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Usonian Automatic Homes
In 1936, Wright developed a series of homes he called Usonian. They were designed to control costs. Wright's Usonian houses had no attics, no basements, and little ornamentation. He continued to develop the concept, and in the early 1950s he first used the term Usonian Automatic to describe a Usonian style house made of inexpensive concrete blocks. The modular blocks could be assembled in a variety of ways. Wright hoped that home buyers could save money by building their own Usonian Automatic houses. But assembling the modular parts proved complicated, and most hired contractors to built their Usonian houses. A precursor to the Usonian Automatic system were the four Textile Block homes in California, Millard (La Miniatura) S.214, Storer S.215, Freeman S.216, and the Ennis S.217.
The basic concrete block of the Usonian Automatic system is 12 x 24 inches. The blocks were laid without mortar, with rebar placed both horizontally and vertically in semicircular joints. After one or two rows of blocks were laid, cement grout was pumped or poured into the joints to bond the structure together. There were many homes designed (projects), but only seven Usonian Automatic homes were built using concrete molded blocks. The concept was designed on a two foot grid floor plan. The walls were built with 1' x 2' blocks and the ceiling blocks were 2' x 2'. Others Usonian homes were built, but constructed of standard concrete blocks and other material. May 2009.
Bock Ateliers Completed Usonian Automatic Homes Usonian Automatic Unbuilt Projects Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibit 1988-1991 Concrete Construction Magazine New York Times Related Items Seattle P-I Related Reading
"Modern Architecture, Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930", Wright, 1931. Of interest is the illustration that proceeds Chapter 5. The illustration is entitled "Bock Ateliers. Concrete. Slab Roof. Stone Washes and Water Table. Windows Wrapping Corners to Express Interior Space. 1902." Bock met Wright in 1892 while working for Adler & Sullivan. Bock’s first commission from Wright was for the Frieze on the third floor of the Heller Home (1896 - S.038). He also worked on other Wright projects including the Stork (1898) and Boulder (1898) for Wright’s own Studio, the Dana Residence (1902 - S.072), Larkin Building (1903 - S.093), Scoville Park Fountain (1903 - S.094), Unity Temple (1904 - S.096), Martin (1904 - S.100), City National Bank (1909 - S.155), and Midway Gardens (1913 - S.180) just to name a few. In 1902 Wright to design a home and studio for Bock. It was designed in concrete. This was two years before the concrete Unity Temple, twenty-one years before Wright’s first concrete block home, the Millard Residence (1923 - S.214), and 49 years before the first Usonian Automatic, the Adelman Residence (1951 - S.344). Wright included the concrete "Bock Ateliers" in his 1910 Wasmuth Portfolio Plate LXII. Although the 1902 window casements were most likely designed in wood, Wright slightly modified the 1931 window design to include mitered glass corners, a precursor to Wright’s 1951 Usonian Automatic Homes.
Detail of "Bock Ateliers" 1931 Modern Architecture.
Detail of "Bock Ateliers" 1910 Wasmuth Portfolio Plate LXII. Completed Usonian Automatic Homes
Adelman (1951 - S.344) Pieper (1952 - S.349) Tonkens (1954 - S.386) Kalil (1955 - S.387)
Turkel (1955 - S.388) Tracy (1955 - S.389) Pappas (1955 - S.392)
Adelman (1951 - S.344) Copyright Douglas M. Steiner ,2004. Pieper (1952 - S.349) This view of the home is from the street. The original portion is blocked by a newer addition. This was the only Usonian Automatic that uses concrete blocks for the walls only, and used Cemesto in the ceiling. Copyright Douglas M. Steiner ,2004. Tonkens (1954 - S.386) Copyright University of Nebraska Library, Messana Collection. Kalil (1955 - S.387) Copyright Douglas M. Steiner, 2007. (Kalil Study) Turkel (1955 - S.388) Copyright Rebecca Mazzei, Detroit Metro Times, 2005. (Additional photographs.)
Tracy (1955 - S.389) Copyright Douglas M. Steiner, 2001. (Tracy Study) Pappas (1955 - S.392) Copyright ocad123 Flickr, 2002. Usonian Automatic Unbuilt Projects
Blumberg Residence (1955) Sussman Residence (1955) Mel and Carole Blumberg Residence (1955) The Blumberg Residence, 1955. (Blumberg Study) Gerald Sussman Residence (1955) The Gerald Sussman Residence, 195546. The Sussman Residence was the design that became the basis for the full-scale model for the Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibit in 1988. Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibit 1988-1991
From January 1988 through March 1991, "Frank Lloyd Wright: In The Realm of Ideas" a traveling exhibition included a full-scale Usonian Automatic model. The design that was chosen for the full-scale model was the Sussman Residence (project). The full-scale home used lightweight construction material replicating concrete. This enabled quick dismantling, transporting and re-erection of the model. The tour exhibited in eight cities. Dallas (Jan-Apr 1988), Washington DC (June-Sept 1988), Miami (Dec-Feb 1989), Chicago (Jun-Sept 1989), Bellevue, WA (Oct-Jan 1990), San Rafael, CA (Feb-May 1990), San Diego (Jun-Sept 1990) and Scottsdale (Dec-Mar 1991).
Dallas (January - April 1988) Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibit House. Dallas (January-April, 1988). Caption on face: "Dallas – This photograph, showing the interior of Usonian Automatic Exhibition House, is part of an exhibition of the works of Frank Lloyd Wright that has set out on a national tour that the organizers hope will fire the imagination of today’s architects. Reuter. 1988." Stamped on verso: "Feb 12 88". The full size Usonian Automatic model home was exhibited in eight cities. Dallas (Jan-Apr 1988), Washington DC (June-Sept 1988), Miami (Dec-Feb 1989), Chicago (Jun-Sept 1989), Bellevue, WA (Oct-Jan 1990), San Rafael, CA (Feb-May 1990), San Diego (Jun-Sept 1990) and Scottsdale (Dec-Mar 1991). Acquired from the archived of the Chicago Tribune. See more information on the Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibition. Dallas (January - April 1988) Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibit House. Dallas (January-April, 1988). Caption on face: "Dallas – Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Usonian’ automatic house is dismantled 4/21 in downtown Dallas for the move to the Smithsonian. The Usonian modular house was designed by Wright to be easily built and taken apart and to fill the need for attractive affordable for the common man. The house was experimental and was designed in 1955. UPI." Stamped on verso: "Apr 25 88". The full size Usonian Automatic model home was exhibited in eight cities. Dallas (Jan-Apr 1988), Washington DC (June-Sept 1988), Miami (Dec-Feb 1989), Chicago (Jun-Sept 1989), Bellevue, WA (Oct-Jan 1990), San Rafael, CA (Feb-May 1990), San Diego (Jun-Sept 1990) and Scottsdale (Dec-Mar 1991). Acquired from the archived of the Chicago Tribune. See more information on the Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibition. Chicago (June - September 1989) Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibit House. Chicago. The Chicago Exhibit was held from June - September 1989 at the Museum of Science and Industry. See more information on the Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibition. Bellevue, WA (October - January 1990) Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibit House. Seattle. The Seattle Exhibit was held from October - January 1990 at the Bellevue Art Museum. See more information on the Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibition. San Rafael, CA (February - May 1990) Marin County Civic Center, San Rafael, CA (Feb-May 1990), Copyright SDR Design 1990. Floor Plan Floor plan for the Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibit and the Sussman Residence. Side View Side view for the Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibit and the Sussman Residence. Concrete Construction Magazine
Usonian Automatic: Wright's Concrete Masonry
Copyright The Aberdeen Group, 1988
Published in Copcrete Construction Magazine, November 1, 1988
By Mary K. Hurd
Abstract: About 1950, Frank Lloyd Wright designed a concrete masonry building system that he called Usonian Automatic. Automatic was used to suggest that the owner might participate in the actual construction of the home, laying or even making the blocks. Beginning in 1951 a number of these houses were constructed across the nation from California to New Hampshire. The basic concrete block of the Usonian Automatic system is 4x12x24 inches. The blocks are laid up without mortar, with #3 reinforcing bars placed both horizontally and vertically in semicircular voids in the contacting faces. After one or two courses of blocks are laid, grout is pumped or poured into the voids to embed the bars and bond the structure together.
Click to see full PDF article. Usonian Automatic home now touring the United States was designed in 1955 by Frank Lloyd Wright. For ease in setting up and shipping, concrete masonry was realistically simulated in the 1,800-square-foot exhibit house. Copyright The Aberdeen Group, 1988. Standard Usonian blocks make up the fireplace wall of the exhibit home. Dining area on the left displays Wright-designed furnishings. Copyright The Aberdeen Group, 1988. Interior view of the exhibit home shows deeply coffered concrete masonry ceiling. Window wall at the right is made up of concrete block units inset with glass. Note exposed standard Usonian Automatic blocks in the wall at the left. Copyright The Aberdeen Group, 1988. The basic Usonian Automatic block has a semicircular groove running around the entire block on its narrow face. Blocks are laid without mortar, but with reinforcing bars in the grooves, both horizontally and vertically. Grout poured or pumped into the cavities surrounds the rebar and unifies the construction. Copyright The Aberdeen Group, 1988. New York Times
(Note, due to the fact that the internet is constantly changing, and items that
are posted change, I have copied excerpts of the text, but give all the credits available.)
Wright Seen Anew as an Architect of Thoughts
By Paul Goldberger
The New York Times, February 7, 1988
In the 28 years since Frank Lloyd Wright's death, his associates, who have tried to keep the flame of his reputation burning, have often done more to damage his name than to enhance it. Under the rubric of Taliesin Associated Architects (named for the architect's famous houses in Spring Green, Wis., and Scottsdale, Ariz.) they have produced new buildings that are generally mediocre imitations of the great architect's late work. Through their Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, they have continued Wright's practice of inviting students to pay for the privilege of studying with the master, even though there is no longer a master. And they have sold off various original Wright drawings to keep their operation going.
It has all too often felt like a cult more than a living enterprise. Given all of this, expectations had not been particularly high for the latest project the Wright disciples have undertaken, a major exhibition intended to travel the country and serve as an introduction to Wright's ideas. Focusing on ''ideas'' more than actual buildings seemed as if it would, if anything, encourage the tendency to view Wright in quasi-religious, instead of realistic, terms: Wright the deity, not Wright the architect.
But the pleasant surprise of the large and striking exhibition ''Frank Lloyd Wright in the Realm of Ideas'' that opened last month at the Dallas Museum of Art and the adjoining Trammell Crow Center Pavilion, is that it holds deification to a minimum. This is hardly a critical exhibition; those interested in a dissenting view on Frank Lloyd Wright must look elsewhere. But it is perhaps the most inviting and articulate introduction to Wright's basic ideas that anyone has offered the public in many years. The exhibition is lively and handsome; it includes a wide range of models, original furniture pieces, blown-up reproductions of Wright drawings and spectacular color photographs enlarged to mural size. The climax is a full-scale version of one of Wright's Usonian houses that has been erected on the grounds of the Dallas Museum of Art, with the unlikely background of the city's downtown office towers.
Let there be no mistake: this is not the major retrospective of Wright that has been awaited for many years, and neither is it an exhibition that will advance the frontiers of Wright scholarship. It is a layman's show, not a scholar's. But it presents Wright in a manner that is clear and straightforward, and that should do much to excite the public's interest in the man who was unquestionably America's greatest architect of this century. And it does so without pandering to the public or grossly oversimplifying Wright's ideas.
The exhibition, which was organized by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in cooperation with the Scottsdale Arts Center Association and underwritten by the Whirlpool Corporation and the Kohler Company, has been organized in an unusual way. It is not chronological, or arranged by building type. Rather, the curators, Gerald Nordland, an art historian, and Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, the chief archivist at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, have classified the material into four thematic sections: ''The Destruction of the Box,'' ''The Nature of the Site,'' ''Materials and Methods'' and ''Building for Democracy,'' echoing themes that were central to Wright's own concerns, and that the architect returned to again and again in his own writings. It is Wright himself who speaks throughout this exhibition: the pleasing thing is that the curators have been discreet, and have placed themselves in the background. Only Wright's own words are used as the wall text for the exhibition; in every way is this show Wright on Wright. This is vastly more convincing than being presented with testaments to Wright from his disciples. For the architect himself, though he tended toward wild exaggeration and on occasion simplified or revised facts to suit his own ends, had a glorious rhetorical flourish. It is actually rather ironic, given how desperately Wright's followers have tried over the years to maintain his reputation, that they have done it best by doing the simplest thing - putting themselves in the background and letting Wright in effect present himself to us.
The thematic organization means that some important Wright buildings, such as Fallingwater, the great house of 1937 in Mill Run, Pa., or the Johnson Wax Company headquarters in Racine, Wis., also of 1937, pop up again and again in the exhibition. But this only helps to underscore the continuity of these themes throughout the architect's career, and the fact that his important work transcended narrow categorization within a single theme. The spectacular cantilevered structure of Fallingwater, for example, was as critical an example of Wright's desire to create forms that opened up the traditional box as it was indicative of his ability to respond subtly and powerfully to the particular nature of a dramatic site.
These first two themes - breaking out of the box and working with nature - actually work best in this format, since they are the easiest to explain. It is not hard to trace Wright's struggle to break out of the box from his early Prairie houses with their flowing horizontal space to such late works as the great spiral rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum. (An early model of the Guggenheim forms the centerpiece of this section.) And it is pleasing, even moving, to be taken through these buildings with Wright's own words as our only text, telling us, as in the words placed beside a picture of his great Unity Temple of 1906, that ''there perhaps is where you will find the first real expression of the idea that the space within the building is the reality of the building. . .When I finished Unity Temple, I had it. I knew I had the beginning of a great thing, of a great truth in architecture.''
So, too, with the section on the relationship of buildings to nature: these short snatches of Wright's words, flush with hyperbole though they be, become an almost endearing accompaniment to dramatic photographs. ''A house, we like to believe, can be a noble consort to man and the trees'' is the beginning of the text panel before a picture of the Pew House, in Shorewood Hills, Wis., a structure of wood set within a lush landscape. But the other sections are less convincing. ''Materials and Methods'' calls for more rigorous analysis than it gets here, and is something of a catchall for numerous interesting projects, such as Wright's unbuilt skyscraper for The San Francisco Call of 1912, that did not fit elsewhere. As for ''Building for Democracy,'' this was always the vaguest and most overblown sphere of Wright's rhetoric, and it is still vague here, even though this section does have its share of excellent illustrative material and the same splendid verbal accompaniment of the other sections.
And that brings us to the real crowd-pleaser in this exhibition, the Usonian Automatic House. Wright called many of his smaller houses, intended to bring architecture to the masses, Usonian; this particular one was designed in 1955, and was to have been built in concrete block, called ''automatic'' because Wright wanted the building system to be simple enough to avoid the cost of skilled labor. (This version has been built in synthetic material to simulate the appearance of concrete block to make assembly, dismantling and moving easier.) If you can get over your surprise at the presence of a microwave and other post-Frank Lloyd Wright appliances that were obviously the price of Whirlpool and Kohler's sponsorship, a walk through the house is a marvelous moment. It is not large - just 1,800 square feet - but Wright's ability to control and manipulate space and light was so remarkable that the house feels significantly bigger. The ceiling plane begins at 9 1/2 feet at the entrance, goes down to 7 1/2 feet in the bedrooms, and leaps up to 12 1/2 feet in the living room, and there is real spatial drama to this movement. Wright really did care about bringing architecture to everyone. This at once separates him from most of the architects practicing today and enobles him, and it is the earnestness of that desire that is the real message ''Frank Lloyd Wright in the Realm of Ideas'' leaves us with.
The show will be on view in Dallas until April 17, after which it will embark on a national tour through 1990.
The Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibit: In The Realm of Ideas
(Note, due to the fact that the internet is constantly changing, and items that
are posted change, I have copied excerpts of the text, but give all the credits available.)
What is living architecture? Betty Boop knew. When she sang, buildings swayed and danced.
Frank Lloyd Wright knew, too. The quintessential American architect coined the term early in the century to describe his own exalted aspirations.
Seeing little distinction between the built and the natural environment, Wright's idea of an architect's role wasn't too far from God's, the only builder to whom he regularly deferred. He once told a group of architects in Santa Barbara that the only good architecture in the entire city was the trees.
"Frank Lloyd Wright: In the Realm of Ideas" opens Monday at the Bellevue Art Museum. Getting it was a coup for Bellevue, a giddy, great leap forward. The small museum-in-a-mall isn't exactly in-the-loop for major traveling shows and this is one. Since opening last January at the Dallas Museum of Art, it has toured the country to great enthusiasm from critics and crowds alike.
"We have hordes of volunteers for the show," said director LaMar Harrington, "all kinds of guards. We have to be prepared for crowds, but maybe no one will come."
Not likely. Wright is the Paul Bunyan of the American architecture, the closest thing to a home-grown, architectural cult figure.
Included in the show are a full-scale, 1,800-square-foot Usonian automatic house, seven large-scale models, 15 freehand drawings, huge back-lit photo murals, and clusters of Wright-designed chairs, china, stain glass and eating utensils.
"In the Realm of Ideas" is designed as a piece of pedagogy, to drum into the heads of viewers four Wright principles: the box had to go, materials have to be respected, nature is great and people should feel free in their houses.
Unfortunately, the drawings weren't ready for viewing during the preview. They illuminate Wright's dreamy side, what he saw in his mind's eye and covered with a flush of foliage, before what he viewed as ignorant engineers and even more ignorant planning bureaucracies made compromise necessary.
Aside from the drawings, the Usonian house (Usonian being Wright's private name for things American) is the exhibit's high point. It was designed in 1955 to satisfy the needs of low-income clients or, more precisely, those of modest means whom Wright always wanted to be his clients.
Just south of the museum across the street from Bellevue Square, the house is fabricated to be lightweight enough to travel with the show yet resemble Wright's precast concrete blocks. The furniture in it, made of plywood, is all his.
Wright's style was as singular as his fingerprint, and this house, slung low and wide on the land, couldn't be anyone else's.
Wright has received his share of credit as an inventor, responsible for, among other things, the wall-hung toilet, steel office furniture, flexible joints for earthquake protection, indirect lighting and plate glass commercial doors. He's famous for breaking faith with the box, loving materials both high and low and wanting to harmonize with, not dominate, the landscape.
Yet he's clearly the unsung hero of roller rinks, to which his Usonian house seems related. Roller rinks use his kind of space: low and lean, good for sprints and figure 8's, bad for high jumps.
His style changed remarkably little over the course of his long career, except that the exterior angles softened. He was acutely aware that the new century would call for new styles, and he wanted his to be a trump.
It was. After five years working as a draftsman in Louis Sullivan's Chicago office, Wright set out on his own in 1893, having absorbed crucial lessons from architects such as H.H. Richardson and Sullivan, who were modernist pioneers advocating rational principle amid the welter of late 19th century decoration. His pool of sources was the widest of his generation. It included Japanese teahouses and summer palaces, Hopi rock dwellings and Venetian row houses on the water.
One can only imagine the surprise of those who came upon his early houses. They jut out. They were new and still look oddly new, a statement of faith in a rosy future of unlimited resources and scientific breakthroughs.
As Narciso Menocal's excellent catalog essay points out, Wright was deeply impressed by Edward Bellamy's "Looking Backward," a novel published in 1888 that imagined American cities of complete harmony by the year 2000.
Bellamy brought a top hat to socialism. He assumed that everyone wanted understated elegance and good table manners, and all people would participate in a collective, white Protestant male ideal, if they only could.
Wright agreed and wanted to be the white Protestant male in charge. If he built a house for you, he wanted you to be free all right, free to live life completely bound by his style. He chose or designed all the furniture and its placement, the plants, both indoor and out, the rugs, the lighting and heating system. God help anyone who even thought of adding any non-Wright touches to "his" living quarters.
The original scale model for New York's Guggenheim Museum is the best looking one in the show. Its puttylike, white surface has softened with age and now looks like Claes Oldenburg made it.
In person, however, the Guggenheim is absolute Wright, the most distinctive museum in the world and the least admired by painters and sculptors. Wright's great rampways coil down through interior space and make the art in it an afterthought.
Someday there will be regular tours of Frank Lloyd Wright houses across the country. Till then, seeing this exhibit is the easiest way to appreciate both the master's range and his foibles.
"Usonia Homes, A Cooperative, Inc." Henken, 1947 "The Natural House" Wright, 1954, page 196-207 "The Living City", Wright 1958, pages 70-1 "Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Houses: The Case for Organic Architecture" Sergeant, 1976 "Frank Lloyd Wright, His Life and His Architecture" Twombly, 1979, page 338 "Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Houses: Designs for Moderate Cost One-Family Homes" Sergeant, 1984 "Realization of Usonia: Frank Lloyd Wright in Westchester" Beard, Henken, Henken, 1985 "Related items from the Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibition" 1987 - 1990 "Wright Seen Anew as an Architect of Thoughts" Goldberger, The New York Times, February 7, 1988 "Usonian Automatic: Wright's Concrete Masonry" Hurd, Concrete Construction Magazine, November 1, 1988 (PDF) "Frank Lloyd Wright 'In The Realm of Ideas" Hackett, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 5, 1989 "Usonia, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Design for America" Rosenbaum, 1997 "Usonian Houses", Ehrlich, 2002 "Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian Houses GA Traveler 005", Pfeiffer, 2002 "Westchester Magazine - Best Total Concept. Usonia." Epstein, October 2004, pages 66-67 "Frank Lloyd Wright, Complete Works 1943-1959", Pfeiffer; Gossel, 2009, page 216-217.
- Additional Wright Studies
- Adelman (S.344) Banff National Park Pavilion (S.170) Bitter Root Inn (S.145) Blair Residence (S.351) Blumberg Residence (Project)
Boomer Residence (1953 - S.361) Brandes Residence (S.350) Browne's Bookstore (S.141) Como Orchard Summer Colony (S.144)
Cooke Residence (1953) Copper Weed Urn & Weed Holder Disappearing City (1932) Elam Residence (S.336) "Eve of St. Agnes" (1896)
Feiman Residence (S.371) Frank L. Smith Bank (S.111) Gordon Residence (S.419) Griggs Residence (S.290) Hartford Resort (Project 1948)
Heller Residence (S.038) Henderson Residence (S.057) Hoffman Showroom (S.380) Horner Residence (S.142) "House Beautiful" 1896-98
Husser Residence (S.046) Imperial Hotel (S.194) Silverware and Monogram Japanese Print Stand (1908) Kalil Residence (S.387)
Lake Geneva Hotel (S.171) Lamp Cottage, Rocky Roost (S.021) Lockridge Medical Clinic (S.425) Lykes Residence (S.433)
Marden Residence (S.357) March Balloons Midway Gardens (S.180) Midway Gardens Dish (S.180) Nakoma Clubhouse
Nakoma Furniture Opus 497 Pebbles & Balch Remodel (S.131) Pilgrim Congregational Church (S.431) Loren B. Pope (S.268)
Roloson Rowhouse (S.026) Shavin Residence (S.339) Sixty Years Exhibition 1951-56 J. L. Smith Residence (1955) Steffens Residence (S.153)
- Stohr Arcade (S.162) Stromquiest Residence (S.429) Sutton Residence (S.106) Teater Studio (S.352) Thurber Art Galleries (S.154)
- Tracy Residence (S.389) Trier Residence (S.398) Usonian Automatic Homes Williams (Way & Williams) (S.033)
Wyoming Valley School (S.401) Zimmerman Residence, (S.333)
- Frank Lloyd Wright's First Published Article (1898)
- Photographic Chronology of Frank Lloyd Wright Portraits
"Frank Lloyd Wright's Nakoma Clubhouse & Sculptures." A comprehensive study of Wright’s Nakoma Clubhouse and the Nakoma and Nakomis Sculptures. Now Available. Limited Edition. More information.