Nestled into today’s popular and affluent Chicago suburb of Glencoe, past the 21st century French chateaus and countless half-circle driveways, is a development that is turning 100 this year: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ravine Bluffs. The development, a joint enterprise between Wright and his attorney, Sherman Booth II, was never completed but still contains the third largest collection of Wright houses in the nation (following Chicago and Oak Park). The six houses are joined by a winding street, the edges of the neighborhood feature Wright-designed markers, and you can walk across Wright’s only bridge.
The most famous of Wright’s designs seem to be the more expensive (who doesn’t love Fallingwater), but particularly at the end of his career, Wright was very interested in creating affordable housing. His plan for Ravine Bluffs was to create a series of houses that were a manageable size and cohesive in nature. By rotating the same basic floor plan (similar but far preferable to the mirror-image houses you see in cookie cutter developments today), Wright devised a way to create a neighborhood of houses that looked different but were constructed from the same elements.
I had the opportunity to visit Ravine Bluffs this month and one of the most interesting things today is the various preservation projects the home owners are taking on. One home owner discussed shingle types and his efforts to make his house green while maintaining its integrity. The owner of the William A. Glasner House discussed replacing the stucco: Wright liked the gradient and mottling affects on the stucco created by natural humidity changes. Today’s mass-produced stucco? More like a thick, textured paint (“They’ll offer you all sorts of strange textures!” another home owner offered up).
But what I loved most of all? The familiar but slightly different patterns of windows and the thrill of walking around the corner and seeing yet another Frank Lloyd Wright house. Along one of the streets of Ravine Bluffs, three Frank Lloyd Wright houses sit next to each other. The yards blend together and the squares and lines reference each other from house to house as you look down the street. You can almost get an idea of the grand vision of Wright and Booth.
Happy 100 years, Ravine Bluffs!
Going to be in the area? Glencoe is celebrating the 100 years of Ravine Buffs! Check out the Wright in Glencoe website for more information.