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An Architecture Tour: Chicago and the Prairie School


How To View the Highlights of the Windy City

The last time I wrote about architecture, I stated that it was the first in a series of articles on architecture, thinking that I would start with a city and give examples of a style of architecture there while moving forward in time. Then, a comment by Bobby Rio got me thinking that the next essay should be an exception, so that I would not start with the older styles of architecture and instead I would skip forward to the person who many think was the basis for the hero of “The Fountainhead,” Frank Lloyd Wright and examples in the city of Chicago.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

On my first trip to Chicago (and really my solo first road trip), I was lucky enough to land in the city of Oak Park and stay with a friend whose apartment was designed in the mold of the Prairie School, whose most famous proponent was Frank Lloyd Wright. (How do I know it was my first solo road trip? I forgot to pack underwear. Always remember underwear. And sunscreen.)

The Prairie School is all about open space and spreading out horizontally to reflect in the building the same features of the landscape of the Midwest: flat and open with a horizon that stretches on forever. So, while you’re in Chicago, here are a few examples of that style designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that you can examine for yourself to see the style up close and in person.

Assuming you don’t live in Chicago, you’ll probably fly into O’Hare Airport to start your journey. Grab your rental car and above the protests of your lady, just drive to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (951 Chicago Avenue, Oak Park, IL) that is just eleven short miles (he says with a wink and a nudge as it depends on traffic) from O’Hare. Unless you arrive on Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Day, you can take a tour between 10 am and 5 pm to start increasing your knowledge of Wright. The only access to the property is through a $15 tour, but to be sure you understand Wright’s life and architectural style, this is a great beginning to your trip.

From there, it’s about a tenth of a mile to another example of Wright’s design, the Arthur Heurtley House, (318 Forest Ave., Oak Park, IL.) Then another block away on the same side of the street is the Frank W. Thomas House, (210 Forest Avenue, Oak Park, IL.) Sure, you could probably walk the distance (and there is a self-guided historical district tour at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home for another $15 each) but to keep your girl from yelling that she just wants to check into the hotel, the more you stay in the car, the less likely she’ll run off with the nearest non-architecture crazed person. (I kid. You’re looking at houses together. How romantic is that?)

About two and a half miles away (left on Lake Street and right on Central Avenue) is the J.J. Walser, Jr. Residence, (42 N. Central Ave., Chicago) before you make the sixteen-mile trek to the lake front and then to another house available for tours Thursday through Monday, the Frederick C. Robie House, (5757 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago.) You could make this the last stop on your architecture tour if you plan it right for the Robie House After Hours (every third Friday) for beer, wine and live music, while staring slack jawed at the interiors of this cool building.

Heller House

Heller House

If it’s still early and you eventually want to get back to your hotel, just drive less than a mile to see the Isidore H. Heller House, (5132 S. Woodlawn Ave., Chicago) as you make your way back to Lake Shore Drive and eventually up to the downtown area. (You have to stay downtown. It’s a rule. A law actually.) On your last stop just north of the loop in the Gold Coast area is the James Charnley Residence, (1365 N. Astor St., Chicago) which is one of the earliest buildings that Wright worked on, as it dates to 1892 (when Wright was just 25.) At this point, you can head back to the loop, over to the Magnificent Mile or, for the truly adventurous, continue driving another eight miles up Lakeshore Drive to the Emil Bach House, (7415 N. Sheridan Rd., Chicago) before calling it a full architectural day.

That should give you a great primer on Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago as well as driving in Chicago. (May all your traffic be light.) Then, you can look for some of his work closer to your home as you continue your Wright education.

About Jason McClain

Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."

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