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Chicago: The Wright Choice

The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust has developed new tours of the architect’s works led by those who know them best: other kids.

 

Chicago may be a mecca for architecture, but its next-door neighbor, Oak Park, is a mecca for “the architect.”

That would be the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the world’s most famous designers, who introduced the concept of organic, or indigenous, architecture, where a building is designed to blend with its natural surroundings.

Oak Park, just 10 miles west of the downtown Chicago, is home to 27 Wright-designed buildings, the largest concentration of Wright projects anywhere in the world. The centerpiece is the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, where Wright lived for the first 20 years of his career (1889 to 1909) and where he developed his trademark Prairie style of architecture. The structure now serves as a museum of his life and work.

There is renewed interest in Wright among adults, thanks to documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’ PBS profile, Frank Lloyd Wright, and among kids thanks to author Blue Balliett. Her novel, The Wright 3, is aimed at 9- to 12-year-olds and set in Wright’s masterpiece, the Frederick C. Robie House, located in Chicago’s Southside neighborhood Hyde Park.

Tours and Teens

The daily tours of Wright’s buildings haven’t been terribly kid-friendly, but the folks at the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust are working to change that with their newest effort: tours led by teen docents called junior interpreters. At the Home and Studio, you can take the Design Detectives Family Tour, which focuses on the secrets of Wright’s designs. At Robie House they lead the Wright 3 Tour, based on Balliett’s book.

The junior interpreters—Katie, 12, Jessica, 14, and Keith, 10, the day I visited the Home and Studio—work to keep kids engaged by asking them to spot shapes or look for signs of five influences on Wright’s creations—nature, music, Japanese art, Froebel blocks and architect Louis Sullivan. Best of all, unlike the adult tour guides who can drone on about some minute aspect of Wright’s life, the junior guides kept things fun with stories about Wright’s children throwing things (including the cat) over the half wall between their rooms.

Once you’ve finished the docent-led tour of the Home and Studio, rent an iPod headset and take the walking tour of the structures Wright built in the surrounding neighborhood. When you return the iPod, stop by the gift shop to pick up a set of Froebel building blocks ($28-$40 per set). These blocks are credited with sparking an early curiosity about building in Wright. They do not, however, come with a guarantee that your child will become the next great American architect.

Getting There and Getting In

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park is easily reached by cab or by public transportation. Take the CTA Green Line (the “L”) to the Oak Park Avenue stop. There’s a free shuttle available to the museum, or you can walk. Follow Oak Park Avenue to Chicago Avenue, turn left and walk three blocks to the Home and Studio. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes.

The Frederick C. Robie House is located on the University of Chicago campus. From points in Chicago, take a cab or, if traveling by train, take the CTA Red Line to the Garfield stop, then transfer to the #55 Garfield Bus to Woodlawn Avenue.

Separate admission tickets must be purchased for each location. Some tours are given only on weekends. Advance tickets for a select number of daily tours are available online. Tickets for other tours are available at the museum shops on a first-come, first-served basis the day of the tour. Tours often sell out.

Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, www.wrightplus.org, tel. 708-848-1976. Tour prices: $12 adults, $10 youth ages 11-18 and seniors, $5 kids ages 4-10. Combined with the neighborhood walking tour: $20, adults, $16 youth and seniors, $10 kids 4-10.


Destinations: Oak Park, Chicago

Themes: Family Travel


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