Friday, December 10, 2010

Designer of the Month: Frank Lloyd Wright

Week 2: residences - American System-Built Homes, the Frederick C. Robie House and the Rosenbaum House

For those of you who follow the rss feed of this blog on Google Reader, I apologize for the crazy draft of this post that accidentally showed up the other day. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, don't you worry your pretty little heads about it, and onward to our Designer of the Month!

In 1893, Frank Lloyd Wright left his drafting job at the Chicago architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan to establish his own architectural practice.[1] It was during these early years of his private practice that Wright would come to refine his aesthetic, creating what came to be known as his "Prairie House," called this because of the manner in which they reflected the long, low and horizontal plain of the Prairie on which they sat, helping to create the architectural movement known as "The Prairie School."[2] These houses were categorized by low, pitched roofs, deep overhangs, no attics or basements, and generally, long rows of casement windows, further emphasizing the horizontal nature of the home.[3] Wright was very much a proponent of what he came to call "organic architecture," which was characterized by a belief that architecture should create a natural link between mankind and his environment.[4] As such, Wright used native materials in his homes, staining rather than painting the woodwork to bring out its natural beauty.[5]

American System-Built Homes Model Flat C, 2720-22 West Burnham, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Courtesy of Wright in Milwaukee.

In 1901, in a speech entitled "The Art and Craft of the Machine," Wright discussed the reasons why - unlike proponents of the Arts and Crafts Movement, who believed that the decline in quality craftsmanship was directly attributable to the machine - he embraced the machine and urged for its use.[6] He explains that:
In the years which have been devoted in my own life to working out in stubborn materials a feeling for the beautiful, in the vortex of distorted complex conditions, a hope has grown stronger with the experience of each year, amounting now to a gradually deepening conviction that in the Machine lies the only future of art and craft - as I believe, a glorious future; that the Machine is, in fact, the metamorphosis of ancient art and craft; that we are at last face to face with the machine - the modern Sphinx - whose riddle the artist must solve if he would that art live - for his nature holds the key.[7]
Not only did this speech come to be one of his most famous, but it was also during this that Wright outlined his vision for affordable housing, and what would be come to be known as his American System-Built Homes.[8] The "system" in American System-Built Homes involved cutting the lumber and other materials for the home in a mill or factory, and then bringing them to the site for assembly, saving material waste and much of the wages that would usually be paid to skilled tradesmen.[9] Although Wright produced more than 900 drawings and sketches of designs for these homes, only six examples were constructed, and still stand today, on West Burnham Street and Layton Boulevard in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[10]

Frederick C. Robie House. Photograph by Tim Long. Courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.

In 1908, Wright began the designs for a home for Chicago businessman Frederick C. Robie. Completed in 1910, the Robie House would come to represent an expansion of Wright's Prairie Style adapted to an urban site.[11] According to Robie, he had sketched a few ideas for his house and shown them to several builders, who told him that what he really wanted was one of "those damn Wright houses."[12] The house that Wright designed satisfied both Robie and Wright, with Wright integrating elements into the design that he had developed in earlier Prairie Houses.[13] Nicknamed "The Battleship," possibly because of its multi-tiered levels and projecting terraces, the entrance to the Robie House is hidden on the north side of the building for privacy, with all of the main bedrooms and kitchen located at the rear of the house (also for privacy), while the main living space, dining room and central staircase are all one single, open unit.[14] As usual, not only did Wright design the structure, but all of the furnishings as well.

The Rosenbaum House. Courtesy of Essential Architecture.

Although Wright designed many private homes throughout his life, he continued to believe in the idea of affordable housing, and during the late 1930s, returned to this with his designs for "Usonian" homes. Wright believed that moderately priced homes were not only America's major architectural problem, but also the most difficult problem facing its major architects.[15] He believed that a simpler, more efficient home suited to the informality of American family life was needed, with the Usonian House as the solution.[16] Sound familiar? Wright's low-cost, one-story houses for individuals of moderate means included such innovations as radiant heating, pre-fabricated walls made of boards and tar paper, open plans, and the invention of the carport.[17] Built at a cost of only $12,000, Wright's Usonian-style Rosenbaum House, in Florence, Alabama, is an excellent example of how Wright made this idea a reality.[18] And although Wright usually designed all of the interiors, as well as the structures themselves, in the case of the Rosenbaum House, these furnishings were supplemented by pieces designed by Charles Eames.[19]

[1] Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation online, "A Brief Biography,", (accessed December 7, 2010).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Frank Lloyd Wright, "The Art and Craft of the Machine," from Frank Lloyd Wright: Essential Texts, ed. Robert Twombly (New York: W.W.  Norton & Co., 2009), 44-5.

[8] Wright In Milwaukee online, "History,", (accessed December 7, 2010).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Marie Clayton, "The Prairie House," Frank Lloyd Wright Field Guide: His 100 Greatest Works, (London: Salamander Books Ltd., 2002), 150.

[12] Ibid., 155.

[13] Ibid., 155.

[14] Ibid., 158, 163.

[15] Marie Clayton, "The Usonian House," Frank Lloyd Wright Field Guide: His 100 Greatest Works, (London: Salamander Books Ltd., 2002), 248.

[16] Ibid., 248.

[17] Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation online, "A Brief Biography,", (accessed December 8, 2010).

[18] Marie Clayton, "The Usonian House," Frank Lloyd Wright Field Guide: His 100 Greatest Works, (London: Salamander Books Ltd., 2002), 248.

[19] Ibid., 253.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comments - they mean the world to me!