Usonian Architecture

The term ‘usonian’ refers to middle-income family homes fathered by Frank Lloyd Wright since 1936. Wright conceptually designed the so-called “Usonian Homes” as small, single-story dwellings that lacked storage areas and garage. These projects were L-shaped and fitted around a garden terrace. Wright used natural indigenous materials, large cantilevered overhangs and flat roofs to enable radiant-floor heating, natural cooling and solar heating, as well as natural lighting coming from clerestory windows.

The research paper outlines the features of usonian architecture designed in the Malcolm Willey House (Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA) in 1934 by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The name of this architectural wonder is “Gardenwall” that comprises various elements embedded by the American democratic (low-cost) architecture.

Wright managed to demonstrate the functional vintage appliances by revealing the simplicity of life lived in 1930s. He used natural long-standing materials (namely durable red tidewater cypress) to make the house durable to weather conditions and other effects. As simple as it was, Wright originally designed the house to serve common needs of an average (middle-class) American family. One-storey project was simplicity in itself, though the one that became the prototype of later popular Usonian architecture founded and pursued by Wright.

In 1936, the United States challenged a great economic depression, and families needed simple living projects. Frank Lloyd Wright faced the challenge in his best manner by developing a series of homes he named ‘Usonian’. The style ultimately aimed at saving costs and making living affordable to the then American families. Wright, therefore, designed them without basements and attics, and involved almost no ornamentation. In his pursuit, Wright aspired to establish a democratic and accessible architectural projects that would be affordable to the US citizens. Namely, Wright’s early prairie style homes gave rise to Usonian architecture. The style features open living areas and low roofs. Wright uses the abundance of wood, brick, and other natural materials. Compared to other styles, Wright’s Usonian homes are small one-story projects based on concrete slabs and have piping for radiant heat. Another particular feature of Usonian homes consists in incorporating kitchens into the living areas.

Further, in the 1950s, Wright applied the notion Usonian Automatic for featuring a Usonian style house built of cheap three-inch-thick modular concrete blocks. Secured with grout and steel rods, they were suitable for assembling in various possible ways. This way, Wright thought that purchasers will save much by constructing their own Usonian Automatic houses. However, this idea failed as assembling of the modular parts seemed complicated, while most buyers preferred to construct their Usonian houses with the help of professional builders.

Compared to other architectural styles, the Usonian architecture style prioritizes on the real-to-life needs rather than imitation of grand styles. It reflects do-it-yourself style, and uses local natural materials. In particular, Malcolm Willey House is a single story object embracing zoned plans. It holds no basement and no attic, with natural lighting coming from window’s wall and clerestories. Its roots are flat equipped with large overhangs.

The Malcolm Willey House was a second design project Wright performed for the Willeys while the family considered the initial design as to expensive for their budget. The house project worth $10,000 covers mere 1,200 square feet. In 1963, the Willeys sold the house to a family that later re-sold it back to Wright. In 2002, the Malcolm Willey House required a major restoration.

Wright initially built the house of cypress and red brick. He floored the rooms on the floor with mortared brick pavers, except for the red linoleum section in the kitchen. At the core is a 30-60-90 triangle shaping the terrace, two clerestory windows in the living room, and the skylights. The original design plan intended to adjust the living room and the dining room into a single space. At that, Wright made the kitchen separate by using a group of shelves and plate glass. Such design enabled to watch the dining and living rooms from the kitchen’s perspective. This way, everyone could watch the rest of the house from the kitchen. Such architectural move marked a precedent of dividing a general space of the house into separate rooms. As it combines the elements of both styles, the design is somewhat a compromise between Wright’s Prairie School style designs and later projects designed in compliance with usonian style. Eventually, the Malcolm Willey House became a prototype for Wrights’ later Usonian projects that were houses, distinctly American unornamented houses affordable for vast markets.

In 2002, the 1,350-square-foot house was dilapidated and abandoned when Lynette and Steve Erickson-Sikora decided to buy it. The house was full of scars caused by previous remodels. The kitchen was filled with coppertone appliances and pumpkin-colored plastic laminate. The devastating condition took the family six years to rebuild and refurbish it. While reconstructing the house, Steve and Lynette managed to comprehend Wrights’ architectural philosophy and his genius in using indigenous materials. He originally applied durable red tidewater cypress that allowed sustaining the house over the decades of its abandonment. Namely, this material explains the secret of how the house managed to survive the decades of being unattended.

Original 1934 house passed through major restoration in 2007. Architects used plaster, cypress and regional brick to renovate the house. The built-in desk, sleeping and shelving couch make up a study that looks at the south side of the yard.

A plate-glass window separates the kitchen from the living/dining room. The moveable dining table adjusts to the built-in cabinetry and makes up the dining area. Wrights pioneering feature of the wall of French doors joins the living room to the garden and creates an airy pavilion resembling a park area. Room space gets more spacious due to master corner windows swinging out.

Wright’s Usonian architecture left a distinct mark in the evolution of the US architecture. However, in spite of initial aspirations held by Wright with regard to economy and simplicity, Usonian projects often proved too costly and exceeded planned budgets. Unique Wright’s designs resemble simplicity and insightful perspective in using available space as effectively as possible. This advantage distinguishes the Usonian style in architecture and makes it unique. These truly customhouses became widely popular among the American families owing to their design and comfort. During his life, Wright managed to build more than a hundred Usonian houses, including Herbert Jacobs house, Pual R. Hanna house, Macolm Wiley house, Rose and Gertrude Pauson house, Bernard Schwartz house, Bernard Schwartz house, Lloyd Lewis house, Theodore Baird house, Gregor Afflect house, Arch oboler house, .John C. Pew house, Ralph Jester house, Arthur and Bruce Brookspfeiffer, George Sturges house, and second Herbert Jacobs house among others.

Wright proved a rather talented architect in conceiving a new type of dwelling later known as the Usonian House. He originally managed implemented his design idea in the Malcolm Willey House (1934), though his Usonian ideal realized only in 1937 in the Herbert and Katherine Jacobs First House in Madison, Wisconsin. In his endeavor, Wright relied on a gridded concrete slab capable of integrating innovative construction approaches such as sandwich walls consisting of plywood cores, wood siding layers of, and building paper. The letter marked a revolutionary transition from commonly used framed walls. The commonest feature of the Usonian houses forwarded by Wright was that they held flat roofs without basements. As well as this, Wright excluded attics.

Originally, Wright aimed to make Usonian-style houses highly practical and affordable by middle-class customers. They did not require any extra facilities or manmade services o suit the needs of the hosts. These objects included small kitchens, which Wright called ‘workspaces’ that were adjusted to the dining spaces and gradually flew into the living outfitted with built-in tables and seats. Derived from the previous style of Prairie Houses, Usonian houses concentrated on fireplace. Wright made bedrooms rather small and isolated and this way encouraged a family of getting together in the main living room. The previous Prairie style pursued substitution of rooms with spaces later adopted by the Usonian houses. The simplistic construction of the Usonian houses marked a new approach to designing an independent living and enabled thousands of American families enjoy living in Wright-designed projects at affordable cost. The Usonian homes made up an innovative style relevant to suburban design involving various features of the contemporary American architecture such as slab-on-grade foundations, open plans, and simplistic construction techniques that made building more efficient and mechanized. Throughout the decades, all these innovative features conveniently distinguished the style from other more costly approaches in architecture. Thus, Wright’s architectural philosophy have made a difference and real impact on architectural thought of the 20th century. His ideas are relevant today while most people try to save on expensive housing and make the best use of a living area.