A Travellerspoint blog

Frank Lloyd Wright, downtown sights and pizza!

Chicago VT meet day three

View Chicago VT meet on ToonSarah's travel map.

At Quincy station on the L

Isa, Amelie and I had booked a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings for today so had another early start. But we found time for a quick breakfast at nearby Goddess and the Baker which impressed us with its lovely outdoor terrace, great coffee and excellent selection of pastures etc. My Rise and Shine muffin was huge and lasted me well into the morning.

Amelie and Isa at Chicago station

The Rookery Building

We took the L downtown and after a bit of searching found the Rookery Building where the tour was to start. There we met another VTer, Lisa, who had arrived from Wisconsin that morning.


The Rookery Building

The tour kicked off there with a thorough history of the building and Wright’s contribution to it. While Wright didn’t build it, he was responsible for a major renovation of the interior spaces in the early 20th century. Our guide told us all about its original design by architect John Wellborn Root, which was very innovative at the time (1886). Its central glass atrium provided light to the offices. And its ‘floating’ foundations enabled this tall heavy building to be constructed on Chicago’s swampy soil.

Wright covered some of the internal steel in white marble with gold decorations and modernised the lighting, among other changes. Here are some of my favourite features, some introduced by Wright and some dating back to Root’s original design.





In the Rookery Building

We then boarded the bus for the drive out to Oak Park. On the way one of the guides talked about the World Fair held in Chicago and how one of the many architects involved, Sullivan, maintained that America needed to develop its own style rather than continue to copy from classical European influences. He wasn’t really listened to, but one of the young architects in his practice took the message to heart and adopted it as his own. That was Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Unity Temple

Unity Temple

Our first visit in Oak Park was to the Unity Temple. This is the oldest Wright building still in use for the same purpose for which it was built, and is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Our guide Sue gave us a very thorough tour, explaining many of Wright’s architectural principles and design characteristics.

The brief was for a modern church, one that reflected the congregation’s dedication to community as much as to prayer. Thus as much emphasis is given to the meeting space, Unity House, as to the church itself. The inscription over the door reflects this: For the worship of God and the service of man.

Entrance to Unity Temple

One key characteristic of a Wright design, Sue told us, is a concealed entrance. Here the door is tucked away from the busy main road, invisible from it. Another characteristic, she explained, is the notion of ‘compress and release. We enter into a low hallway before being ‘released’ into the wider spaces of the hall on one side and temple on the other. The latter is accessed through dark passages on either side – more ‘compression’.

Ceiling of the meeting hall

We also saw how cleverly Wright introduced light into what appears from outside to be a rather solid building. There are high clerestory windows around the edge and twenty-five square skylights of amber tinted leaded glass above. Sue drew our attention too to the electric lights. Their design is based on squares and circles, a common thread in Wright’s work.

Ceiling of the church


The organ, hidden behind wooden strips

Oak Park

We then walked through part of Oak Park, clearly an affluent neighbourhood with lots of lovely houses. Those designed by Wright really stood out from their neighbours. Of course we couldn’t go in these private homes but we could take photos.



Frank Lloyd Wright designed houses in Oak Park

Wright’s home and studio

The walk finished at Wright’s own home and studio. There was some restoration work in progress so I couldn’t get good photos of the exterior.

Frank Lloyd Wright home (construction worker on the left!)

Again we had a thorough tour of both house and studio, with lots of interesting facts and details. We learned how Wright had extended the original fairly modest home over time and how the extensions showed the way in which his style was evolving towards what became his unique and distinctive Prairie style. I won’t repeat it all here; the trust’s website has a very thorough description. My favourite rooms were the children’s playroom with low seating built in and a lovely fireplace with a mural of Aladdin and the lamp, and the dining room with the table placed below a skylight and high-backed chairs creating a sense of intimacy.

Built-in seating

Fireplace, and window

Children's playroom

Dining room, and bathroom

The Robie House

The bus met us there and took us to downtown Oak Park for an excellent lunch, included in the tour cost. Then we drove back into the city and south to Hyde Park, right by the Rockerfeller Chapel on the University campus where we had been yesterday. There we visited the Robie House, seeing how Wright’s style had evolved and been consolidated by this point. The house is described on the Trust’s website as:

‘the consummate expression of his Prairie style. The house is conceived as an integral whole—site and structure, interior and exterior, furniture, ornament and architecture, each element is connected. Unrelentingly horizontal in its elevation and a dynamic configuration of sliding planes in its plan, the Robie House is the most innovative and forward thinking of all Wright’s Prairie houses.’

The Robie House

The open-plan ground floor amazed me with its simplicity, yet the more you look the more details you notice. Light fittings again incorporating squares and circles, beautiful leaded light windows, a sunken fireplace in the centre of the space.

Ground floor space and fireplace

Light fitting

From the Trust’s website again:

‘In his design of the Robie House, Wright achieves a dynamic balance between transparency and enclosure, blurring the boundaries between interior space and the world of nature beyond.’

The VT meet starts officially

By the time we got back to the Rookery it was already four, the time we should have been meeting the rest of the group at the hotel. I messaged Rich to warn him we were running late and he told me some of the rest of the group had been delayed too. So we were able to stop on for the also-included glass of prosecco and a look around the excellent gift shop! But I resisted buying the item I fell in love with, a rather expensive necklace! Then Lisa drove us back to the Felix through heavy traffic.

The VT group had grown by now and we all set off to travel on the Brown line to Millennium Park. There we saw the Bean, sadly undergoing restoration so partly hidden by hoardings. By climbing on benches we managed to take photos over these but without all the interesting reflections you can get from closer to the structure.


The Bean

We visited the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (music venue) designed by Frank Gehry which unsurprisingly reminded me of MoPop in Seattle.

The Jay Pritzker Pavilion

And we spent some time taking photos by the rather fun Crown fountain.


The Crown Fountain (with my friend Amelie bottom right)

We then walked along some downtown streets and popped into Macy's, in the former Marshal Field department store to see the Tiffany dome.

Tiffany dome, Macy's

Clock on Macy's, and the Chicago Theatre

Then it was back on the L again to Lou Malnati’s pizza restaurant. There we sampled Chicago’s deep dish pizza (nothing like any pizza I’ve ever had) as well as their thin crust version which wasn’t actually that thin! But both were fairly tasty, the beer was good and the company great fun.

Deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s

We walked back to the hotel and got back around 10.00pm. It had been a long tiring day but a great one!

Posted by ToonSarah 16:34 Archived in USA Tagged food architecture park fountain church houses city chicago virtual_tourist

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I love all the architecture, but don't fancy that pizza at all. I really like thin crispy base pizza. The one in your picture looks more like a pie.

by irenevt

I was probably being over polite about the pizza. I was really pleased to have tried a Chicago legendary dish but I wouldn't order it again. Even their so-called thin base was far thicker than a proper Neapolitan one!

by ToonSarah

Sarah, you have visited such amazing places. Their architecture is superb. The Bean is a great meeting place! Long live the VT Spirit!

by Vic_IV

Yes, the VT spirit is alive and well Victor, as this meeting demonstrated :)

by ToonSarah

Funny. I absolutely hate those thin crusts on pizza. I could eat the crust without toppings . . . but only a thick crust.

When we were first married, I made pizza in a pie pan because that is all we had so they really were pizza pies.

by Beausoleil

Ah well Sally, it's good we don't all like the same things!!

by ToonSarah

What's Chicago without pizza :)

Great photo of Amelie in the fountain!! :)

by hennaonthetrek

I guess you're right about pizza Henna, but I prefer the Italian style. 😀

by ToonSarah

I can't say, haven't tasted the Chicagon one yet :D

by hennaonthetrek

I have to be honest when I say that architecture is not my thing, but boy, seeing your beautiful pictures makes a bit interested in it. You really have a talent for it. WoW is the thing that was in the back of my mind all the time!

The bean is really amazing and also one of the things I know about the city ... that and the Chicago bulls!

by Ils1976

It's hard not to get a bit interested in architecture in Chicago!

by ToonSarah

by Ils1976

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