Blog WHS Visits

Chicago Meetup

The US City of Chicago was the venue for the 2023 WHS Meetup. It’s a great city that can hold anyone’s interest for a couple of days. It’s very walkable as well - we walked over 11km on the first day for example, on wide, clean and relatively quiet sidewalks. Its public transport, although maybe not fully appreciated by its residents, also is convenient and inexpensive. To the WH Traveller, it has two locations of the Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings WHS to offer and the Early Chicago Skyscrapers TWHS.

We started on Day 1 with a pre-tour walk at 8 a.m. through the Oak Park neighborhood. This lovely residential area is home to numerous Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, including his home and studio. Some of his designs were easy to spot, others a bit harder as they were more conservative than his signature Prairie Style. Also, I counted at least one squirrel in every garden and many of the historic buildings were showing subtle Halloween decorations.

Our first tour of the day was at Union Temple. This has always been an active church, but it is far from a traditional church building. Wright ‘won’ this commission because he lived in the area and was well-known to the clients. Dating from 1905, relatively early in his career, it consists of two symmetrical reinforced concrete cubes. One is used for community congregations, the other for religious services.

The guide from the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust pointed out the characteristics to us, such as the standard Wright colour scheme (a ‘calm’ brown, green, and gold), the Japanese influences, and the use of wood. The church ‘cube’ has a very intimate feel due to its square layout and seating arrangement. Outside noise also was cleverly blocked.

We then moved on to the center of Chicago, known as The Loop. Here another guided tour was waiting for us: at The Rookery. This office building from 1888 nicely connects Frank Lloyd Wright with the Early Chicago Skyscrapers TWHS. It was Wright who modernized the building some 30 years after its conception.

It isn’t hard to find the early skyscrapers in Chicago’s cityscape as they usually are a bit lower than the current highrise buildings (see The Rookery in photo 2), are often burgundy in colour, and have more ornamentation. The architects used many tricks to convince the people at the time that these skyscrapers wouldn’t fall on them. We visited about a dozen of these buildings, admiring the facades but also trying to enter as often as possible. There are some interesting interiors at the Marquette Building and the Palmer House for example.

All buildings have found a new (private) use, such as department stores, which might be an obstacle to a future nomination. Still, I think the Early Chicago Skyscrapers would be a worthwhile addition to the list, as the ensemble of buildings has an interesting narrative (linked to the Great Fire of 1871 and the Chicago World Fair of 1893).

On Day 2 we visited the second inscribed Frank Lloyd Wright building in Chicago: Robie House. This lies in the southeast of the city, virtually on the campus of the University of Chicago. It’s a pleasant walk from the nearest L-Train station to get there, as it will take you along the pseudo-historical University buildings with ivy growing all over them. The University existed already when Wright built the house, but Robie House wasn't encroached by its buildings as it is nowadays.

We had a guided tour booked here as well. Robie House seems to be a more popular site to visit than Unity Temple – our tour had 12 participants, and other tours were right before and after us. There’s a nice gift shop as well. Robie House is considered the highlight of Wright’s Prairie Style houses, but somehow it failed to captivate me the same way his other buildings did. Fallingwater, which I visited years ago, remains my favourite.

Special thanks go out to Jay T and Frédéric for being such good companions and map readers during the Chicago visit. And to Kyle, who unfortunately could not make it at the last moment but who planted the seed of Chicago in our minds and was responsible for the itinerary.

Els - 8 October 2023

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Els Slots 14 October 2023

Will change it, Jan. It's indeed called the University of Chicago (easily confused with University of Illinois at Chicago).

Jan Hobson 14 October 2023

The Robie house is on the University of Chicago campus in the Hyde Park Community.

Durian 9 October 2023

This year meeting was a near miss to me as I had seminar at University of Wisconsin-Madison a week before meet-up, but still had one free day before flied back to Asia from O'hare to see Chicago's downtown.

Jay T 8 October 2023

Great to see you and Frederic in Chicago, Els! Sorry to have missed you, Kyle. Chicago is a really neat city, and I’m glad it was easier to get into some buildings this year than it was when I visited during Covid. Hope you enjoy the rest of your travels in the US!

Kyle Magnuson 8 October 2023

Sad I could not make it, but it's nice to get this update about the journey! After reading your thoughts on the FLW sites, I am now pondering the different experience visiting the Robie House and Unity Temple. The later remains functional as it was intended. Robie House had to be saved from near destruction and because of the spartan "empty" interior, your thoughts ring true for me as well. The Robie House is great for pictures though and to highlight FLW's different techniques and signature designs.

Looking forward to a future post about the Mound Building Cultures of the Midwest (Cahokia & Hopewell).