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    Frank Lloyd Wright - Chicago Architect of Excellence

    By Alice Lane
    No other single person transformed twentieth century Chicagoland hospital architecture more than did Frank Lloyd Wright, who was unquestionably the most famous architect in America. Born in Wisconsin, Wright had no formal training in architecture before he came to Chicago in 1887. He obtained employment in the office of architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee as a draftsman, but it was Louis H. Sullivan who mentored him and taught him to view architecture as a creative balance between the function and environment of a structure rather than merely accepting traditional architectural conventions and precedents.

    Frank Lloyd Wright opened his own architectural firm in 1893 in the Chicago south suburbs healthcare area of Oak Park. Many of his employees went on to major architectural careers, including Barry Byrne, William Drummond, Marion Mahoney, and Walter Burley Griffin. Wright's early twentieth century residential plans, which came to be known as the Prairie Style, represented a new approach to architecture which resists categorization. At a time when the typical American home was designed with rectangles upon rectangles, Wright's homes were human-scaled and flowing reflecting ideal conditions for living rather than rigid boxes within boxes. Prairie style architecture was conceived as modern architecture for a democratic American society. Distinguishing features of the Prairie style include horizontal proportions with flat stucco or brick walls, often outlined by strips of wood in contrasting colors; abstract, geometrically ornamental windows; and gable or hip roofs with widely overhanging eaves.

    Because the Prairie style originated in Chicago, there are many examples in the Chicago metropolitan area, particularly in Beverly, Hyde Park, and Rogers Park. Some of Wright's early Prairie style homes, including the Coonley House in Riverside Illinois and the Robie House, have become major monuments in architectural history. Wright also experimented with innovative affordable housing, such as American System-built Houses and the Waller Apartments. In total, Frank Lloyd Wright designed over three hundred buildings, with over a hundred in the Chicagoland healthcare area alone.

    For example, the Charnley House located at 1365 North Astor St. was built in 1891 as a collaboration of two world-renowned architects, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. This structure, built for Chicago lumber dealer James Charley, exhibits the massive geometry and detailing of Louis Sullivan together with an early hint of Wright's Prairie style design and planning. It is an urban townhouse which takes maximum advantage of a small city lot. Wright later called it the first modern house and it was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1972. The Roloson Houses at 3213-3219 South Calumet Ave. were built in 1894 and are the only row houses which Wright designed which were actually built. The facades show the steeply-pitched rectangular and triangular bands of windows which characterize English Tudor Revival architectural style.

    These row houses were designed by Wright shortly after he left Louis Sullivan's firm and thus show many Sullivan influences, such as the terra-cotta ornamentation, reminiscent of Louis Sullivan's style which embellishes the spandrel between the top two floors. They were designated a Chicago landmark in 1979. The Walser House at 42 North Central Ave. was built in 1903, and it represents one of the best of Wright's experiments with inexpensive residential design. Although located on a narrow city lot, this house possesses all of the characteristics of Wright's mature Prairie style including horizontal emphasis which results from the deep roof eaves and the bands of windows, straightforward employment of simple materials, and a spacious but functional open interior plan. It was designated a Chicago landmark in 1984.

    From its origins in Chicagoland healthcare, Frank Lloyd Wright's influence and his Prairie style spread to a world-wide architectural movement. Chicagoland hospital is just one of over a hundred buildings in the Chicago area which attest to Frank Lloyd Wright's innovative genius.
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