Thursday, December 29, 2016

Intro to Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian Architecture

By Gretchen Sawatzki

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 - 1959) is probably America's best-known architect. His majestic buildings and innovative Prairie style pushed the boundaries of architecture and interior design for nearly seven decades. Most people familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright are also probably familiar with his most iconic buildings: Winslow House (1893); Wright's Studio (1898); the Larkin Company Administration Building (1903, demolished 1950); Robie House (completed 1910); Taliesin (1911);  Taliesin West (1937);  Fallingwater (completed 1939); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1959).
For all the pomp and circumstance given to these well-known buildings, Wright also designed beautiful, more affordable homes for the "everyday man".

During the Great Depression, Wright developed a new style of architecture that was both design conscious and affordable. He called this type of architecture, "Usonian." Starting with the Jacobs House in 1936, Wright's Usonian architecture lacked attic spaces, basements, had minimal ornamentation, and were much smaller than previous projects. These homes were obtainable for middle-class homeowners and Wright target advertised his new designs in the Ladies Home Journal to catch the attention of women across America.

Exterior view of Smith House. Photograph by Gretchen Sawatzki

The Smith House in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan is a small Usonian home built for school teachers Melvyn Maxwell and Sarah Stein Smith around 1950. Wright designed the home to nestle within the landscape with a low profile and wide expansive windows at the rear of the home. Concrete floors, brick walls, and wide wooden planks rounded out the design. Wright even designed furniture to compliment the home that was suitable for the Smith's to entertain. Long padded benches served a dual function to provide seating for guests and storage for unsightly items.

Smith House interior. Photograph by Gretchen Sawatzki

Usonian architecture offers a glimpse into the genius mind of Frank Lloyd Wright. Not only could he design show-stopping structures of national acclaim, but also smaller, more affordable homes for the common man. Using readily available materials and approachable floorplans it is easy to understand how his versatility and ingenuity keeps him relevant nearly 60 years after his death.

Sources:
  Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum
  Cranbrook Art Museum
  PBS
  Fallingwater
  Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
  Frank Lloyd Wright Trust
  Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
  Taliesin Preservation, INC
  The Wright Library
  Usonia1

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