This past week Marvin Clawson, my husband/business partner and I, attended the Traditional Building Show in Chicago. The Show is an opportunity to attend classes, workshops and tours as well as view the latest products related to Traditional Building. This was also a chance for Marvin and me to getaway which doesn't happen too often and for me to see Chicago for the first time.
When we arrived in Chicago on Wednesday, we hit the ground running, our first tour was Historic Oak Park to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio as well as about a half dozen of his residential projects and culminating in a tour of Wright's Unity Temple. It was unseasonably warm and sunny and we were able to meander the streets of Oak Park and hear all about the homes Wright was retained to design. We learned about how Mr. Wright was ahead of his time, and how the homes Wright designed are modern in appearance however, they were built during the same time as the surrounding Victorian Homes that line the streets. We learned of the 'Path of Discovery' and how Mr. Wright often hid the front door. How he brought you onto the site and how you entered the home was no accident.
A few years ago, while in Wisconsin, I had the opportunity to visit Taliesin East, and living in New York City, I have been to the Guggenheim, most recently to see the exhibit of Frank Lloyd Wrights work. Much is written about Mr. Wright, his life and family and how he often designed the furniture and its location, the rugs and the lighting fixtures. Some talk adoringly about him "controlling" everything in and about the house including how you walk to the front door while others criticize this and ask "Why are Architects such Control Freaks?"
Well my friends...we Architects can be a little Obsessive ...and as you look for an Architect, you may want to consider this trait a good one...and while I have intuitively understood why some may feel one way or the other never has it been so clear why allowing the architect to render complete services, staying involved to the end, whether designing the furnishings and furniture or guiding in the selection and placement as an independent service or in collaboration with an interior designer is very important. This will yield a much stronger end result and protect your investment in the Architects Designs. Allow me to continue and explain how.
No trip to Chicago or Tour of Frank Lloyd Wrights work by two architects would be complete without a trip to the Robie House in Hyde Park. Now 100 years old, it is being restored for the Centennial Celebration. The tour begins with an introduction to time period when Mr. Robie retained Mr. Wright to design the house. It was an opportunity for Mr. Wright to work with someone who appreciated his unique Prairie Style home, the style that Frank Lloyd Wright is credited with and hailed as the original American Architectural style. The Guide first had us go across the street to a new building designed for the University of Chicago, the Charles M. Harper Center designed by another distinguished and world-renowned architect Rafael Viñoly.
We went up on to the Terrace of this building to view the Robie House. The Guide talked about how Mr. Viñoly and the University of Chicago (the current owner of the Robie House) realized that the Robie House was special and had a place in American Architectural History. They wanted to respect what Mr. Wright had created and so, Viñoly pulled his building back from the street creating exterior terrace spaces with plantings and paid homage by emulating the long horizontal lines of the Prairie Style Wright had become known for and allowing people the opportunity to stand back off the street and view what is considered to be one of the most recognizable elevations of the Robie House. We then ventured back across the street and continued on the by now, well known "Path of Discovery." Well into the house, we stood in what is the Living Room of the Robie House. The Guide talked about the sofa and the built-in storage Wright designed and pointed out the lighting fixtures, other built in storage pieces and the art glass in the windows. The Guide continued to talk and as I gazed out thru the beautiful art glass windows it hit me..."Wright controlled all the views, " we had been told..."into, around and out of the house." Well I am sure he never dreamed that when we looked out of his window that instead of a Prairie we would look at a series of clear glass office spaces where 'control had been lost'. The offices in the spaces across the street in the Harper Center are floor to ceiling glass. You see it all, from the backs of computers with all the cables hanging out to stacks of books piled willy nilly all over. It was Sunday and an empty chair sits facing its desk and I shutter to think what the view could be if a woman with a skirt sits in that chair.
Architecture is meant to be experienced...and I was reminded of that as I walked in and around Wrights work. His drawings are cherished as works of art, as are the thousands of coffee table books and gifts bearing his art glass designs...but walking in and around his houses is something to put on your bucket list. Seeing the development of his work over a twenty year stretch with in a few days was a real treat. And...by allowing the Architect to draw more, and consider the furniture, and exact windows and locations you are allowing the "inner Control Freak" in your Architect to help you with how your space will be experienced not only by you looking out by by others looking in.
Luckily, Marvin and I are passionate about architecture so our weekend exploring Chicago and the works of Frank Lloyd Wright was an exciting and rejuvenating trip. We did have time to chill with friends (all architects/architectural historians of course) new and old and enjoy drinks at the Signature Bar atop The John Hancock Tower, because after all, it is all about the views.