Jul 3rd 2019

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio to Receive Visitor’s Center Designed by John Ronan

Every year some 90,000 people flock to Oak Park, Illinois, to see iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio, according to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, which manages the historic site. Plans are underway to welcome those tens of thousands of architecture enthusiasts with a new visitor’s center designed by Illinois Institute of Technology Professor John Ronan and his eponymous, Chicago-based architecture firm.

More than a gateway to Wright’s home and studio, the new visitor’s center will feature an education center with a design studio where visitors can participate in family classes, a reception hall, and a library and center for curatorial research.

Ronan’s design is low-slung, occupying only one floor and sunk into the ground. The façade comprises modern “Roman” brick (which is longer and flatter than standard brick), glass, and zinc in a nod to the materials and window designs often used in Wright’s Prairie style architecture. Ronan says that the design was partially inspired by the wall on the property that separates Wright’s studio from Chicago Avenue.

“The Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio campus tells a compelling story, whose continued relevance is testified by the many visitors who make the pilgrimage each year. Our project for the visitor center provides the story's foreword, to enhance our understanding and appreciation of it without competing with it,” Ronan says.

Adding the new visitor’s center to the site would require demolishing a house at 925 West Chicago Avenue. While the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust asserts that the house—which it owns—is not considered architecturally significant, it lies within the Oak Park Frank Lloyd Wright–Prairie School of Architecture Historic District. The trust says it is also offering to give the building away for free, so long as the new owner pays for its relocation.

Before ground can be broken, the Village of Oak Park will need to review and approve the plans, and they will go through the Historic Preservation Commission’s advisory review process to be deemed compatible with the historic district.

The trust selected Ronan’s design from a lineup of five finalists that also featured proposals from Krueck + Sexton, Pappageorge Haymes Partners, Perkins and Will, and Vinci | Hamp Architects.

“Ronan’s proposal was chosen for its design simplicity, quiet presence within the site, and use of materials referencing the site and surrounding neighborhood,” said Frank Lloyd Wright Trust Board Chairman Robert Miller, in a statement.

“I’ve now had a chance to rub shoulders with two of the Modern period’s greatest architects—Mies at IIT and now, Frank Lloyd Wright,” says Ronan. “Working on important historic sites like the IIT campus and the home and studio site in Oak Park is a great honor that demands a very thoughtful response. I’m excited about the opportunity to honor this important legacy [of Frank Lloyd Wright] and expand the intellectual horizons of all who know and love the work of this great architect.”