A house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright sits uncomfortably on the campus of the University of Chicago.
Robie House was built in 1910 for a Chicago businessman named Frederick C. Robie. Robie lived there only a short time, and the property was eventually acquired by the Chicago Theological Seminary, which planned to demolish the house to put up a student dorm. In 1957, Wright himself (then 90 years old) returned to Chicago to protest these plans. He commented, “It all goes to show the danger of entrusting anything spiritual to the clergy.”
By 1963, the house had been donated to the University of Chicago, which still owns it today. Unfortunately, the university hasn’t shown much more spiritual appreciation for Wright’s designs than the seminarians did.
An undistinguished cheap-looking four-story building now looms behind Robie House. In 2004, the university put up a monstrous business school building directly across the street. Light- and sign-poles dot the sidewalks beside the house, cluttering up almost every view of the premises. Wright’s masterpiece of balance and harmony now looks crowded and a little forlorn, though this latter observation may be due to the fact that a restoration is supposedly underway.
Though the house’s overall impact has been sadly diminished by the incoherent sprawl of buildings around it, Robie House’s individual details remain intact and wonderful to behold.