The first thing I got from this re-experience of the house was that it is some kind of Smörgåsbord of design. The master painter used the self-portrait as a vehicle for promotion (“I made myself look this good, see what I can do for you!”). Wright’s house, with hundreds of nooks and crannies, could get the potential client’s imagination going.
Let’s look at the time period: cars were still incoming and horses still made their caca on the streets in cities (imagine that in summer!), stylish women wore heavy corsets and fitted hats. Chicago had grown after the disastrous fire in the 1870s from a city of a quarter million people to over one and a half million by 1900. The World’s Fair of 1893 had made its presence known internationally.
OMG. And here come Wright in 1889 with this sort of “house”. And of course, there goes the neighborhood. Before even Bullmoose and the Titanic, what the neighbors must have thought of this modernistic house would have been an earful. Maybe. People must have liked what they saw, because a slew of houses cropped up, and may have cost him his job with Adler and Sullivan, as he moonlighted on the side.
This right side from the street view is very harmonious standing in the garden.
Of course, I was cheap as ever, ten years later, I was not going to pay to see the interior of the house. Not at $15 a clip. Not a guided tour when they whisk you in and out, and who knows, maybe not let you photograph at all. I quietly walked around trying to get a sense of the exterior. I found a strangeness to brickwork which was less sophisticated than later work. It was common brick, a lot which had been repointed, poured concrete and then stonework with it.
Check out the joining of the corner (top left) where the full brick criss cross each other, this design is echoed in various places.
This was a work in progress, the studio was built later. I think that front wall, because of the difference in the brick was also later, but provides a wonderful take on what an entrance should be. Most of Wright’s home have that quality in this neighborhood.
The woodwork and some of the graphic elements are wonderful. I loved the idea of the clapboard being used on the roof also being the exterior covering and it being so dominant.Wright would have made a fantastic graphic designer, he had a wonderful sense of geometric design and detail.
This is young Wright, and he has all the parts in play that he will utilize later in life. Like a good musician, or photographer, all the themes he will ever need to explore are already in play. His sense of proportion and breaking up space is already not ordinary, but in curious measures.
Look at what he does to a simple banister alongside steps (below). The simple beauty of negative space both in the elongation of the landing, and therefore horizontal elongation of the banister, but the negative spaces which form in between the slats. Check out the wildness of all the different types of openings in the shot and the plays between horizontality and verticality. Impetus for later Bauhaus design. Check out the outcomes in design used by Richard Meier in Atlanta’s High Museum.
Now check out where the light fixture is above the doorway in the shot above and check out what else is going on in this area. Find the same light fixture above the doorway in the shot below. The extension of a window area above, a common theme for Wright and seen in his other Oak Park homes.
This sense of grouping many windows together is a move towards walls of glass, common first in common skyscrapers, later in home design in the 20th century.
Porch entrance front.
Take a look at those wonderful planters. No one does that detail like Wright, and you see it throughout the homes in the neighborhood. Wright wasn’t just interested in the large parts, but his attention to detail in things like planters and light fixtures and some of the beautiful glass designs.
Wright uses a wonderful round wall (above left), which counterpoints the angularity of this design. It is a detail, subtle one. I had a teacher who studied with Wright (the one architecture course I ever took) and he was a student when Wright was working on Fallingwater. He told how they stood around with Wright and the care that was taken in picking and placement of the stonework. Wow!
I was so happy to be in Chicago and re-explore Wright, I wish I had more time to re-see Sullivan. My hope in the next year or so, is to get to Scotland to see the Mackintosh buildings. Oak Park and whatever brought Wright there worked out for everyone, I am sure. Check the other two blogs, 1. (which explores some of the Wright homes on Forest Avenue) and 3. (which explores other homes in the neighborhood).
Chicago is a wonderful American city to see, especially if you love public art and great architecture. Go experience Sullivan and his Wright, as you would in Rome, seeing Perugino and his Raphael. Hear what happened to Southern blues and jazz (Ma Rainey, I believe lived there for a time). Catch the beginnings of sociology in Hull House. Nice to go to restaurants that are not chains.
There is also this site which has some good biographical info on Wright.