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What Is a Usonian?

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Toufic Kalil home, Frank Lloyd Wright

The Toufic Kalil home by Frank Lloyd Wright

Photo by Jackie Craven
Definition:

In 1936, when the United States was in the depths of an economic depression, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright developed a series of homes he called Usonian. Designed to control costs, Wright's Usonian houses had no attics, no basements, and little ornamentation.

Some have said that the word Usonia is an abbreviation for United States of North America. This meaning explains Wright's aspiration to create a democratic, distinctly national style that was affordable for the "common people" of the United States. "Nationality is a craze with us," Wright said in 1927. "Samuel Butler fitted us with a good name. He called us Usonians, and our Nation of combined States, Usonia. Why not use the name?" So, Wright used the name.

SOURCE: "Frank Lloyd Wright On Architecture: Selected Writings (1894-1940)," Frederick Gutheim, ed., Grosset's Universal Library, 1941, p. 100.

Characteristics:

Usonian architecture grew out of Frank Lloyd Wright's earlier Prairie style homes. Both styles featured low roofs and open living areas. Both styles made abundant use of brick, wood, and other natural material. However, Wright's Usonian homes were small, one-story structures set on concrete slabs with piping for radiant heat beneath. The kitchens were incorporated into the living areas. Open car ports took the place of garages.

In the 1950s, when he was in his '80s, Frank Lloyd Wright first used the term Usonian Automatic to describe a Usonian style house made of inexpensive concrete blocks. The three-inch-thick modular blocks could be assembled in a variety of ways and secured with steel rods and grout. Frank Lloyd Wright hoped that home buyers would save money by building their own Usonian Automatic houses. But assembling the modular parts proved complicated - most buyers hired pros to construct their Usonian houses.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian architecture played an important role in the evolution of America's Mid-century homes. But, despite Wright's aspirations toward simplicity and economy, Usonian houses often exceeded budgeted costs. Like all of Wright's designs, Usonians became unique, custom homes for families of comfortable means.

Examples:

Frank Lloyd Wright built more than a hundred Usonian houses. A few of the most famous Usonian houses are:

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