Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park

Art & Architecture
April 28, 2010 10:18 am

As graduation approaches (signaling the end of my time inhabiting the North Shore), I have been frantically searching for opportunities to cross items off my Chicago Bucket List. This past weekend my mom was in town, and with her rented car we drove southwest to Oak Park to peep displays of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural genius — something I have planned to do for years.

We arrived at the Oak Park visitor center and, warned the Unity Temple was only open for about another hour, rushed over to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house of worship on Lake Street. The Unitarian temple was the only of his masterpieces we entered, since all the other homes (with the exception of his personal home and studio) are private residences.

After exploring Unity Temple, we visited the architect’s nearby home and studio to rent headsets for the self-guided walking tour. We spent about the next hour walking around Lloyd Wright’s home neighborhood and pausing to learn about ten of his Modern residential creations with our super touristy — but very informational! — audio gear.

Unity TempleNo seat in Unity Temple is more than 40 feet from the podiumThe auditorium has multiple levels of seatingLloyd Wright designed the lightsThe center of the auditoriumAt the top of the photo are hidden organ pipesThe hearth in Unity TempleCeiling windows in Unity TempleFrank Lloyd Wright's home and studioThe front of Frank Lloyd Wright's homeRobert P. Parker House, 1892Thomas Gale House (L), Walter Gale House (R)Nathan G. Moore House, 1895/1923Main entrance to the Nathan Moore HouseHills-DeCaro House, 1896/1906The Japanese ticket booth from the 1893 Chicago World's FairArthur B. Heurtley House, 1902Laura Gale House, 1906Frank Thomas House, 1901Offset front door to the Frank Thomas HousePeter A. Beachy House, 1906Gift shop!Frank Lloyd Wright-designed lightFalling Water (outside of Pittsburgh) and the NYC Guggenheim in lego form
Unity Temple

Unity Temple

Unity Temple

No seat in Unity Temple is more than 40 feet from the podium

No seat in Unity Temple is more than 40 feet from the podium

No seat in Unity Temple is more than 40 feet from the podium

The auditorium has multiple levels of seating

The auditorium has multiple levels of seating

The auditorium has multiple levels of seating

Lloyd Wright designed the lights

Lloyd Wright designed the lights

Lloyd Wright designed the lights

The center of the auditorium

The center of the auditorium

The center of the auditorium

At the top of the photo are hidden organ pipes

At the top of the photo are hidden organ pipes

At the top of the photo are hidden organ pipes

The hearth in Unity Temple

The hearth in Unity Temple

The hearth in Unity Temple

Ceiling windows in Unity Temple

Ceiling windows in Unity Temple

Ceiling windows in Unity Temple

Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio

Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio

Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio

The front of Frank Lloyd Wright's home

The front of Frank Lloyd Wright's home

The front of Frank Lloyd Wright's home

Robert P. Parker House, 1892
Thomas Gale House (L), Walter Gale House (R)
Nathan G. Moore House, 1895/1923

Nathan G. Moore House, 1895/1923

Nathan G. Moore House, 1895/1923

Main entrance to the Nathan Moore House

Main entrance to the Nathan Moore House

Main entrance to the Nathan Moore House

Hills-DeCaro House, 1896/1906

Hills-DeCaro House, 1896/1906

Hills-DeCaro House, 1896/1906

The Japanese ticket booth from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair

The Japanese ticket booth from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair

The Japanese ticket booth from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair

Arthur B. Heurtley House, 1902

Arthur B. Heurtley House, 1902

Arthur B. Heurtley House, 1902

Laura Gale House, 1906

Laura Gale House, 1906

Laura Gale House, 1906

Frank Thomas House, 1901

Frank Thomas House, 1901

Frank Thomas House, 1901

Offset front door to the Frank Thomas House

Offset front door to the Frank Thomas House

Offset front door to the Frank Thomas House

Peter A. Beachy House, 1906

Peter A. Beachy House, 1906

Peter A. Beachy House, 1906

Gift shop!

Gift shop!

Gift shop!

Frank Lloyd Wright-designed light

Frank Lloyd Wright-designed light

Frank Lloyd Wright-designed light

Falling Water (outside of Pittsburgh) and the NYC Guggenheim in lego form

Falling Water (outside of Pittsburgh) and the NYC Guggenheim in lego form

Falling Water (outside of Pittsburgh) and the NYC Guggenheim in lego form

The architect’s work, with its clean, straight lines and strong angles apparent in everything from the Unity Temple’s organ and light fixtures to his houses’ windows, is impressive even to the untrained eye. Learning about the thought process and intention behind Lloyd Wright’s designs reveals even more brilliance.

Here are some points I picked up and found helpful to understanding Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park architecture:

  • The homes Lloyd Wright designed in Oak Park are from his Prairie Period, which was around the turn of the 20th Century: about 1892 to 1908.
  • The Prairie Period is characterized by long, horizontal lines intended to reflect and work with the flat Midwestern terrain.
  • Lloyd Wright considered the hearth the center of the home, symbolically and, in his designs, literally.
  • The architect was fascinated with Japanese art and design.
  • Lloyd Wright often obstructed or hid the front door; his homes aren’t designed to appear inviting to the outsider. He was more concerned with creating architecture that complemented nature and the surroundings.

My mom recommends the book Loving Frank as follow-up (or if you want, pre) education and entertainment to an Oak Park trip. I haven’t started reading the historical fiction novel yet, but the guy’s life did take some soap opera-worthy turns.

Also, if you happen to be at the Northwestern University Library, ask the archivists about original FLW documents we have somewhere in that massive structure.

Karina for TKGO

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3 Comments

  • Great pics! I’m sure you’ve been to the Goog in NYC, but also put Falling Water on your list of places to see. Love the way FLW uses “organic architecture” to guide the resident to interact with nature. I don’t think they will allow you to take pics inside though.

  • I love that area of Oak Park! It’s too bad it’s not easier to get to for NU students…

  • Thanks, Nate! I have been to the Guggenheim; in fact, I was there about a year ago for the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit they had, which made me realize (even more than before) that I had to get to Oak Park before leaving the Chicago area. I haven’t seen Falling Water yet, but I am hoping some day I will. The photos I’ve seen are stunning.

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