October 14, 2008

Robie House to phase out tours for repairs and renovations before grand re-opening in 2010

The Robie House, a national landmark built by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, will reduce its public tour hours for one year, starting November 1, due to ongoing renovations.

The house, located at the corner of East 58th Street and South Woodlawn Avenue, is situated across from the Graduate School of Business.

Renovation plans will “stabilize the building, repair the damage caused over time, and return the building to its original appearance in 1910 when construction was completed and the house best reflected the design intent of the architect and the client,” according to the Robie House website.

Many houses designed by Wright face similar issues with their structural integrity, according to architecture expert Carter Wiseman.

Although Wright is hailed by many as an innovative and field-changing architect, his skill as an engineer has not withstood the test of time, with several of his foundations cracking and shifting since their construction, Wiseman writes in his book Twentieth-Century American Architecture: The Buildings and Their Makers. Consequently, many of Wright’s buildings have succumbed to water damage or insect infestation.

Wright’s use of the cantilever design—which involves beams that are only supported on one side—in houses such as Falling Water and the Robie House becomes problematic over time, Wiseman wrote. The unsupported ends—full floors in the case of Falling Water and the awning at the front of the Robie House—have begun to sag. Many Wright houses, such as Falling Water, Unity Temple, and the Darwin D. Martin House Complex in Buffalo, NY, have already been the subject of significant renovations and preservation attempts in order to save them from the ravages of time.

The first phase of the restoration work at Robie House, which did not substantially affect tour hours, focused mainly on the exterior of the house and was finished in July 2003. Plans call for the Robie House to be completely restored when it reopens for its centennial celebration in 2010. The Robie House will remain open and offer public tours on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., from November 1, 2008 through October 31, 2009. Next year the Robie House will close its doors completely to the public from November 1, 2009 to April 30, 2010, in preparation for the house’s grand reopening.