Gridley House Landscape

BATAVIA, IL

Designer: Qianyu Li, University of Illinois

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Gridley House in 1906 for a crested site in Batavia, Illinois, above the Fox River. The new owners—a couple with two young children– aspire to renovate the site in way that is historically respectful yet also accommodates their contemporary needs, live a sustainable lifestyle, and cultivate their children’s appreciation of aesthetic beauty and the environment. The primary generator of the design is the physical, emotional, historic, and environmental importance of water. The house’s siting conjures water’s poetics, since the adjacent ravine was sculpted by runoff along its journey to the Atlantic Ocean via the Fox and Mississippi rivers and the Gulf of Mexico. Constructing this larger narrative makes sense of the house’s alternate name: The Ravine House. With the ravine’s drama now compromised by the construction of Timber Trail to the south and its connection to the river severed by Route 31 to the east, the design of the front yard assumed an important role. Two opposing corten steel arc —one emanating from the house with its domesticated landscape, the other from the river’s feral floodplain—re-establish the valence between house and river while establishing different maintenance regimes. Two carefully integrated networks of basins, rain gardens, and cisterns collect site and roof runoff from the barn and house precincts. Ornamental and vegetable gardens are irrigated using manual pumps. The family’s connection to the land is sustained by their participation in a range of maintenance activities using both contemporary and traditional technologies.