Robert M. Lamp House

Robert M. Lamp House

Robert M. Lamp House
The Lamp House viewed from the east
Robert M. Lamp House is located in Wisconsin
Robert M. Lamp House
Location Madison, Wisconsin
Built 1903
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright
Architectural style Chicago School,
Prairie School
Demolished 2014
Governing body Privately held by Apex, Inc.
NRHP Reference # 73000077[1]
Added to NRHP 1/3/1978

The Robert M. Lamp House (1903) is a residence at 22 N. Butler Street in Madison, Wisconsin, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for "Robie" Lamp (1866–1916), a realtor, insurance agent, and Madison City Treasurer.

"Robie" Lamp

Lamp resided here with his parents and an aunt until their deaths, and later with his wife and stepson. He selected this location one and a half blocks east of the Capitol Square because of its proximity to his office on Pinckney Street. He sometimes walked to work, but because of a withered leg he used crutches and canes, and he usually drove to work.

Boyhood chums, Wright and Lamp shared a June 8 birthday, though they were born one year apart, and they remained very close friends until Lamp's premature death at age 49. From early on, Wright called Lamp "Pinky" or "Ruby" because of his red hair, and he also used these nicknames for the youngest of his four sons, David Wright.

Ten years prior to building the Butler Street residence, Wright had also designed for Lamp a lakefront cottage and boat landing called Rocky Roost,[2] which was destroyed by fire in 1934.

Site and surroundings

The house has a mid-block location, a siting unique among Wright's works. It is accessible from the street only via a narrow, ascending driveway between two houses. The "keyhole" lot then opens up, producing a compression / release dynamic encountered frequently in Wright's works. This telescoping effect contributes to the monumental impression made by the house, which is further heightened by two flights of poured concrete steps, so that the visitor approaches the house through a three-stage mount from driveway to front facade—a layout shared, for example, by Wright's Westcott House in Ohio, built five years later. It is also characteristic of Wright's design that the entrance door is not visible as one approaches the house but is out of sight, around the corner on the north side, which has a paved veranda the full length of the house.

Despite its downtown location, the Lamp House has a secluded feel because of its mid-block site. In addition to laying out the driveway and steps leading up to the eastern side of the house as well as the veranda on its north side, Wright hardscaped the lot with urns (now missing), curbs, and concrete-capped rubblestone retaining walls to shape an extensive yard and garden, sculpting the grounds into a gently sloping, multi-tiered space on what had originally been a steeply sloped lot. The original landscaping and gardens gave the residence a japonesque quality. The basement receives sufficient sunlight from a window on the eastern facade to overwinter tender garden plants in containers.

Architecture and floor plan

The simple, boxy shape of the Lamp House was quite modern for its time and marks a transition between the styles of the Chicago School and the Prairie School. Contemporaries dubbed it "New American" in design,[3] while the casement windows were "Old English" in inspiration. Some elements, including the diamond-shaped ornamentation in the brickwork and the corner piers rising to the height of the second-story window sills, have been attributed to Wright's draftsman Walter Burley Griffin.[3] Massive corner piers were a hallmark of Wright's nearly contemporaneous Larkin Building (1904) in Buffalo, New York. The exterior walls were constructed not of house brick but cream-colored commercial brick, which Wright had also used for his own home (1895) and studio (1898) in Oak Park, Illinois. The Lamp House's diamond-paned windows with frames painted a dark brownish red also echoed those of Wright's Oak Park home and studio, which Lamp visited many times. Sometime after Lamp's death, the building was painted white.

The Lamp House originally had a trellised side fence and a roof garden pergola, as shown here in a ca. 1910 photo published later in the Wisconsin State Journal.

A small vestibule opens into a large, rectangular living room occupying the entire eastern half of the ground floor, while the western side has a dining room open to the living room and a kitchen. Within the living room, a triangular-shaped fireplace—a feature shared by the nearly contemporaneous Hillside Home School in Spring Green, Wisconsin—is positioned at the center of the house rather than at the more traditional location of an exterior wall. A flight of stairs between dining room and kitchen leads to the second floor, where four bedrooms and a bathroom are connected by a central hallway positioned directly above the fireplace downstairs—the flue is divided and diverted up through the walls of the hallway.

The stairway continues up to the roof level, which affords a westward view of the nearby State Capitol (destroyed by fire in 1904) and originally featured an elegant roof garden complete with a greenhouse and a grape arbor grown on a pergola that was open to south. The rooftop served Lamp, a skilled oarsman himself, as a viewing platform on which he could use binoculars to watch boaters on Lake Mendota to the north and Lake Monona to the south. Although completely landlocked, the Lamp House provided a viewscape in many ways comparable with that of a lakefront residence. It has always been surrounded on all four sides by residential buildings, and although the southern viewshed toward Lake Monona has been cut off by a high-rise on an adjacent lot, the Lamp House rooftop still commands a panoramic view of the Capitol and Lake Mendota over the ensemble of 19th and early 20th century buildings to its immediate east, west, and north. The pergola was deconstructed in the 1960s, and the penthouse enclosure on the roof is a later addition.

Context in Wright's architecture

The open floor plan Wright developed for the Lamp House became a standard in the following years, reused in no fewer than 25 of his later projects, including the Barton House (1903–04) in Buffalo, New York, and adapted by Prairie School architects in numerous other projects. Wright adapted it in a plan he published in 1907, titled "A Fireproof House for $5000", which became one of the standard modern residential floor plans of the period up to about 1920.[4]

Potential development

In May 2013, Fred Rouse Company, a local developer, announced a proposal to build a six-story apartment building adjacent to the Lamp House that would also demolish three nearby houses constructed between 1872 and 1904.[5] Local opposition to the plan prompted district alderperson Ledell Zellers in September 2013 to form an ad hoc committee to advise on plans for the block.[6] The committee proposed that the northern viewscape toward Lake Mendota be preserved. In August, 2014, four houses east of the Lamp House were demolished.[7]


  1. ^ "National Register of Historical Places – Wisconsin – Dane County". National Park Service. 
  2. ^ "Wright Studies: Robert M. Lamp Cottage, Rocky Roost, Lake Mendota, Wisc. (1893) (S.021) Remodel (1901)". The Wright Library. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  3. ^ a b John O. Holzhueter, "Frank Lloyd Wright's Designs for Robert Lamp", Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 72, no. 2 (Winter, 1988–89), p. 109.
  4. ^ Holzhueter, p. 114.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Mosiman, Dean (September 12, 2013). "City mulls special committee for Frank Lloyd Wright house block". Wisconsin State Journal. 
  7. ^ Online photo

Further reading

  • Holzhueter, John O. "Wright's Designs for Robert Lamp". In Frank Lloyd Wright and Madison: Eight Decades of Artistic and Social Interaction, pp. 13–27. Ed. Paul E. Sprague. Madison: Elvehjem Museum of Art, 1990, ISBN 0-932900-22-4
  • Storrer, William Allin. The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion. University of Chicago Press, 2006, ISBN 0-226-77621-2

External links

  • Lamp house on Prairie Houses
  • Photo of Lamp house
  • Lamp house on
  • Lamp house on
  • Robert M. Lamp House at the archINFORM database