Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect...

As part of my ongoing series on historic Chicago churches, I decided to visit Unity Temple, a Unitarian Universalist church designed by famous Illinois architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. The church is located in the suburb of Oak Park, where Wright lived, designed, and earned many commissions for private residences. Since I would already be trekking out to Oak Park to visit the church, and because Mom had agreed to tag along to keep me company, I decided to add a walking tour of Frank Lloyd Wright homes to the agenda for the day. Thankfully, it turned out to be a perfect day for a good walk -- sunny, but slightly brisk, and not too windy. I found a decent-looking tour online, printed it off, and we were on our way.

Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Wisconsin in 1867. After studying to be a draftsman, he moved to Chicago in 1887 in search of work, in light of the ongoing building boom that resulted from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. He worked at a few different firms before finding steady work with the firm of Adler & Sullivan, whose work informed the development of Wright's own style. Wright broke out on his own in 1893, and in 1898 he relocated his studio to his home in Oak Park, Illinois, site of many of his commissions. Wright's personal life was marred by constant controversy, but his development of the Prairie School of architecture led to his being named the "Greatest American Architect of All Time" by the American Institute of Architects.

Frank W. Thomas House, 1901

Although not Wright's first home in the neighborhood, the Thomas home was the first home that Wright designed for Oak Park that was distinctively Prairie Style in its sensibility. There is a definite emphasize on horizontal lines, prominent use of geometric stained glass, and the exterior of the home was done in stucco, an innovation of Wright's. This was my favorite house on the tour.

Arthur B. Heurtley House, 1902

The Heurtleys were local socialites, and their home was designed with expansive interior spaces for entertaining, along with a large patio for receiving guests. The variegated brickwork is designed to be harmonious with the tones of the surrounding landscape. Obvious in this design is the trademark emphasis on horizontal lines and flatness that Wright saw in the Midwestern terrain and wanted to capture in his architecture.

Edward R. Hills House, 1906

The Hills home is actually not a Frank Lloyd Wright original. Instead, Wright was contracted to perform an extensive remodel of the home. Ultimately, his plans were so ambitious that very little was left of the original home, save its frame, and the resulting structure is distinctive of Wright's emerging Prairie Style.

Nathan G. Moore House, 1895

This elaborate home was Wright's first independent commission in the town of Oak Park. The complicated pastiche of medieval, Moorish, and geometric themes demonstrates Wright's early quest for a unique style. The influence of his former employer, Louis Sullivan, is evident in the elaborately carved geometric panels. The original home burned down in 1922, but Moore commissioned Wright to build a replica of the destroyed original.

Walter H. Gale House, 1893

The Gale home is part of a trio of houses on Chicago Avenue known as the "Bootleg Houses," as Wright took the commission for them while he was technically still working for Adler & Sullivan, who forbade their employees from taking on personal projects. Although the house is fairly traditional in structure, the use of natural, unfinished materials was unconventional, and foreshadowed Wright's assertion that buildings should echo and compliment their surroundings -- a primary tenet of the Prairie School.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio

Wright lived with his family in his Oak Park home from 1889 to 1909, when he abandoned his family, eloped to Europe was illegally wed to a married woman while he was still married himself. The resulting scandal decimated his American career for years, although he was eventually able to stage a comeback. Today, the home serves as a museum to Wright's work, and a visitor's center to people interested in his work in the area.

I found the brief walking tour to be an interesting insight into the evolution of Wrights' style, and a truly pleasant way to spend an afternoon. I'm not sure I would want to live in a historic home, and have tourists standing outside my door snapping photos of my house constantly, nor would I want to live in a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. None of these homes, except for Wright's, are open to the public, but my experience with most other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings is that they tend to be dark, due to the narrow rows of high windows, and claustrophobic as a result of the low ceilings that Wright favored to emphasize horizontality in his interiors. Still, even though I wouldn't want it for myself, it was nice to take an afternoon to appreciate his aesthetic.

In closing, I ran across the following quote while I was researching this post, and I just wanted to share it with you:

"A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines." - Frank Lloyd Wright

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