The Robie House’s Contemporary Reflection

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The Robie House, like many houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, looks decidedly modern. It is surrounded by buildings that, while they emulate century-old architecture like Gothic cathedrals, are in fact younger than the Robie House. One neighbor in particular, however, is certainly newer than the Robie House but instead of turning to national trends it looked to the building next door.

The Charles M. Harper Center, which houses the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, was built in 2004 and intentionally references design aspects from the internationally known, Prairie style Robie House. Most notable are the cantilevers and long bands, or ribbons, of windows. The interior also features skylights that seem to reference the Robie House’s patterned windows. Meanwhile, the limestone walls and interior Gothic arches tie Harper Center to the Gothic cathedral across the street. Despite the building’s references to history, the modern materials and lines make the Harper Center a building of its time–the 2000s–and that of its predecessors.

The references to Robie are enjoyable on the face. Rightly so, the Robie house is being remembered and honored rather than threatened with demolition. The elements that make up Harper Center are site-specific, something Wright, himself, thought was important to a building’s design. However, it was Wright that was always looking to design something new and distinctive to America. What would he think about future buildings drawing on his own design elements in the way early Americans drew from European architecture?

You decide: is Harper Center a design success or should it have been a building unique unto itself without nodding to its renowned residential neighbor?

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Sources and Further Reading:

The University of Chicago page for the Charles M. Harper Center, University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

The University of Chicago on the Robie House.

The Robie House has been noted as one of ten buildings that changed America. Read more here.

More Frank Lloyd Wright from the Secret Knowledge of Spaces archives:

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6 thoughts on “The Robie House’s Contemporary Reflection

  1. I think it works although it made me smile when I first saw it, not knowing about it – it seemed a bit obvious. But that’s an odd crossroads and the muted grey palette really lets the Robie sing out (as if it could do otherwise!).

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    1. I agree, it really shouts “Robie” the minute you give it a second glance! I enjoy it more every time I walk by. It’s clever and does somehow work well with the grays.

      Like

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