Frank Llyod Wright is not a name unknown to the masses, especially in the architectural world. A designer of more than a thousand creations, out of which, at least more than half exist, he is known as the Father of American Architecture and AIA refers to him as the “greatest American architect of all times”. He is often seen as one of the most influential 20th-century architects and also was seen to head many architectural movements. He was the pioneer of what came to be known as the Prairie school of architecture which was followed by the concept of the Usonian home – an urban look for native to his country.
Usonia refers to the United States, its landscape, urban planning, and architecture of the country as envisioned by Frank Lloyd Wright, and Usonian refers to a group of about sixty middle-income houses designed by him. They are identified by their typical ‘smallness’ and being single-story structures built by native materials. Other principal features include flat roofs and the house having little exposure or opening to the front side, while the sides and rear are rather exposed. As Wright was a strong advocate of what he termed ‘organic architecture, the interiors, and exteriors intermingle. Clerestory windows and large cantilevered overhangs are a few more common characteristics.
Some of the structures from this period are as follows:
1. Wiley House (1934)
Malcolm and Nancy Wiley had a vision, a modest budget, and had sent a letter to Wright – who, at the time – was working on larger projects. Mostly, they believed that he would not want to partake in a project like this and so asked for a recommendation of a local architect that they could consult, were he to refuse. To their surprise, he agreed, however, the first project came out too expensive for this couple to afford. This is where he birthed the affordable, American brainchild of his – Usonian houses.
The house is spread in 1,200 sq. feet, built with red bricks and cypress wood with the motive of connecting central spaces visually. The living room and dining room were defined as unified, the kitchen was separated only by some shelves. The study, a bedroom, bath, and the master bedroom are linked through a hallway lined with bookshelves.
The floor-length glass doors lining the south wall of the living room provide a view of the exquisite natural surroundings of the house and a brick terrace is formed in an acute triangular shape, easing the transition of the house from the interiors to the exteriors.
2. Hanna Honeycomb House (1937)
Spread in an area of 5,666 sqm, this design by Wright is said to be one of the most phenomenal designs of his Usonian era. It is regarded as the first and best example of Wright’s hexagonal planning. It is also regarded as the ‘Beehive’ or ‘Honeycomb’ house due to its planning.
It comprises ample tiled terraces and is one story tall, built on a hilly site on the Stanford University campus. It is made of redwood board, San Jose brick, concrete, and plate glass, all native and affordable materials that conformed to his scheme of Usonian houses.
The half-acre site features the main house, a guest house, gardens, pools, water cascades, a hobby shop, storage, and more. The house was inhabited for 38 years by Paul R Hanna and his wife – Jean, both of whom were educators and their family, before being turned over to Stanford University. It is now open for tourist visitation.
The house also features special hexagonal furniture in its interiors.
3. Rosenbaum House (1939)
Rosenbaum house is referred to as one of the first dozens based on the prototype that was the Jacobs House which was built in 1936 and remains to be one of the purest forms of Usonian homes that Frank Lloyd Wright designed. It is a single-family house that was owned by Stanley Rosenbaum and his wife Mildred Rosenbaum, in Florence, Alabama. Among others, it is one of the 26 pre World War II Usonian houses and the only one in Alabama.
It is built on a 2-acre plot on the northern bank of the Tennessee River in an L-shaped plan from cypress wood and brick. Its most distinctive features are the multilevel low rising steel cantilevered roofs and the use of glass that ties the indoors to the outdoors.
4. Kinney House (1953)
The Kinney house was built for a Lancaster attorney – Patrick Kinney and his wife Margaret and their family. The design began in 1951, when Margaret, who had experienced Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture while working as an assistant to his sister aimed to commission him for their house. It is a non-rectilinear house, much like the Hanna house, and its basic geometry also is that of a hexagonal, at least in the central core. Later additions and expansions add a linear expansion to the house.
The house is privately owned but available as a vacation house for rentals on Airbnb and PlansMatter.com.
5. Cedar Rock (Lowell Walter House) (1948)
The Cedar Rock house in Iowa is a limestone bluff beauty designed by Wright for Lowell and Agnes Walter.It served as a summer holiday house for the businessman and his family and is spread in about 11 acres of land. Though it was commissioned in 1942, it couldn’t be built due to war time building restrictions until the next six years and the design was published as ‘glass house’ in Ladies’ Home Journal in 1945.
It features a ‘tadpole’ form, a common feature of Usonian houses of this decade where the bedrooms formed the tadpole’s tail and the central, building which has three exterior glass walls and a central clerestory forms the head.It also features a two storey boathouse and an outside hearth, all built of native material, fitting the concept of Usonian houses.