Photography by Laura Demanski, AM’94

Eyes wide open

Seeing Robie House—and all of campus—anew.

The other day I ran into a gang of Robie House hecklers. Improbable, I know. Two young couples were circling Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie-style stunner, backing up a little as if to better take in the whole. They were laughing and looked incredulous. “Nightmare,” said one of the men. I hurried past, a little scandalized and very surprised.

The random encounter snapped me out of a certain complacency that can take root when you get accustomed to living among art. Not, in this case, the kind you hang on your walls, but the remarkable architecture gracing the campus around us. (With more on the way—see “Onward and Upward,” for news of upcoming construction and renovation projects.)

We’re lucky to have everyday scenery like this. Mansueto Library, the Logan Center and Midway Studios, Rockefeller and Bond Chapels—I could go on. But the lucky can easily start to take their good fortune for granted. After 21 years in Hyde Park, for all the days I walk by Robie House, how many times do I still really see it? Even the clutches of delighted tourists become an expected backdrop after a while.

So I was grateful for the jolt. Sometimes it takes a truly contrary perspective to open your eyes again. I tucked myself into Plein Air, the cozy café attached to the Seminary Co-op whose windows face out on the back of Robie House, and really looked.

It wasn’t the view that you see from just across 58th Street, inside the Harper Center with its echoes of Wright. A plate glass window in Harper’s lobby frames Robie House’s famous front, architect Rafael Viñoly’s quiet homage to his inspiration. Instead, Plein Air’s windows give that spectacular view a humbler counterpart. Dramatically cantilevered the back of Robie House is not. Lovely, with lit windows dotting its flat red-brick plane? Yes.

Campus construction projects keep revealing fresh perspectives on familiar places: new sightlines east and west through the walkway that now bisects Edward H. Levi Hall, a wider vista on the Oriental Institute from Saieh Hall for Economics. All timely reminders to stop and look anew—at buildings, people, and assumptions—in 2015.