At the turn of the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright revolutionized architecture with his use of local materials, custom interiors, and conscientious designs that worked harmoniously with the environment. Maybe you’ve seen Fallingwater, that has a stream basically running through it? In fact, modern architecture in general can trace its roots back to a single Frank Lloyd Wright building (which you’ll get to see!). That’s probably why UNESCO recognizes them alongside recognized alongside the likes of Yellowstone and the Statue of Liberty in importance.
The best part for Chicagoans (or anyone in the area) is that Frank was a midwest boy, so you can see some of his finest works, including half the UNESCO sites, on a quick trip from Chicago to Madison, WI.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s career started in and around Chicago (he lived in the suburbs nearby – we’ll get to that), so it’s the best place to start a tour of his work! If you only visit one FLW building in Chicago, make sure it’s the Frederick C. Robie House. The Robie House is one of the eight Frank Lloyd Wright UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and considered the pinnacle of his Prairie School style. From the understated decor to the ingenious engineering and flowing floor plan, the Robie house helped shape modern architecture. Mies Van der Rohe even visited it (and Taliesen)!
Once you’ve checked the Robie House off your list, there are plenty of other FLW buildings scattered around the city. One of the more unique is the Rookery Building in the Financial District. In 1905, Wright redesigned the lobby, still working within the confines of the Beaux Arts “light court”. The result is one of the most impressive atrium’s in the city.
Oak Park, IL
Calling Oak Park “The Village that Wright Built” isn’t much of a stretch. The architect lived in this Chicago suburb for the first 20 years of his career. During that time, he designed dozens of homes throughout the town, including his own. Take a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio to see where the Prairie School was born before setting out on a tour of the neighborhood. Oak Park has the largest collection of FLW buildings, with 25 within walking distance from his home(though most are still private residences).
Of all the Wright buildings in Oak Park, the Unity Temple is by far the most unique. Wright himself declared it his “contribution to modern architecture”. Built in 1905, the cubist, reinforced concrete building is considered the first Modern building in the world, and created a template that Mies Van Der Rohe and others would follow. From the geometric architecture to the perfectly planned spaces, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the greatest public building of his Prairie era.
Taliesin, Spring Green, WI
From the drawing room experiments in his Oak Park home, head to Taliesin to see them brought to life in a UNESCO-listed complex. The slew of buildings on the estate were built and modified by Wright over the course of his entire career, from the Romeo & Juliet Windmill built in 1896, to the Visitor Center that was added in 1967. The highlight is his Prairie School home, which has all his signature elements: locally sourced stone, cozy interiors, broad windows, and a cantilevered balcony jutting out into the valley.
There’s a number of different tour options from an hour in the main house, to four hours exploring every facet of the estate. Watch the video for a little taste of what to expect.
We’d recommend booking in advance at taliesinpreservation.org
From Taliesin, head to Madison for even another huge collection of FLW works, including another UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House. Built in 1937 from wood and red brick, the building embodied Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideal for American living, a new style he named “Usonian”. While tours aren’t offered, the owners welcome visitors to see it from the outside. At the very least, you’ll get to see the world’s first carport – a term Wright coined!
From the modest family home, head down to the waterfront for one of Wright’s proudest projects: the Monona Terrace. Planned in 1938, the curvilinear structure was his “dream civic center”, blending modern amenities with organic design. Think of it as the Guggenheim for the community. Throughout Madison, you’ll find a number of other FLW-designed buildings, including the “airplane” First Unitarian Meeting House.
Bonus: Still Bend/Bernard Schwartz House
What’s better than visiting a Frank Lloyd Wright home? How about living in one! The Still Bend/Bernard Schwartz House is available to rent on airbnb! Still Bend expands on the Usonian concept of the Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House, standing as the realized “Dream House” concept Frank Lloyd Wright described in Life Magazine. Built in 1938, the red brick, red concrete, and wood accents bring his signature natural aesthetic at a lower price point. The interior, with its cozy spaces is like “a little private club”, and is still furnished as it was in the early 20th century. For FLW lovers, it’s hard to beat actually living his dream. Which is probably why Still Bend is the most popular airbnb in the state, so book well in advance!
Ready for your Frank Lloyd Wright tour from Chicago?
Just request a custom trip with stops in Oak Park and Taliesin Preservation!
And if you’d like to stay at the Bernard Schwartz House, you can request a custom trip there too!