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Women in Architecture: Isabel Roberts

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re spotlighting one of America’s most overlooked architects. As one of only two women in the original Prairie School, Isabel Roberts immediately became an inspiration for women architects in the early 20th century. Learn more about her riveting life and career below: 

The Life of Isabel Roberts

Isabel Roberts was born on March 7, 1871, in Mexico, Missouri. Her parents were natives of the eastern coast; her father was a mechanic from Utica, New York, and her mother was from Prince Edward Island, Canada. Growing up, Roberts and her family moved often; traveling from Missouri to Providence, Rhode Island, to South Bend, Indiana. 

The Isabel Roberts House, by Frank Lloyd Wright Studio, 1908

At 18 years old, Roberts moved to New York City, where she studied architecture at the Atelier Masqueray-Chambers from 1899-1901. The atelier was the first in the nation to teach architecture with the principles used by École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Architects Emmanuel Louis Masqueray and Walter B. Chambers founded the school to forge more rewarding educational and professional opportunities for women in architecture at the time. 

Notable Works and Achievements  

In 1901 after completing school at the Atelier Masqueray-Chambers, Roberts moved to Illinois to take a position under Frank Lloyd Wright in his Oak Park office. She worked with Wright alongside a team of six others, which included Marion Mahony Griffin, the only other woman in the group that would become known as the Prairie School. 

Eola Park Bandshell, Ryan and Roberts, 1924

Roberts’ impact while working for Wright is commonly underestimated as she contributed her design expertise to various projects, primarily after he left Oak Park for Europe in 1909. Some of her most notable projects include K.C. DeRhodes House in South Bend, Indiana – a commission for a friend of the Roberts family – the Laura Gale House in Oak Park and the Stohr Arcade Building in Chicago. 

St. Cloud Veterans Memorial Library, Ryan and Roberts, 1923

Commissioned by Isabel’s mother, Mary, the Isabel Roberts House in River Forest, Illinois, was another of Roberts’ illustrious designs with Wright. Completed in 1908, the home’s intricate arrangement contained a warm brick hearth at its core and utilized a mixture of half-story levels to connect living areas. The Prairie School design featured other innovative additions for the time, including a vaulted ceiling, diamond-paned windows and a grand octagonal balcony.

A Brief History of the Attached Garage

For those tireless fans of Frank Lloyd Wright — unarguably one of the greatest architects of the 20th century — we are delighted to shine a light on one of his innovations that rarely attracts attention. It’s the attached garage.

In a brilliant process of cultural sleuthing, conceptual artist Olivia Erlanger and architect Luis Ortega Govela embarked on a project that culminated in the 2018 publication of Garage by MIT Press. With elegance, wit and panache, the authors tell this tale of Robie House, completed in 1910:

“In the quiet darkness of South Woodlawn Avenue, Frank Lloyd Wright molded and adapted the American home for the automobile. The small rectangular windows of Wright’s Robie House cast rectilinear shadows across the sidewalk. In the moonlight, the red hydrangeas lining the second-floor balcony appeared black, to be identified only by their smell. With no “front” or “back,” the building looms, imperious and totemic. To the pedestrian it looks like a Japanese woodblock puzzle: the riddle of how to enter, or exit, persists until one encounters an oversized gate leading to a three-car garage. The Robie House is known by many as the cornerstone of modernism, but its status as the first home with an attached garage seems to have been forgotten. The garage struck architectural academics as so banal that it became nothing more than a footnote in Wright’s illustrious history.

The garage was invented to domesticate the car. At the end of the nineteenth century, the car made its entrance into the stage of history to replace the horse. Initially it was a temperamental machine, and people were reluctant to incorporate it into their daily lives. The machine had yet to develop the technology necessary to be used regularly, so it was mostly kept in the stable, next to the other animals. Yet at the same time the car needed so much upkeep that mostly they were stored in communal parking lots where the first auto mechanics would constantly be preparing cars for the type of local roads that existed at the time.

Following the completion of Robie House, Wright was commissioned by Emma Martin to design an attached garage for her Oak Park home in his characteristic Prairie style

If the human entrance to the house was secretive, the one designed for the machine was not. Inside the yard, the garage doors dominate the space. It is here that the garage claims its rightful position on the front of the plot with a direct and easy connection to the street. If we go by Wright’s poetic hand, in 1910 the garage was symbolically integrated into the familial structure. This relationship between home and garage, family and car, would not reappear in architecture until the early 1920s, making the Robie House a premonition of the future.”

For a deeper dive into the history of the garage as a space of creativity (think tech start-ups and musicians), grab a copy of Garage and make time to visit Robie House. Enjoy!

The Ennis House: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Most Documented Work

From Taliesin and Taliesin West to his home and studio in Chicago, Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic architectural contributions continue to remain beloved treasures of modernism. And while many of the buildings attract tourists from across the world, one home, in particular, separates itself as his most documented property, and whether you know it or not, you’ve probably seen it yourself. 

Built in 1924, the Ennis House was only the second home Wright built in California. Situated in the Los Feliz neighborhood, Wright embraced the Mayan Revival style of the time and area, utilizing 27,000 concrete molds in a block construction to create the famous house. Along with the custom textile block design, Ennis House features a tall loggia spine and grand pool on its northern terrace, one of the house’s most glamorous features. 

The Ennis House pool and loggia

Although the house was built as a residence for Charles and Mabel Ennis, its exotic design immediately attracted the eyes of Hollywood filmmakers. In 1933 it was used as a shooting location for the first time, but it wasn’t until 1959 that it acquired unnatural recognition for the time as the exterior facade for the B movie House on Haunted Hill. The home remained a popular destination for films for decades, showcasing its impressive interior for the 1975 film, The Day of the Locust

Ennis House’s custom designed textile blocks used in Blade Runner (1982)

However, in 1982 the home reached new levels of fame after appearing in Blade Runner. While it was only actually filmed for one exterior scene, the director was so entranced by the textile blocks that casts of them were created for sets elsewhere in the movie. The tall ceilings from the cathedral-like dining room and fireplaces were also popularly used in films thanks to their haunting nature. 

The modernist interior of Ennis House filmed for The Day of The Locust, 1975

Since 1933, features from the iconic house have made appearances in more than 80 films, alongside various commercials, magazine covers and music videos. The Ennis House is designated a city, state and national landmark and added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1976. It remains privately owned today, but thanks to its inspiring and timeless architectural design, it remains a desired location for anyone looking to capture the perfect shot.

How Arcosanti is Still Evolving Today

Although 50 years old, Paolo Soleri’s visionary planned city, Arcosanti, is still thriving today. For the last five decades, the magnificent community exhibited the best of Soleri’s philosophy, fusing architecture and ecology and providing a home for many educational resources. However, currently the famed property is entering a new era, pushing the boundaries of Soleri’s philosophy further than ever. 

Liz Martin-Malikian, CEO of Arcosanti under the Cosanti Foundation states that while the community’s first half-century focused on Soleri’s vision, the next half-century will focus on the collective. Not only does the community aim to unearth more behind arcology, but they also plan to collaborate and partner with various groups, including local Indigenous populations. 

Shiro, a shelter by TSOA student, Micehle Yeels

Many of Arcosanti’s resources are provided to students of The School of Architecture, a crucial feature of the community. One of the key programs constantly bringing new life to the planned city is The Shelter Program. The capstone design project encourages students to design and build single-occupancy structures for future students throughout the community. 

While preserving Arcosanti’s historic past, Martin-Malikian is embracing the future by decoding Soleri’s philosophy of arcology – starting by reframing the community’s vision around its cultural landscape. Along with debuting a Cosanti Indigenous Residency, a new Indigenous co-design program provides a new opportunity to combine sustainability with passive and culturally diverse designs. 

Biopod 1, a shelter by TSOA student, Soloman Edelmen

Arcosanti has always existed as a hub for innovation and inspiration. And today, with a spotlight on collective, the planned city is preparing to embrace its regional heritage more than ever before. To explore more about Arcosanti, and stay up to date on their events and programming, head to their website here.

A Brief History of Architecture in the Expressionist Movement

Although many know expressionism for its evocative poetry and painting, expressionist architecture was also a subsect of the Modernist Movement. While coexisting with the minimalist rigor of the Bauhaus, this avant-garde style allowed designers to explore new, radical perspectives, gifting to the world some of the most dynamic, expressive architecture of the 20th century. 

Origins of Expressionism

Expressionism originated in the late 1800s from a small group of artists based in Germany. The artists who founded the movement felt that 19th-century impressionism – which commanded the art world – was out of touch with the social climate of the times due to the various changes that came with the Industrial Revolution. This feeling of detachment helped inspire what would soon be known as expressionism.  

Acclaimed painters like Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch and Francis Bacon all contributed remarkable works of art throughout the movement, but artists who worked with other mediums also adopted the ideals that expressionists held close. Because of the vivid colors and distorted lines and angles associated with expressionism, German cinematography, in particular, took advantage of the moody standards. 

Einstein Tower, Erich Mendelsohn, 1921

After more than 30 years of commanding the art world itself, expressionists became banned from showing and selling their work in Germany, where the majority of the artists lived. The result left many artists suppressed, eventually leading to various radical movements, including Abstract Expressionism, Pop-Art, Minimalism and in the late 20th century, Neo-Expressionism. 

Expressionism in Architecture

Expressionist architecture took advantage of the many characteristics associated with the movement’s other works of art, including distortion of form, themes of romanticism, expression of inner experience and the conception of architecture as a work of art, among others. Much of the movement’s builds featured Gothic, Romanesque and Rococo affinities. 

Glass Pavilion’s interior featuring the seven-tiered waterfall

Bruno Taut’s Glass Pavilion is one of the earliest examples of expressionist architecture. The structure was built in 1914 as a feature of the Cologne Deutscher Werkbund Exhibition. Constructed using only concrete and glass, the exterior of the pavilion showcases a vibrantly colored prismatic dome and a grand staircase. The interior of the building featured a kaleidoscope of color from the crown above it and a seven-tiered cascading waterfall.

The Einstein Tower is another striking example of expressionist-style architecture. The observatory was built by German Architect Erich Mendelsohn from 1919 to 1921 and was envisioned to hold a solar telescope. Mendelsohn designed the building to reflect the radical theories formed by Einstein – specifically his theory of motion. The structure is built with brick but covered with stucco to give it its smooth, tidal-like exterior. 

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Frank Gehry, 2003

More recent examples of expressionist-style architecture include Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry in Los Angeles, the Lotus Temple designed by Fariborz Sahba in Delhi, and Zaha Hadid’s Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein. 

A Brief History of the Netherland’s De Stijl Movement

The turn of the 20th century was rich with change in almost all aspects of life. Artists and architects across the globe were more inspired than ever to bring unprecedented works of art to life. Many of which originated in the numerous modernist movements that emerged during this period. Today, we’re exploring De Stijl, a celebrated Dutch movement formed partly as a reaction against Art Deco.

The History of De Stijl

De Stijl was founded in 1917 by a cohort of painters, sculptures, architects and poets in the Netherlands’ largest city, Amsterdam. The art movement is also known as Neoplasticism. However it is more commonly referred to by its traditional name, De Stijl, which says it all for its direction. Meaning ‘the style’ in dutch, nearly all of the artwork and architecture stemmed from a simple vision and philosophy. 

The principles of the movement set to ignore natural form and color. Instead it simplified compositions to only vertical and horizontal lines and palettes to only black, white and primary colors. 

Throughout De Stijl’s lifespan – from 1917 to roughly 1931 – its advocates pushed for full abstraction. However, it never reached the chimeric expressions found in other abstract movements. Artists and architects associated with De Stijl still developed their own visual language, using various avant-garde elements that ranged from basic geometrical figures to intersecting planes and unbent lines.

Much of De Stijl’s work embodied a utopian vision, and realizing that vision was unattainable was one of the resulting factors for its downfall. However, the movement’s continued fame and recognition exists today thanks to the many acclaimed works and artists who contributed to De Stijl. 

Red & Blue Chair, Gerrit Rietveld, 1923

Celebrated Works

One of De Stijl’s most well-known works came from the Red and Blue Chair. As one of the first explorations of the movement, furniture designer and architect Gerrit Rietveld first designed the chair in 1918 but didn’t fully complete it until five years later, in 1923. 

Sticking to De Stijl’s design philosophy, the Red and Blue Chair makes use of only primary colors, along with black, and is one of the most popular creations of the movement. Rietveld envisioned the chair to be mass-produced but intentionally designed it to appear man-made due to its unique, clearly defined construction. 

Another well-known work of the movement and the only architectural building which followed all of its aesthetic properties was Rietveld’s Rietveld Schröder House. Built in 1924, the house was a commissioned project for Truss Schröder-Schrader, whose original vision included a grand open space without any walls. 

The open interior of Rietveld Schröder House, Gerrit Rietveld, 1924

Rietveld delivered on Schrader’s vision, utilizing construction elements that emphasized the building’s form, including various slabs, posts and beams. Making each wall portable, he designed each room as if each was its own movable entity. The design took use of De Stijl’s emblematic color palette of black and white and looked nothing like any of its neighboring builds.

Although it might not be the most notable movement stemming from the Netherland’s, De Stijl’s presence in everything from Dutch literature and paintings to architecture and music communicates just how influential the art movement was throughout the early 20th century.

David Hovey Sr., FAIA, A Modernist Philosophy Emerges

As we continue to explore the new David Hovey Sr., FAIA catalogue raisonné, it’s a pleasure to linger over the expansive, thoughtful essay penned by distinguished architecture writer and long-time associate, Cheryl Kent. This examination of Hovey’s career entitled, “The Achievement,” provides new perspectives on his career that give us greater appreciation for what he has cared deeply about, and the impact he has made.

In speaking about Hovey’s core beliefs, Kent explains:

“David Sr. continues as CEO and a principal architect. Now in his mid-seventies, he is beginning to pull back and leave more responsibility to his heirs. Still, he continues to work every day, ‘helping’ as he says ‘wherever I’m needed.’ In 2004, Optima opened an Arizona office but it has been building in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area since 2000. Today, Optima projects routinely gross over one million square feet and sometimes more than two. Over the course of the company’s existence, it has built nearly six thousand residential units with another 950 now in the works. And the pace has picked up. In its early years, the firm did approximately one project a year; now it is likely to have projects in construction in both markets at the same time, and sometimes more than one in each.

840 Michigan was a 24-unit complex in suburban Evanston built in 1985.

“It is significant that Hovey accomplished this over decades when his design philosophy, modernism — and he does embrace it as a philosophy — was out of step with the architectural mainstream. When many architects had embraced postmodernism beginning in the 1970s arguing for conventional historical references non-cognoscenti could understand and still other architects turned to deconstructivism that no one could understand, Hovey was steadfast in his belief in the tenets of modernism, in the future, in technology, in material honesty, in structural expression, and in architecture’s ability to improve life for people. Architecture, Hovey insists, must be expressive of its time and employ the latest technology. He has made a highly successful career of well-designed housing in a modernist idiom.”

When Hovey tackled North Pointe on the site of an old warehouse in Evanston in 1990, he used a dynamic plan to include 118 townhouses with penthouses and two mid-rise condominiums.

The projects in the early years of Hovey’s career allowed him to hone his practice by continuing to take on greater challenges in location, scope, size and materials — all the while staying true to his core beliefs and principles.

Women in Architecture: Zaha Hadid

Breaking boundaries as the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, Zaha Hadid is recognized as one of the most exceptional designers in history, forging a legacy of innovation and individuality. Despite Hadid’s unexpected death in 2016, her legacy continues through the projects she designed.

Born October, 1950 in Baghdad, Iraq, Hadid studied mathematics as an undergraduate and went on to enroll at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. Hadid was advised under Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas, who would later describe Hadid as one of the most exceptional students he ever taught.After graduating, Hadid moved to Rotterdam where she worked for Koolhaas at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). In 1980, after becoming a naturalized citizen of the United Kingdom, Hadid opened her firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, which has developed high-profile and illustrious projects around the world. Hadid and her firm introduced audiences to a new way of conceptualizing modern architecture through extremely detailed sketches rather than postmodern designs.

After graduating, Hadid moved to Rotterdam where she worked for Koolhaas at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). In 1980, after becoming a naturalized citizen of the United Kingdom, Hadid opened her firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, which has developed high-profile and illustrious projects around the world. Hadid and her firm introduced audiences to a new way of conceptualizing modern architecture through extremely detailed sketches rather than postmodern designs.

The front of the Vitra Fire Station shows the harsh lines of the concrete structure lined with greenery in its front.
Vitra Fire Station, Zaha Hadid, Weil am Rhein, Germany 1993

Vitra Fire Station

The very first building complex designed by Hadid was the Vitra Fire Station, eventually launching her career. One of Hadid’s clients, Rolf Fehlbaum, the president-director of the furniture design firm, Vitra, invited her to design a fire station for his design museum. Building from 1991-1993, Hadid used raw concrete and glass that defined the sculptural building. The station, famous for the dramatic effect of its sharp diagonals converging at its center, only remained functional for a short period and now serves as an exhibit space.

The front of the MAXXI Museum.
MAXXI Museum, Zaha Hadid, Rome, 2010

National Museum of Arts of the 21st Century (MAXXI)

One of Hadid’s more recent designs, the MAXXI was built between 1998 and 2010. The structure appears to be moving and flowing through space in spots, animated by Hadid’s ambition to create movement through the design. Hadid achieved this movement through curving, white walls and the placement of the building extending precariously out over five, thin pylons. Hadid explained that she wanted the design to invoke “confluence, interference, and turbulence.”

A birds eye view of the London Aquatic Center
London Aquatic Center, Zaha Hadid, 2011

London Aquatic Center

Tasked to design the aquatic center for the 2012 Summer Olympics, Hadid again turned to fluidity, this time the convergence of geometry and liquidity found in water. Hadid’s iconic design covers three stadium pools with a complex roof the shape of a parabolic arch dipping into the center that anyone would recognize. The structure was praised by critics for its success in mimicking the “floating” and “undulation” of water, as stated by Rowan Moore.

In addition to receiving the Pritzker Prize, Hadid was recognized with numerous other prestigious awards, including the Royal Institute of British Architecture’s Royal Gold Metal Award, an honor approved by Her Majesty The Queen, and the Jane Dew Prize; she was also appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire and was honored with a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum.

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