The Frederick C. Robie House is a renowned architectural masterpiece and a U.S. National Historic Landmark located on the campus of the University of Chicago, Illinois. Designed by the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the building was constructed between 1909 and 1910 as a single-family home. It is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of the Prairie School architectural style, a movement that is recognized as the first architectural style considered genuinely American.
Robie House Technical Information
- Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright | Biography & Bibliography
- Location: 5757 South Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, USA
- Topics: Prairie Style, Unesco, Brick in Architecture
- Area: 9,062 square feet, 840 m2
- Project Year: 1909
- Photographs: © Hassan Bagheri, © Gerald Humphrey, © Timothy Brown, © Frederick Tim Long, © David Arpi
During the decades of eclecticism’s triumph there were also many innovators—less heralded than the fashionable practitioners, but exerting more lasting influence. Of these innovators, none could rival Frank Lloyd Wright. By any standard his Robie house was the House of the 1900s—indeed the House of the Century.
– House and Home magazine, 1957
Robie House Photographs
The Architecture of the Robie House
The Robie House is a renowned example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style of architecture, which was characterized by its close relationship with the Midwest prairie landscape and its use of horizontal lines, art-glass windows, and Roman brick. Wright designed not only the house itself but also all of its interiors, fixtures, and furnishings, viewing them as integral parts of the structure’s overall character.
The house’s exterior features cantilevered roof eaves, continuous bands of art-glass windows, and a red-orange iron-spotted Roman brick veneer. The brickwork is designed to emphasize the horizontal lines, with cream-colored mortar used in the horizontal joints and brick-colored mortar used in the vertical joints. The steel structure of the house allows for minimal deflection of the eaves, while the exterior trim work, such as the urns, copings, and lintels, are made of Bedford limestone.
Robie House Interior
The design of the Robie House is characterized by two large rectangles that appear to be sliding past one another. Frank Lloyd Wright referred to the rectangle on the southwest portion of the site, which contains the main living spaces, as “the major vessel.” On the first floor, there is a billiards room, children’s playroom, and a small passage leading to an enclosed garden on the south side of the building and another door to the courtyard on the east end of the site. On the second floor, there is an entry hall, living room, and dining room. The living and dining rooms flow into one another and open through a series of twelve French doors with art glass panels to an exterior balcony overlooking the enclosed garden. The living room also features a “prow” with art glass windows and doors that open onto the west porch. Wright intended for the house users to move freely between the interior and exterior spaces.
The Robie House is designed with two main sections, the “major vessel” and the “minor vessel.” The major vessel, located on the southwest portion of the site, contains the principal living spaces of the house, including the billiards room, children’s playroom, entry hall, living room, and dining room. The minor vessel, on the northeast portion of the site, houses the more functional and service-related rooms, such as the main entrance, stairway, half-bath, laundry room, workshop, and a three-car garage.
On the second floor, the minor vessel has a guest bedroom, full bath, kitchen, butler’s pantry, and servants’ quarters. The third floor, referred to as the “belvedere,” offers beautiful views and contains the master bedroom, dressing area, full bath, and two additional bedrooms with a full bath. All of the building’s windows on this level contain art glass panels.
The entire building is approximately 9,062 square feet. The central chimney mass, containing four fireplaces, and the main stairway rise through the center of the house and are constructed of the same brick and limestone as the exterior.
The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes. If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished.– Frank Lloyd Wright1
The Robie House features a partially hidden main entrance on the northwest side, creating a sense of privacy and protection for the residents. The entrance hall is intentionally low-ceilinged and dark, but the stairs to the second floor provide a sense of anticipation as the visitor moves upward. Once upstairs, the light-filled living and dining rooms create a sharp contrast to the dark entrance hall, making them feel even more special. The central chimney mass separates the two spaces, but they are connected through an opening above the fireplace, creating an openness of plan that Wright believed reflected the openness of American political and social life.
The Quintessential Prairie House
As with all Prairie houses, Wright designed the light fixtures for the Robie House. Wall sconces in the shape of a hemispherical shade suspended beneath a square bronze fixture can be found throughout the house. On the second floor, spherical globes within wooden squares are integrated into the ceiling trim, further tying the two spaces together visually. Soffit lighting, backed with translucent colored glass diffusers, runs the length of the north and south sides of the living and dining rooms and in the prows of these rooms. These lights can be independently operated, allowing for different effects within these spaces. Additionally, a Wright-designed table lamp with an art glass shade stood on a Wright-designed library table in the living room.
The steel beams in the ceilings and floors carry most of the building’s weight to piers at the east and west ends, allowing for the exterior walls to be filled with doors and windows containing 174 art glass panels in 29 different designs. Instead of stylized forms from nature, a favorite Wright motif, geometric forms predominate. The combination of so much glass and lack of internal structural columns resulted in an airy space that appears larger than it is, accentuating the open plan that Wright favored.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed the furniture, carpets, and textiles for most Prairie houses, including the Robie House. However, due to financial constraints, not all of the furniture in the Robie House was of Wright’s design. Only certain areas of the house, such as the entrance hall, living and dining rooms, guest bedroom, and one bed for the third-floor bedrooms, were furnished with Wright-designed pieces. Some of these pieces were attributed to Wright’s interior design collaborator George Mann Niedecken. The original furniture is now housed in the collection of the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, with only the dining room table and chairs on permanent display. One notable piece of furniture designed by Wright for the Robie House is a sofa with extended armrests, which echo the cantilevers of the exterior roof, creating side tables on each side of the sofa. The sofa has been on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York since 1982 and is on display as part of the furnishings in the reconstructed living room of the Francis W. Little House. Other miniature cantilevers can also be found in the shelves of the built-in dining room buffet and a food preparation island in the kitchen.
The Robie House was officially designated as a National Historic Landmark on November 27, 1963, and was included on the first National Register of Historic Places list of October 15, 1966. In recognition of its architectural significance, the house, along with seven other properties designed by Wright, were inscribed on the World Heritage List under the title “The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright” in July 2019.
Robie House Plans
Robie House Image Gallery
About Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959) was a pioneering American architect, designer, writer, and educator. He left an indelible mark on the world of architecture with his innovative designs, creating over 1,000 structures throughout his illustrious 70-year career. Wright’s philosophy of “organic architecture” emphasized the importance of designing in harmony with humanity and the environment. He was a key figure in the 20th-century architectural movements, and his works continue to inspire architects around the world to this day.
Some examples of his famous works include the Fallingwater House, the Johnson Wax Building, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. His Prairie School style of architecture is considered as one of his major contributions to the field of architecture, and his work has been widely studied and emulated by architects worldwide.
- Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House: The Illustrated Story of an Architectural Masterpiece by Donald Hoffmann