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Chicago Architectural History - Frank's White City
The White City
Part of Chicago was renamed "White City" during the 1893 Columbian Exposition, because the fair's buildings were constructed of white stucco. Against the dark buildings of the city, the fairgrounds looked lit up already, but the addition of thousands of electric light bulbs made the illusions real at night.
The White City was found around the marked areas on the map below and it became a much-used recreational area from 1905 all the way into the 1950s, about the time that Frank Lloyd Wright died.
This is the first building Wright designed. It still stands near the White CIty.
Frank Lloyd Wright Blueprints
Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 1867 after the American Civil War, three years before my grandfather was born in 1870 to live on an Ohio farm with no running water and no electricity for decades. On the other hand, electricity became an important part of Wright's architectural work long before the Ohio farms stopped using candles and lanterns.
In 1887, Frank moved to Chicago to be an architect, while my grandfather at age 17 had been working the farm for nine years already, 12 to 16 hours a day. Parts of Illinois advanced more quickly in technology than did Ohio.
My father somehow came into possession of some Frank Lloyd Wright blueprints and these helped him to study drafting in college. I don't know how those paths crossed, but it must have been a good story.
Meanwhile, Wright and my grandfather died in the same year: 1959. Education certainly makes a difference in success. The first was famous, the second was unknown. The first attended high school and some college classes, going on to work for an architectural concern in Chicago until he could start his own firm. My grandfather was pulled from the third grade and did back breaking farm work until his 80s.
The Chicago School
The Chicago School of Architecture is not a school. It is a style and styles were called schools in the 19th and early 20th century, Another example is the word "House." One of my martial arts is named the House of Wisdom. House here means school and school means style.
The Chicago style was often called Commercial Style from about 1890 to World War I, when Wright was becoming active in architecture, streamlining old hulking European designs and hanging everything in cantilever. For comparison, just one state to the east, my grandfather was just getting running water and electricity into his two farmhouses. He could have used Frank's help.
The second floor room is the dining hall of the Dana-Thomas house that Wright designed and built around 1904 before the Chicago's World Fair. He always constructed the furniture to go with the house and the Dana-Thomas work was no exception.
This dwelling is "prairie style" architecture, a more flowing space than the cookie-cutter boxes that were coming into fashion at the time in the city. Frank filled much of the Chicago suburbs and center city with this type of flowing work, adding a new chapter to Chicago Style.
One particular innovation that Wright introduced was the double-paned window that is sound proof.
The Wright School in Chicago
The Robie House was built around 1908 in Chicago, and it is another example of prairie style architecture, with plenty of room. Wright designed commercial buildings and residences in and around the White City portion of the community from 1888 through 1908, but designed buildings elsewhere across the United States.
For an interesting visit, look at the "Student Work" page of the Taliesin website to view the jaw-dropping innovation of housing and landscape design that today's Wright students are developing.
So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright. Simon and Garfunkel.
© 2008 Patty Inglish