Robie House, other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings named World Heritage Site

The living room balcony doors at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave., a newly declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Photo by James Caulfield, courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust)

Staff writer

The Robie House is among eight buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that have been named to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. The buildings are said by UNESCO to be “a masterpiece of human creative genius and cultural significance.”

“This UNESCO designation firmly establishes Wright’s place on the international stage of modern architecture,” said Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust president and CEO Celeste Adams in a statement. “We look forward to sharing his great cultural heritage in the Chicago area with a growing international audience.”

The Robie House, 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave., was completed in 1910. It was later sold to the Chicago Theological Seminary, under whose ownership it survived numerous threats of destruction — Wright himself and the Hyde Park Herald lobbied to save it from the wrecking ball. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1963 and a Chicago Landmark in 1971.

The University of Chicago took ownership of the Robie House in 1963 and turned it into offices. The Preservation Trust took control in 1997 and began major renovations. A second, $11-million renovation finished on March 29, 2019, bringing back the original paint job, leaded-glass front entry door site-specific lighting, windows and doors, millwork and cabinetry. In addition to his architecture, Wright was an interior designer.

Daily operations manager Joe Barrett told the Herald in March that the Robie House “represents the cornerstone of Modern architecture [and] how we live in spaces today,” with its open floor plan and built-in furniture.

In 1991, the American Institute of Architects has called Wright, who maintained a studio in west suburban Oak Park, the best American architect of all time. Other Wright-designed buildings that made it onto the UNESCO list include the Unity Temple in Oak Park, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the Fallingwater house near Pittsburgh.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites can be recognized for their physical as well as or in addition to their cultural significance. There are now 24 total in the United States, including Yellowstone National Park, Independence Hall in Philadelphia and Illinois’ Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.