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.
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