“The most we can do is to write — intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively — about what it is like living in the world at this time.” Oliver Sacks. “To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart,” Henri Cartier-Bresson
Each September, many public buildings in Great Britain open their doors to the public. It is fun to snoop around places which are normally off limits to the plebs, like me. I went to Northampton to see the Guildhall and a house designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Derngate. First the townhall:
Moving on to Derngate, a slim Georgian townhouse built in 1815. Charles Rennie Mackintosh (CRM) remodelled the interior in 1916 in Art Deco style for a local businessman. This was the only house designed by CRM in England. After the First World War, he moved to France and died in London in 1928.
Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design a house for Frederick C Robie on a plot of land close to the University of Chicago in 1908. Robie was keen to have an innovative architect to design a modern-style house for a family home. The resulting house sticks out like a sore thumb in Hyde Park – Prairie-style amidst the early Collegiate Gothic buildings of the university.
This model of the house can be seen in FLW’s Oak Park office.
FLW had some bizarre ideas about the placement of a house’s front door. It is not visible in this photograph – but it is beneath the chimney pots on the far side of the property. There is a long path from the street on the left of the shot. The doors on the right side of the building are for a triple garage (now this is the ticket office and shop). There is a back door and tradesman’s entrance just to the left of the garages.
The upper floor has a wall of glass doors, on the right of the photograph. Despite the open fireplace (it looked as though it would fill the house with smoke!), the Robie family needed to wear extra clothing indoors in winter.
FLW closed his Oak Park office in 1909 to go travelling in Europe, so he did not oversee the building of the Robie House. Unfortunately, the Robie family only lived there for 14 months (financial difficulties following the death of his father and marital discord). After two other owners, the house was bought by the Chicago Theological Seminary in 1926 and used as a dormitory. Mies van der Rohe rescued the house from demolition just before World War Two. It was bought by the University of Chicago and in 2002, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust started work on restoring the house and contents. The work was completed in 2019 and it is wonderful. I urge you all to go and see it if you are interested in architecture and FLW in particular.
FLW is one of my favourite architects. He was a real maverick, not just in his innovative designs but also in his private life. At the end of the 19th century, he worked from his office in Oak Park in the western suburbs of Chicago. Sadly, FLW wasn’t a big door man; he often placed the main entrance in unobtrusive places, often on the side of the house, not the front.
Tourists enter the office via the portico shown in the centre of the photograph below.
FLW lived next door to the office. These interior shots are rather dull, but give an impression of the place.
You can do a walking tour around a dozen of the houses he designed in the “prairie style”. One house was modified by FLW after it had burned down, so it kept the church style windows (333).
Other houses in the area have incorporated elements of FLW design.