Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wright or Wrong: Or how not to get "Robie-ed" in life

Robie House: modernism or a Vaastu disaster?
I couldn’t have left Chicago without visiting at least one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings -- now could I? So I zeroed in on Robie House: a residential house he built in 1910 in Hyde Park (the neighbourhood that would later house the Obamas). Not only was it considered to be Wright's first house that truly embodied modernism, it is now a museum with guided tours of the property.

It turned out to be beautiful, peaceful, three-storey brick house with an innovative spatial lay-out, gorgeous design details and lots of delightful little aids to the modern life, such as an ice-box, planters with automated water pipes and vacuum cleaners, with reflected the forward-looking sensibilities of the young, fashionable Robie family.

I kept thinking how lovely it must have been to live in the house until our guide started disclosing the sordid fates of all its eventual residents. The house was custom-built for 28-year-old Fredrick C Robie, his socialite wife and two kids, keeping in mind their modern lifestyle, ideals and aesthetic sensibilities. But poor Fredrick Robie, who spent nearly $60,000 on the house (20 times what he had budgeted for it), went bankrupt within a year of moving into the house. He sold the house to repay his debts, but never recovered his fortunes. Soon after, his wife walked out on him with their two kids. The new owners of the house, The Taylors, didn’t have a happy run in the house either. David Taylor died less than a year after moving into it, and the house had to be sold again. The third and last family to live in the house were the Wilburs, who lived there for 13 years. History doesn’t record their fate, but they sold the house to the Chicago Theological Seminary, who bought it with the general idea of demolishing it and rebuilding larger premises on the plot. They attempted to do so thrice, and only gifts of all the adjoining plots to the Seminary by Wright fans to the premises instead finally stopped them. The house was then bought by a real estate firm which handed it over to the University of Chicago in 1963. It ran a rather dull administrative office there till 1997, after which it was converted into a museum. So it was a family home than never quite managed to become one.

How could this amazingly harmonious-looking house bring so much disharmony in the lives of all those who lived in it?

Sid and I could think of only one cheeky explanation: messed-up Vaastu (or the Feng Shui of India). I searched the Internet to find if any of the enthusiastic proponents of Vaastu Shastra might have done a post mortem of this famously controversial house pointing out all the design-disasters led to such headaches in the lives of its residents. Surprisingly, I didn’t find any.

So here’s an idea for a reality show for silly Indian television: Vaastu vs Wright, or should we say, how not be “Robied” of love and luck in life?

No comments: