Finding Freedom: a return to Usonia

“Tiny House History” is not so much an actual academic topic as it is a supposed idea of how we got to the place of sustainable homesteading, as it were. While it may come with some argument or even disdain I propose that tiny house history did not begin in the late 1990’s with a man, his 100 sq.ft. house on wheels, and a discipline in beautiful, functional, little dwellings. I propose rather that tiny house history began in the “old world” with caves, huts, squats, and other primitive but very natural dwellings. I also propose that tiny house history is not just an exploration into the architectural aspects of a dwelling but also the philosophical, academic, spiritual, and relational aspects of a housing movement. Because of this definition I find myself more and more curious about the homes built in the last 2,000 years. And so it is because of this curiosity that I have come across the Usonian Houses developed by Frank Lloyd Wright beginning in 1936.

Usonia was a word used by Wright to refer to his vision for the American landscape including urban planning and building architecture. Wright proposed the use of the adjective Usonian in place of American to describe the landscape as being distinct and free of preceding architectural conventions. The homes would be smallish, single-story dwellings without a garage or even storage options. The majority of the designs were L-shaped so as to compliment a garden terrace on unusually shaped lots. They incorporated passive solar heating and natural cooling by way of flat roofs and large, cantilevered overhangs, natural lighting with high windows near the ceiling line, and radiant-floor heating. Even at this point it is easy to see how the influences of Usonian houses work into tiny houses, small houses, and sustainable homes.

Usonian is the term used in reference to 60, middle-class, homes designed by FLW. The first home was the Jacobs House built in 1937 in Madison, Wisconsin.

As history has it Madison newspaperman Herbert Jacobs – a friend of FLW’s – challenged the architect to design and build a home for $5,000. (with current inflation that equates to $80084.70 in today’s currency.) Wright went about designing and L-shaped house with an open floorplan and just two bedroom. To make the build more economical Wright developed a 2-1/4″ thick plywood sandwich wall for the house. (think SIP in today’s building world).

Jacobs House

Jacobs House courtesy of Florida Southern College.

Declared a National Historic Landmark in 2003 the Herbert Jacobs house has undergone some renovation, modification, and ultimately restoration since the mid-1950’s.

Wright continue to explore his Usonian idea even after the Jacobs challenge. Wright saw this as an opportunity to redefine architecture and economy just as the nation was in the throws of the Great Depression. FLW knew his homes could control costs on a number of levels while still providing style and substance to American homeowners.

Besides being small, one-story structures on concrete slabs, Usonian homes also had kitchens incorporated into the living areas. They had open car ports rather than garages. In short, they eliminated ornamentation in favor of function. In the 1950’s as FLW got older he continued to explore the notion of affordable housing by expanding into Usonian Automatic homes which were – in short – Usonian style houses 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. Wright hoped that home buyers would save money by building their own Usonian Automatic houses. Unfortunately assemblage proved to be a bit more difficult than intended and most buyers ended up hiring pros to construct their homes.

Pope-Leighey House

Photo of the Pope-Leighey House in Falls Church, VA courtesy of Library of Congress.

While Usonian homes actually built was limited to just 47 and while the costs to build often exceeded Wrights own projections causing them to overshoot the middle-class, they had great influence on what we now know as ranch style homes (complete with open floor plans, flat roofs, and connections to nature through glass and natural materials) that have helped define the American suburb experience.

Even today a number of Wright’s Usonian houses are still lived in by the families of their original owners. A couple have recently come on to the real estate market commanding millions of dollars. While this price point may be a long shot from FLW’s initial intention of affordability they are a great testament to his design ability and commitment to homes for the masses.

The Pope-Leighey house in Woodlawn, Virginia as photographed by Rebecca Robertson.

The Pope-Leighey house in Woodlawn, Virginia as photographed by Rebecca Robertson.

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

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JC Bayer - July 24, 2014 Reply

I happen to like the term “Usonia” but practically never see it anywhere.

Gabriel Craft - July 24, 2014 Reply

Very nice article Andrew. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Andrew M. Odom - July 24, 2014 Reply

    Thank you so much Gabriel.

      Joyce - December 31, 2014 Reply

      To Andrew Odom: You obviously enjoy writing about the history of different types of homes. I was wondering if you have looked into the history of yurts, geodesic and cubes and their relationship to each other. The tiny house family have featured cubes and honey-comb designs and I know the yurt looks like a spin off the tent or tee-pee. There is something about that circular interior that helps to tie things together and distribute the heat/cold air more efficiently.
      Joyce

Clark - July 24, 2014 Reply

Fantastic piece on FLW’s Usonian concept. Many years ago, while visiting Taliesen West, I was fortunate to have as my tour guide a woman whose parents were architects under FLW and who had grown up in a Usonian design. It was the first time I had heard the term and the concept blew me away.

Not to undermine the small efficient living pioneered by early native people, but FLW was masterful in encapsulating all that we have come to celebrate about tiny living. And did so with amazing style and integration with natural surrounds. Of course, as you pointed out, the concept was not without its issues, but isn’t that often the cost of first generation stuff? It is incumbent on future generations to embrace and refine.

Fast forward to today, especially when I see a container structure done right. It takes me right back to Taliesen and my tour guide’s intense passion and insight of Usonian.

Thanks for a nice article. It will, no doubt, cause many readers to go down the rabbit hole of Google in search of more!

    Andrew M. Odom - July 24, 2014 Reply

    Thank you so much for reading Clark. I hope all of articles solicit interest in topics that go beyond just the eye candy that is typical tiny house faire.

      Gregory Pavell - August 3, 2014 Reply

      Andrew…
      Nice touch for those who don’t see themselves portaging their household.
      We American’s have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to houses… suburbs, siting, ignoring the natural environs, excessive space, and on and on. The Japanese and architects’ like FLW understood the simplicity of design; [no basement or garage]…if you increase the unneeded space…you will be compelled to fill it! Brainwashed by homebuilders’-tracked-housing mindset yessiree Bob!
      What are those “Joneses” doing next door…I gotta’ have one!
      PeaCE..
      I gotta Go…

Lori in Prescott - July 24, 2014 Reply

Thank you for pointing us in this direction. Having lived in Chicago and Grand Rapids, I have been in many FLW homes, and took a tour of Taliesin West when moved to AZ. The ideas I always came away with were less art on the walls, built-ins, and a flow from room to room. The architecture is the art. I grew up with the post WWII bungalows and 1960’s contemporaries with carports. A tiny house can easily draw from all of these styles. I am definitely planning a minimalist retirement in a jewel of a dwelling!

tthom2 - July 24, 2014 Reply

Fascinating! This just makes me want to read and explore more about FLW and how his work contributed to and led toward the Tiny House movement. Thanks

Earl - July 24, 2014 Reply

“Even today a number of Wright’s Usonian houses are still lived in by the families of their original owners. A couple have recently come on to the real estate market commanding millions of dollars.”

Tho these prices seem ironic for homes that were built for so much less, they are probably located on expensive land. I wonder if they were designed specifically for their owners by FLW or if they were built from standard Usonian plans. Usonian plans and instructions are readily available online.

    Edie Rodman - July 24, 2014 Reply

    In the 50’s, my best friend’s parents built a home in the woods that was remarkably similar to the Usonian. I didn’t know from architecture at the time; I just knew it was the coolest house I’d ever seen–and the warmest, in the winter, with heated water running under the concrete floors.

    Andrew M. Odom - July 24, 2014 Reply

    I would think Earl that they command those prices because they are FLW homes. Had Wright disappeared into obscurity or became but a footnote in architectural history at large they would probably go for little more than their tax assessed value.

    To my knowledge all of the original Usonian homes were commissioned homes.

Dewy - July 24, 2014 Reply

They didn’t hold up well. Wright was more into art and not practical. Look how much it costs to maintain Falligwater.

    Andrew M. Odom - July 24, 2014 Reply

    I would like to present though that perhaps part of the reason Falling Water has had to have major structural work (for future preservation, mind you) is because it has been open since 1964 drawing some 4.5 million visitors. That is a great deal more traffic than the average house. Just something to consider.

    Mark - July 30, 2014 Reply

    During a recent visit to Fallingwater it was mentioned by the guide that one of the problems with Fallingwater was the use of wood for structural members. Had he used steel, the life would have been extended.

Bobbie Ratcliff - July 24, 2014 Reply

I’ve always admired F.L.W., and still do, but this home is a great example of well – odd values. Look at ALL that wasted hall space yet the bedrooms are embarrassingly small yet alone the practically nonexistent closet space. Since Frank hated to cook, his kitchen is once again nothing more than an afterthought. The main living area has the Frank feel that anyone would enjoy, but once you head down that endless hall, the study at the far end has got to be one of the worst designs I’ll ever see. Lovely to look at from the outside, this home is by my standards as both a homeowner and a designer, one of his greatest concepts that totally fails in livability.

    Alta Vista - July 24, 2014 Reply

    Both Bobby and Dewy make excellent points about design vs reality, function, and “star architect” failings. FLW was an amazing designer and creator who also failed at many levels. Fortunately, one of his Usonian houses in Oregon was fortunately saved and relocated to the Oregon Garden near Silver Falls State Park. The AIA regularly holds meetings at this house and we get can see first hand where the concept works and where it fails.

    Andrew M. Odom - July 24, 2014 Reply

    Great points Bobbie and methinks it actually further establishes a point in that homes like this are a predecessor to today’s tiny houses. When was the last time you felt like a tiny house trailer kitchen was more than an afterthought of sorts? They are often small and – to some – useless. And your last sentence could easily substitute the word “home” for “tiny house”. A number of tiny house detractors say that they are lovely to look at but failing in livability. Interesting thought(s).

      Heather - July 24, 2014 Reply

      I think this is a wonderful comment and brings up a larger issue in the Tiny House movement – so many just look UGLY! I know many are self-designed, but proportions/rooflines/etc. are totally thrown out the window as the homes are built purely for function and not aesthetics. Jay Shafer’s original designs caught on because he paid attention to proportions and they actually look like houses, not elongated storage sheds. The same can be said for the interiors – awkward corners, crannies and walls used as storage shelves without any regard for empty breathing space for the eye to rest. I’d like to see more designs that take into account aesthetics as well as functionality!

    scotty - July 24, 2014 Reply

    FLW didn’t like kitchens or big closets. he viewed them as wasted space. Bedrooms were for sleeping, they didn’t need to be big. In that sense those design ideas are applicable to today’s downsizing discussions.

    However, FLW also pushed the idea of the ideal suburb where every home would fit into its own piece of natural landscape. His rejection of rigid urban design created beautiful buildings, but his Usonian vision would have done nothing more than dressed up every suburban community a bit and spaced homes farther apart. Which gives you all the same problems we have now associated with sprawl

Larry Bullwinkle - July 24, 2014 Reply

You should also examine Frank Lloyd’s homes he proposed for a cooperative homestead project in Detroit, Mich. They are small homes buried in berms for natural temp control. Unfortunately none were built and the project was abandoned. Source for information can be found in “Frank Lloyd Wright The Natural House’.

    Andrew M. Odom - July 24, 2014 Reply

    Looks like an excellent read (Amazon.com) and I intend to read further. Thank you so much Larry.

Waldo N. Pond - July 24, 2014 Reply

Excellent idea to tie the tiny house movement to history. These houses by FLW show that imitation log cabins and cottages are not the only way to go.

    Andrew M. Odom - July 24, 2014 Reply

    Thank you Waldo. We are trying hard to expand our coverage of tiny houses and especially tiny houses in the overall scheme of American society. To act big we need to think big!

Kari - July 24, 2014 Reply

I was so excited to read this wonderful article. I never knew this. I am always looking for new and different ideas for a smaller home 2 bed 2 bath or a bit smaller, but not a closet house. I want an actual bedroom I can stand up in, so not a loft. An actually small kitchen and a decent bathroom. I want solar and to be as much off the grid as possible. love these floor plans.

Kathryn Freeman - July 24, 2014 Reply

Hi,
I loved the article on FLW and his tiny houses. Thank you. I have some photos of 19th century “tiny houses” from Kentucky, that might be of interest to you.
Email if you’d like to see them or you can go to this link to get a preview of them.
http://www.blurb.com/books/4818248-ogg-land

David Remus - July 24, 2014 Reply

The development of affordable ‘ranch style’ houses led to urban sprawl, inefficient houses designed without any thought given to energy usage, and the mass repetition of huge expanses of unimaginative tracts of houses without a sense of being a livable space with businesses, parks, etc. Wright’s actual houses are often users of a large amount of energy because they were not designed with the environmental realities in mind, they often have leaks and other structural problems. They used up large amounts of land, were priced out of the range of most people, and are often large for the size of the families inhabiting them.

Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion house had some problems but at least he was addressing energy usage, portability to reduce permanent impact on the land, and long term costs of maintenance.

For an excellent example of the philosophies surrounding using movable houses for minimum impact and a better life, Wally Byam’s thoughts on whole roving communities of his Airstream trailers is a must read. He envisioned small communities that would move as work or desire moves them. His 1961 book “Travel Here and Abroad, the New Way of Adventurous Living” says exactly the same thing Tiny House supporters espouse today about the advantages of smaller, movable houses: Better energy efficiency, less resources, move on down the road if it suits you, get by with less, live a broader life. Exactly the same ideas expressed over 50 years ago and I am sure expressed by some people as long as there has been manmade shelter. Find a copy and read it.

The Tiny house movement is the antithesis of Wright’s ideas. His houses are often beautiful, no doubt about it, which is unlike the resulting urban sprawl weakly imitating his designs and ideas.

David Remus - July 24, 2014 Reply

The development of affordable ‘ranch style’ houses led to urban sprawl, inefficient houses designed without any thought given to energy usage, and the mass repetition of huge expanses of unimaginative tracts of houses without a sense of being a livable space with businesses, parks, etc. Wright’s actual houses are often users of a large amount of energy because they were not designed with the environmental realities in mind, they often have leaks and other structural problems. They used up large amounts of land, were priced out of the range of most people, and are often large for the size of the families inhabiting them.

Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion house had some problems but at least he was addressing energy usage, portability to reduce permanent impact on the land, and long term costs of maintenance.

For an execellent example of the philosophies surrounding using movable houses for minimum impact and a better life, Wally Byam’s thoughts on whole roving communities of his Airstream trailers is a must read. He envisioned small communities that would move as work or desire moves them. His 1961 book “Travel Here and Abroad, the New Way of Adventurous Living” says exactly the same thing Tiny House supporters espouse today about the advantages of smaller, movable houses: Better energy efficiency, less resources, move on down the road if it suits you, get by with less, live a broader life. Exactly the same ideas expressed over 50 years ago and I am sure expressed by some people as long as there has been manmade shelter. Find a copy and read it.

The Tiny house movement is the antithesis of Wright’s ideas. His houses are often beautiful, no doubt about it, which is unlike the resulting urban sprawl weakly imitating his designs and ideas.

David Remus - July 24, 2014 Reply

The development of affordable ‘ranch style’ houses led to urban sprawl, inefficient houses designed without any thought given to energy usage, and the mass repetition of huge expanses of unimaginative tracts of houses without a sense of being a livable space with businesses, parks, etc. Wright’s actual houses are often users of a large amount of energy because they were not designed with the environmental realities in mind, they often have leaks and other structural problems. They used up large amounts of land, were priced out of the range of most people, and are often large for the size of the families inhabiting them.

Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion house had some problems but at least he was addressing energy usage, portability to reduce permanent impact on the land, and long term costs of maintenance.

For an execellent example of the philosophies surrounding using movable houses for minimum impact and a better life, Wally Byam’s thoughts on whole roving communities of his Airstream trailers is a must read. He envisioned small communities that would move as work or desire moves them. His 1961 book “Travel Here and Abroad, the New Way of Adventurous Living” says exactly the same thing Tiny House supporters espouse today about the advantages of smaller, movable houses: Better energy efficiency, less resources, move on down the road if it suits you, get by with less, live a broader life. Exactly the same ideas expressed over 50 years ago and I am sure expressed by some people as long as there has been manmade shelter. Find a copy and read it.

The Tiny house movement is a creative, broad antithesis of Wright’s ideas. His houses are often beautiful, no doubt about it, which is unlike the resulting urban sprawl weakly imitating his designs and ideas.

    phil - July 24, 2014 Reply

    Play it again David. No really, I bet you saw your thoughts not posted right away and hit send too many times. It takes a while for the post to show. Also, I tend to agree with your thoughts on FLW. I’ve seen quite a few of his works and they are truly works of art. Very few, though, I’d call ‘practical’. If ‘form follows function’ were truly the design mantra, he would never have designed a building with flat roofs. The main function of a roof is to shield the contents from the elements, such as rain and snow. Flat doesn’t do that very well, especially with the roofing technology he had available in the day. And the majority of his works were commissioned, and in the day, even more so than today, the only ones who could commission an architect were the well-to-do. He may have tried his hand at ‘mass marketing’ but that was not his strong suite.

      David Remus - July 24, 2014 Reply

      Yes, I am used to other sites posting rather quickly and I’ve had my posts here deleted. In this case a page saying ‘site temporarily unavailable’ kept popping up so I figured, wrongly, the post was not going to be made. It does make it look like I am screeching, which is definitely not the case.

      Like many pieces of technology based art, his houses often have a certain beauty, but they can be impractical as a solution to housing problems.

      I see no connection in the least to his pieces of art to the Tiny House Movement.

        Andrew M. Odom - July 27, 2014 Reply

        The connection for me David is in wanting to build a house that encompasses the nature around and draws its style from more natural lines and elements.

Rebecca - July 24, 2014 Reply

I have always loved FLW’s homes, regardless of their problems. His designs were very advanced and many of the problems have been addressed by those following him. He provided the inspiration and I honor him

tinylivingfan - July 24, 2014 Reply

I’ve always admired FLW’s innovative design and visionary design. Dear Author please keep writing about this interesting view point – and consider an editor. Your writing needs some fine tuning.

    Andrew M. Odom - July 24, 2014 Reply

    Are you volunteering? HAHAHAHA. I will be the FIRST to admit that when writing posts I sometimes write as I hear it in my head rather than with proper MLA format. Please forgive me. I promise I will work harder to make the reading more enjoyable.

      Desert-E - July 25, 2014 Reply

      Andrew, don’t let the grammar police get you down! I personally enjoy your style of writing and more, the content. blog writing is meant to be off-the-cuff, not necessarily the New Yorker. Love,this post and am looking forward to more on tiny house history. Can I do the Southwest cliff dwellings?

Pam Bennett - July 24, 2014 Reply

Wright was a visionary and an artist—-but many of his ideas were costly and/or flawed in terms of engineering/construction. Even Taliesin in WI is affected in this way. The person who talked about “taking away” ideas was more on the mark: clean lines, simple design, minimal artwork, etc.

Mark - July 24, 2014 Reply

As a follower of FLLW for nearly 45 years, and having visited at least30 of the Usonian homes, I must stress the genius of FLLW in pushing the envelope in construction materials and methods, and bringing.g us his “Prairie Style” to existence.

The upkeep costs mentioned mostly had to do with changes the builder made with the owner (Fallingwater), not Wright’s designed plans.
The Usonians of which are referred to above, were designed to be easy to maintain, but owners generally didn’t. No materials available then we’re ever touted as lifetime, built today with modern materials, under trained labor you would see drastically different results.

Carol Stahl - July 24, 2014 Reply

Did F.L.Wright dash this off on the back of a napkin? Six beds but only 5 dining chairs, no closets, both a study and a studio but no storage in the studio either, and no play room for kids, grand piano space but no laundry, etc.
In an earlier reply to the man demonstrating the quite nice tiny house he built, they had the winter coats hung in a nook set up for a laundry. I asked where the coats wold go if they had laundry machines. No answer. I do understand that tiny is a code word for trade-offs, but would like to know more about such things as the answers to these questions plus insulation underfoot and in the roof as well as the walls. Without serious, sustainable amenities the tiny houses are only play houses.

    Andrew M. Odom - July 24, 2014 Reply

    After spending some amount of time studying FLW as both a man and an architect I would highly doubt he dashed anything off on a napkin. In fact, I would even garner that he wrote new friends’ phone numbers on ruled paper with consistent spacing and alignment. (j/j). You are right in that he had room for six to sleep but only 5 to eat. Perhaps this is because FLW was a serial spouse having had 3 wives. Perhaps he designed the master bed with the thought that it could be for one person just as quickly as it could be for two. Just a thought!

    I think the studio is what we now refer to as a den; a smaller and more intimate living space. Perhaps someone who has visited one of these homes could confirm or negate this? From photos the study looks like a home office so I can see his desire for that.

    As for storage FLW truly felt storage areas (including closets) were waisted space. He did however integrate exposed shelving in almost every room so perhaps he viewed his books and extra rolls of TP as art?

    Being someone who lives in a tiny house I wouldn’t say that tiny is code for trade-off but rather an umbrella description for extreme examination of need -vs- want and inventive storage and/or dual purpose items.

    As for insulation, there are countless blogs that show in detail the answer to that question. I would point you to:

    http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/blogs/tumbleweed/11360045-insulation-a-hot-and-cold-topic

    http://evanandgabbystinyhouse.wordpress.com/3-the-concept-of-using-natural-wool-insulation/

    http://clotheslinetinyhomes.com/2012/04/11/tiny-house-construction-insulation/

    ….and countless others.

    I can understand your thought that without serious, sustainable amenities tiny house may very well be play houses. However, I could strongly encourage you to do a little deeper research or even ask someone currently living in a tiny house about more than the aesthetic of a design. Your coat hanger question warrants an answer (which I unfortunately don’t have) but I can tell you that we have 3 coat hooks behind our front door that were put there specifically for such a reason. With us there is nothing in our tiny house that doesn’t have an exact purpose.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment Carol.

Linda - July 24, 2014 Reply

How interesting! FLW was ahead of his time.

alice h - July 26, 2014 Reply

I find FLW and many other architects’ work interesting even if not directly related to tiny houses. The basic philosophy behind their designs can be scaled up or down, depending on what’s needed, with whatever additions or subtractions are required to make things work. The best of them intend their designs to be fully functional as well as design delights but sometimes translating an ideal into the real ends up in compromises that affect one or the other or both.

Arthur Erickson’s Design Philosophy as per his website though I wouldn’t restrict it to urban settings. http://www.arthurerickson.com/about-arthur-erickson/design-philosophy/1/

“Architecture, as I see it, is the art of composing spaces in response to existing environmental and urbanistic
conditions to answer a client’s needs. In this way the building becomes the resolution between its inner being and the outer conditions imposed upon it. It is never solitary but is part of its setting and thus must blend in a timeless way with its surroundings yet show its own fresh presence.

We are not peddlers of the fashionable. We believe that good design defies fashion, is truly innovative, eminently sensible, yet a source of inspiration to those who have the pleasure of living with it.

Arthur Erickson

Steve - July 27, 2014 Reply

Regardless of previous posts, FLW was way ahead of architects of his day. And yes, he did impose his personal values into his design – show me a modern architect who hasn’t. A good source of information on his Usonian designs appears in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Homes by John Sergeant. One story from Sergeant’s book tells of a homeowner whose son was playing with a ball in the house and fell against the front wall. The wall buckled and swayed wave-like along it’s entire length. The owner called FLW and complained about the wall which was a sandwich construction. (Described above) FLW barked at the owner stating “You haven’t put the shelves in yet have you and slammed the phone down. The owner pulled out the plans and sure enough, there were supposed to be 3 book shelves on that wall. After installing the shelves, they provided a lateral support to the wall which was then sturdy and solid. Who else, then or now, can visualize a simple mundane set of shelves serving as a structural design element. Criticize his values and his personality but criticizing his design and aesthetics is absurd. As for more tiny houses, I suggest looking at the early homes of Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull, and Whitaker (MLTW).

    phil - July 31, 2014 Reply

    —“Criticize his values and his personality but criticizing his design and aesthetics is absurd”

    From my point of view you have this backward. Values and personality are individualistic; to criticize anyone’s doesn’t make much sense because there are as many examples as there are humans. And why can’t we criticize his design(s)? If I don’t like a design for whatever reason, that reason is valid enough for me, so the design, I see, is flawed. You can appreciate the beauty of his works but still realize that art, applied to a physical world in such a manner as he did, is bound to run into problems. The flat roofs were a good example of that. I hate flat roofs, pure and simple. If we lived in a part of the world where it never rained, or snowed, then flat might make sense. Everywhere else, it doesn’t.

Kathleen Kalinowski - July 28, 2014 Reply

I honestly do not like FLW designs. I think they are “uncomfortable”. Very stiff and ridgid.

KathyG - July 31, 2014 Reply

Nice article and interesting comments. I never thought much about FLW until I walked into one of his buildings — the Monona Terrace Hotel, built from his plans long after his death — and suddenly realized ‘wow, this building was designed by someone who thought about what it would FEEL like to be inside it’! The Guggenheim Museum in NYC is the only other FLW public building I’ve been in, and it is another space that sort of sneaks up on you. The curving ramp is nearly imperceptible as you walk along, but suddenly you look across and see you have risen an entire floor. Many excellent observations by commentors here, about single story, spread out houses contributing to sprawl, impractical materials, etc. But so amazing to imagine how revolutionary these houses must have seemed at the time. And of course no guarantee that your average genius is going to be Mr. or Ms. Practical in every way. We’ve had time since FLW to start buffing off the rough edges and with new materials and green technologies, use the inspiration of his art to find some new balance. My husband and I have been looking for a new, smaller, though not ‘tiny’ home, and it is still very tough to find anything like our desired combination: big yard, small (1200-1400 sq ft) home, with good solar orientation, single story — in our town. We have looked at a new Usonian home or two and are very impressed with the feeling of lightness and spaciousness inside. Big kitchen, super energy efficient, just a wonderful feeling inside. Somewhere between bloated and tiny is our goal. Builders take heed: retiring Baby Boomers are heading for this kind of space! FLW was a visionary.

dewhit - July 31, 2014 Reply

Frank Lloyd Wright has basically a pig towards his family and totally abandoned them to run off with another woman at one point.
He was fired from several jobs for refusing to change his ideas when the clients footing the bills had enough of his egocentricity and control problems.
He had his brilliant moments, but the myth has ballooned to epic proportions.

Barbara Kvistad - August 2, 2014 Reply

Wow Dewhit! This blog article is about the idea of FLW’s Usonian homes possibly being a precursor of and inspiration for Tiny Houses. It surely seems that your opinions re his personal life, personality, and business dealings are as off-topic as some other comments above.
I think such off-topic comments detract from the discussion about the actual interesting topic.

Mark - August 3, 2014 Reply

Great article! We can take so much inspiration from his designs and with so many of these buildings a day trip away, I have experienced them firsthand. My favorite of late is the Seth Peterson cottage-

http://www.sethpeterson.org/

If you aren’t familiar with it, you should look into the back story.

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