Inside Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture lab (pictures)
In the tony Chicago suburb of Oak Park, the man who became the most famous architect in the world tried out many of the ideas and innovations that led to his iconic buildings. CNET Road Trip 2013 takes a behind-the-scenes tour.
OAK PARK, Ill. -- The Midwest is full of famous Frank Lloyd Wright buildings like Taliesin, the Robie House, the SC Johnson headquarters, and others. But in a way, it all got started here, in this tony suburb of Chicago.
When Wright was still working for someone else -- Chicago architect Louis Sullivan -- he set up shop in a building he designed himself. From 1889 to 1909, Wright and his family -- wife Catherine and six of his seven children -- lived here. The building was also expanded to include his expansive professional studio. Known as the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, this beautiful building is at the heart of a neighborhood full of Wright masterpieces (see gallery here).
The property became Wright's architectural laboratory, as he tried out many of the ideas he became famous for -- open spaces, built-in furniture, windows that made it possible to see the greenery outside, and much more -- here before he implemented them in commissioned buildings.
This is Wright's children's playroom, a soaring space that they sometimes conducted plays in, and which would be the envy of kids everywhere.
CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman visited the historical treasure as part of Road Trip 2013.
The entrance to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is on Forest Ave., in Oak Park, Ill., about 20 minutes outside Chicago. Wright lived and worked there from 1889 to 1909. Wright needed a $5,000 loan from his boss, Louis Sullivan, in order to complete the original construction.
Just off the entryway is this small room with a Wright standard -- the hearth -- and built-in benches, another Wright signature. The hearth shows that Wright would do whatever he could to maximize space. So, instead of having the flue directly above the fireplace, he put two flues on both sides and a mirror directly above.
This is the living room of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. At the time the building was constructed, most homes still had rooms that were connected, but which didn't flow. Wright became famous for his use of open, flowing space and this living room demonstrates that. It was an early example of flowing space, which eventually became very popular.
Wright was fond of creating dramatic pathways in his houses, and of bringing nature into his buildings -- literally. This pathway originally included a willow tree that had been growing on the space the house was built on. When preservationists reconstructed parts of the building, they included an homage to the tree, which can be seen at the far end of the passageway.
The dining room in the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is quite dramatic, and showcases one of his innovations -- the room within a room. The table, the tall-back chairs, and the recessed lighting all combined to create a sense of space. As a result, the rest of the room receded into the background.
Another way that Wright was breaking the mold was with his use of art glass as an aesthetic feature. The design was probably from a medieval or German pattern book, but Wright used it as the basis for the glass for a window in the dining room.
Wright had six kids living with him in the house in Oak Park (a seventh child was born after he moved to Wisconsin). So the architect devoted part of the house to dormitories for his four boys and two girls. This is the boys' room, which featured vaulted ceilings -- he hated attics -- and showed his use of natural air conditioning. The little hole in the wall allowed air to come in when it was hot, and in cold weather, it was covered with burlap.
This is the Wrights' master bedroom, a stunning use of clean lines, natural light, and vaulted ceilings. Built before he constructed his studio, this room would originally have looked out on a balcony, rather than the roof of the studio. The room featured Sullivan-inspired stencils that are quite different from Wright's famous use of straight lines and geometric patterns. The room also features paintings of a romanticized Indian.
Some also think that the windows were meant to look a bit like a kimono, which would make sense, given Wright's penchant for Japanese style.
The pathway opened up at the children's playroom, which is seen here looking back at the entrance and the gallery above. Sometimes the children performed for the adults, who would sit in the gallery, and sometimes, they would conduct plays or other performances from the gallery.
Wright wanted to avoid using standard beams to support the roof of the studio, so he conceived of a harness system that held it up. The harness worked something like a circle of children holding hands and leaning back, which creates tension and support. The idea was inspired by Wright's fondness for cathedrals.
The room was also an early example of his use of round spaces, which he didn't utilize much until his later years in buildings like the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Wright was known to keep clients waiting, sometimes for hours. This was the waiting room, which also doubled as a place for Wright, his draftsmen, and contractors to lay out blueprints and discuss his designs.