Playhouse windows

Avery Coonley Playhouse: Triptych Window

Undoubtedly America's most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright established his reputation between 1900 and 1910 designing residences in what has become known as the Prairie style. In designing interiors, Wright explored the use of glass both as a decorative element and as a transparent screen to unite outside and inside. In the center panel from a three-part window from the Avery Coonley Playhouse in Riverside, Illinois, built in 1912, Wright used balloons, the American flag, and checkerboard patterns to create a colorful, playful arrangement that anticipates the later abstractions of Piet Mondrian.

— Entry, Art Institute of Chicago Pocketguide, 2009, p. 14.

This colorful, whimsical triptych window is from the Avery Coonley Playhouse, a small structure that Frank Lloyd Wright designed as an addition to the Coonley’s suburban Chicago estate, which he had previously completed in 1908. Louis Sullivan’s foremost student, Wright continued his teacher’s search for an indigenous American architecture. Like Sullivan, Wright drew inspiration from nature and natural forms, and both men were pioneers of the Prairie school of architecture, characterized by low-slung, horizontal lines and rambling, open spaces that reflect the gently rolling landscape of the Midwest. Odes to the middle-class American family at the turn of the century, Wright’s residences are organic, designed not only to adapt to a family’s changing structure but also to contain the sense of a unified and harmonious whole. Every detail of the Coonley complex, like all of Wright’s projects, bore his personal imprint, down to the creation and placement of the furniture and the design of this window. Referencing such Americana as the flag and colored balloons, Wright explored the use of glass both as a transparent screen uniting exterior and interior and as a decorative element, the colors and design of which anticipate the later abstractions of Piet Mondrian.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2013, p. 80.

Exhibition History

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Architecture and Design, 1872-1922: Birth of a Metropolis, cat. no. 183; traveled to Paris, Musée d'Orsay, Oct. 2, 1987–Jan. 4, 1988; Frankfurt am Main, Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Feb. 5-Apr. 25, 1988; and Art Institute of Chicago, July 16–Sept. 5, 1988.

Art Institute of Chicago, Fragments of Chicago's Past, Gallery 200, ongoing exhibition.

Art Institute of Chicago, Silk Roads, December 9, 2006–January 28, 2007.

Publication History

Zukowsky, John, ed. 1987. Chicago Architecture and Design, 1872-1922: Birth of a Metropolis. Exh. cat. Art Institute of Chicago/Prestel, cat. no. 183, p. 390.

Saliga, Pauline, ed. 1990. Fragments of Chicago's Past: The Collection of Architectural Fragments at The Art Institute of Chicago. Exh. cat. Art Institute of Chicago, cat. no. 95.

Wilson, Richard Guy. 1995. "Prairie School Works in the Department of Architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago." Museum Studies 21(2): 93-111. Cat. no.

Zukowsky, John, and Martha Thorne. 2004. Masterpieces of Chicago Architecture. Art Institute of Chicago/Rizzoli, p. 59.


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