Frank Lloyd Wright’s Influence on Mid-Century Modern Architecture

As the son of an architect, my father raised us with an appreciation for good design and a basic understanding of architecture.  So, when Whitney and I decided to visit Chicago for a long weekend, one of my few goals for the trip was visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House at the University of Chicago.  As one of his most famous prairie-style designs from the early 1900’s, the Robie house features many groundbreaking architectural details for the time that would ultimately influence much of mid-century modernist architecture some 40 years later.

One of the first things you notice when approaching the home is the long, flat cantilevered planes of the roof.  This is a prairie-style hallmark and the tour guide said Wright used this technique to make his homes feel visually flatter to blend in with the low, flat prairie landscape.  While nowhere near as intricate as the Robie house,  you can see the similarities to the house’s low pitched roof and large overhangs in many later mid-century modern homes from the 50’s and 60’s, like the Care-Free home.

Robie House Front Elevation
Care-Free Home Front Elevation

Unlike the more traditional architecture at the turn of the century which featured small, well defined rooms, Wright’s designs relied on modern materials like reinforced concrete and steel beams to create large, open spaces with fewer interior walls.  Many mid-century modern homes used a similar post and beam construction style that allowed the creation of large, open interior spaces.

Robie House Living Room
Care-Free Home Living Room

There are also similarities in the use of windows and doors to create a connection between indoor and outdoor space.  The living room of the Robie house features several french doors which open onto a patio that originally looked out over an open prairie space.  The Care-Free home’s design also uses a large amount of glass and patio doors to connect the indoor and outdoor living areas.

Robie House living room
Care-free home living room

One of the most iconic elements of the Robie house are the windows and doors, which feature art glass panels designed by Wright specifically for this home.  These leaded glass patterns were common in Wright’s designs and were used to create interior lighting effects of pattern and color that complimented other design elements of the home.  While less intricate, the Care-Free home’s window grilles work in the same way to add an architectural design element to the home while creating unique patterns of light and shadow indoors.

Leaded, stained glass windows of Robie house
Care-Free home window grilles

While the Care-Free Home is nowhere near as iconic and unique for its time as the Robie house, it is fascinating to see the elements of Wright’s prairie style from the early 1900’s that ultimately influenced mid-century modern architecture, including the design of Our Care-Free Home.