden" entrance

North elevation. Front of house is on right side of photo.

South elevation


Frank Lloyd Wright

The Robie House was designed while the architect lived and worked in his Oak Park home and studio (1889-1909).


Construction was rapid--beginning in March 1909 and completed by June 1910


Prairie House


Listed o nthe National Trust for Historic Landmarks


Frederick C. Robie

Frederick's father, George T. Robie, had started the Excelsior Company in Chicago to market sewing machine supplies, and in the 1880s expanded into the bicycle manufacturing business. In 1899, Frederick C. Robie left Purdue University's mechanical engineering school to work for his father. Robie soon met Lora Hieronymus at a University of Chicago dance, and the couple was married in 1902. By 1908, Frederick Robie was already making a substantial profit from working for his father, and had grandiose plans for an expensive residence. He purchased a narrow lot at the corner of 58th Street and Woodlawn, a site that was likely influenced by Lora, who had graduated from the University in 1900 and was still interested in campus life.

When Wright encountered Frederick C. Robie in 1908, the two men had a "definite community of thought." A brazen, young manufacturing executive, Robie was just the kind of client that Wright preferred -- "American men of business with unspoiled instincts and untainted ideals."

Subsequent owners

The Robie House served as a private residence until 1926, when it was sold with all of its furnishings to the Chicago Theological Seminary, which used it as a dormitory. When the house was threatened by demolition in 1957, the 90-year-old Wright toured the house he had designed half a century earlier and pronounced it as beautiful as the day it was built. Fortunately, the Robie house was purchased later that year by Webb and Knapp, the development firm in charge of urban renewal in the surrounding Hyde Park neighborhood. In 1963 the house was donated by the firm to the University of Chicago--the same year it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

The House

Upon its completion, shocked neighbors likened the home's long, low design to a steamship, with its two rectangles, or vessels, abutting each other and visually separating the living areas from the utility spaces. The broad central chimney serves a unifying function, locking the pieces into place.

The site's narrow dimensions--a narrow 60 x 180 foot city lot--allowed Wright's horizontal vision to soar. The structure's low-pitched roof -- extended so dramatically beyond its walls--combines with balconies and continuous limestone sills along the length of the house to create an overwhelmingly horizontal appearance. Steel beams, used for one of the first times in residential architecture, allow the roof to stretch twenty feet beyond the walls at each end of the house. Inside, the living and dining spaces exemplify Wright's Prairie style objective of "eliminating the room as a box and the house as another box by making all walls enclosing screens." Exquisite art glass windows and doors--174throughout the entire structure--serve to"dissolve" the outer walls of both rooms into screens of patterned glass, providing spectacular lightness and transparency.

Wright arranged the building as two bands, sliding alongside one another, with some degree of overlap between. The smaller of these was to the rear of the site and contained the garage and entrance on the ground floor, and servants' rooms, kitchen and guest-room on the first level. The other strip is more prominent and arranged with chimney and stairs as a unit passing up through the center. The billiard room and children's rooms are in the semi-basement, while the living- and dining-room are on the first floor. Both rooms were actually a single space partially divided by the chimney. The roof overhangs extend dramatically, enhancing the feeling of shelter and protecting the windows from rain and snow. Together with the extensive screen-windows this connects the interior with its surroundings.


Photos and their arrangement © 2005 Chuck LaChiusa
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