CHICAGO--Given that Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fallingwater, Taliesin West, the Tokyo's Imperial Hotel, and many other great buildings, it's hard to say which one is his greatest.
But after visiting Robie House here as part of Road Trip 2013, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman thinks he might have seen the best Frank Lloyd Wright building of them all.
With what is the quintessential example of Wright's Prairie Style of architecture, Robie House is a stunning work of art. Located at the University of Chicago, the house, completed in 1910 for businessman Frederick C. Robie, is in the middle of a major, multi-million-dollar renovation that should return it to its original glory.
Already, the building's exterior is done. But now, work is being done on the interior, although it's not clear when it will be finished.
Robie House features Wright's signature geometric design, with long horizontal lines and striking angles at every turn. The house was a true collaboration between Wright and Robie, although the new owner only lived there for about 18 months before being forced to sell the building to help pay off his late father's debts.
Wright used Roman brick throughout Robie House because of their long rectangular, horizontal, shape, and the fact that he could use vertical mortar between the bricks that matched the color of the bricks, maintaining the sense that the facade was all horizontal lines.
Everything about the house instills the sense of horizontal conveyed by the flat landscape of the American prairie, which surrounded the house when it was built, and with which Wright was very familiar.
Wright enjoyed creating interesting entrances to his buildings and giving owners a sense of privacy outside their front doors. While it's not hard to find Robie House's front door, it is partially hidden away behind an outer gate.
Given that Robie House was built just a few years after mass production of cars began, it's quite possible -- although no one knows for sure -- that its attached three-car garage may be the world's first. The garage was purpose-built for cars rather than converted from storing horse-drawn carriages.
Those who climbed the Robie House staircase for the first time couldn't possibly have been prepared for just how grand the living room -- which they would encounter when they got to the top of the stairs -- was.
Designed with one of Wright's specialties -- the open floor plan -- the living room was a giant room featuring recessed lighting with what appears to be a Japanese influence, a common trait in Wright's houses.
A veranda on the west side of the house allows those inside to step outside where they have a lovely view of the surroundings, and a veiw back at the house, protected from the weather by the building's grand cantilevered roof.
Today, after having gone through many different owners -- including several institutions -- Robie House is owned by the University of Chicago and managed by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, which got a $5.5 million grant to do the renovation.
Twice, in 1941 and again in 1957, Robie House was slated for demolition, and both times Wright stepped in personally to save his masterpiece. Wright argued in 1957 that, "Why destroy this building any more than you would destroy an important painting? Because it's more important than any could possibly be."