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Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Workshop in Oak Park Illinois

Timothy. C. Hain, M.D.

Frank Lloyd Wright (from here), who designed the buildings discussed. Interior view of the FLW Unity Temple (the FLW preservation trust, which operates the FLW home and Robie house, does not allow pictures.) The Unity Temple Foundation does.

I live in Chicago and I like Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture (FLW), so I thought I should check out the FLW home/workshop in Oak Park, Illinois. Oak Park is a near suburb to Chicago - - easily accessible by car or public transportation (a combination of Metro train and cab would be best I think -- it would be a very long walk from the Harlem Metro stop). Other interesting FLW places in Chicago are the Robie house (in Hyde Park), and the Prairie bookshop in downtown Chicago. The Unity temple is also close, but I have rather mixed feelings about the cost/benefit ratio of the tour as well as the propriety of selling tours to a house of worship (see below). If you are really a major FLW enthusiast -- OK - -see it. )

Oddly, the FLW house does not "look" like a FLW house from the outside -- it was Frank's first house, and from the outside it looks pretty much like an ordinary old Oak Park house. It does not have the "Prairie" look of later FLW houses (many of which line adjacent Forest avenue), but rather looks pretty much like an ordinary house. Curiously, there is presently some controversy concerning whether or not FLW designed many other houses in Oak Park, or whether these were imitation FLW houses.

The FLW house is operated, and I use this word intentionally, by the FLW preservation trust. This is a group that supports itself by selling FLW merchandise in many places and providing docents for tours of FLW property. As far as I can tell, the FLW people are don't create anything new themselves -- they just market and sell FLW's previous output, and prevent other people from accessing the output until they pay the foundation.

The FLW house has a gift-shop in the house basement, which has almost the same merchandise as one can find in other FLW Preservation operated sites - -such as the Robie house in Hyde Park. Seems to me that there is room for a lot more merchandise.

Although the tour was expensive, I really liked the house and the tour -- the guide seemed to know his stuff in surprising detail. The house (seen on a sunny day in early Summer at about 4PM), was beautiful, due to the natural light coming in through the sky-lights and stained glass windows. I plan to come back on another day to take the neighbohrhood tour (another $12 I guess).

An interesting FLW trick that he put to great advantage in his own house was to use overhead skylights, with stained glass windows or grids overlaid on top. These are very neat.

FLW also seemed to be fond of simply using leaded panes in his windows -- without any colored glass. On the bottom floor, they are simple diamond shapes. On the second floor they are parabolas resembling a vault of a church ceiling. One would think that this simple and attractive design pattern could easily be put to use in contemporary buildings.

I was also fascinated to learn that FLW collected and dealt Japanese woodblock prints. Various prints (which don't look like the real thing) are thumbtacked up here and there throughout the house (the use of the fakes seems a bit "tacky" to me). There seems to me to be a great deal of similarity between FLW and Japanese lanterns, shoji screens, and art found in the Japanese shrines. The snapshot below shows a statue in an exterior garden of the house which reminds me of the stone lanterns that Japanese favor in their gardens.

Statue from exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright's house. The FLW Preservation trust does not allow the public to take pictures of the inside of the house.

A myriad of FLW organizations !

Curiously however, Taliesin East in Spring Green Wisconsin is operated by a different group - -Taliesin Preservation, Inc. Taliesin West in Phoenix is operated by a third group -- The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Of course, the Unity temple tours are operated by a 4th group -- Unity temple Restoration Foundation I wonder why these groups don't all get together and form a single foundation ?

© Copyright December 8, 2018 , Timothy C. Hain, M.D. All rights reserved.
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