Do the Wright thing

Surrounded by the brick walls of Robie House's courtyard, guide Terry Watson begins the Walk and Wine tour not by talking about Frank Lloyd Wright's 1910 masterwork, but by discussing Hyde Park. Initially the neighborhood was a getaway for Chicagoans, he says, leading the tour onto 58th Street, which, Watson adds, was a dirt road when Wright designed the Robie House. Wearing a Wright-inspired tie patterned with diagonal lines and prisms, he gestures toward the GSB's Charles M. Harper Center, once the site of an orchard.

With its emphasis on horizontal lines, the Robie House is a quintessential example of the Prairie Style architecture Wright pioneered, Watson says, but the "Hyde Park area attracted a lot of different architects," including Louis Sullivan. Watson leads a ten-person group around Ida Noyes Hall, pointing out the Gothic, Tudor, and French provincial buildings that surround Robie House, contrasting with Wright's modernism. On 59th Street Watson name-drops Frederick Olmsted, designer of the Midway Plaisance, evoking excited murmurs from architecture buffs on the tour. "If you had read the book Devil in the White City," he continues, "where the killer's at is to the west." Now the mystery fans ooh and ah.

Before bringing the group back to the Robie residence he mentions that the U of C gives Robie House some financial support. "If there's someone here with influence in the University," he jokes, "we could use a couple million dollars for restoration." The tour moves into the house, through the low-ceilinged foyer, and up into the open space of the second floor. In the kitchen, bare and dilapidated-looking during the restoration process, Operations Manager Janet Van Delft apologizes for the room's appearance. "This is not normally part of the tour..." she says, drawing out the last syllable, before bringing the group to a small room with hors d’œuvres, wine, and beer. The tourgoers move back through the kitchen and living room and onto the terrace, plates and drinks in hand. Van Delft follows, eager to tell the group more about Wright's architecture, even after the tour's end.

Seth Mayer, '08

IMG_8328_thumb.jpg IMG_8342_thumb.jpg IMG_8346_thumb.jpg

Photos (left to right): The exterior of the Robie House; Terry Watson relates the origins of the Midway; tourgoers relax on the terrace as Janet Van Delft discusses the building.

August 15, 2007