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Wright Studies
 
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 
 
 
Bock Ateliers
 
KahnA 1.jpg (38999 bytes)"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 (S.344)    Pieper (S.349)    Tonkens (S.386)    Kalil (S.387)    Turkel (S.388)
  Tracy (S.389)   Pappas (S.392) 
 
 
Adelman (S.344)
Copyright Douglas M. Steiner ,2004.
 
 
Pieper (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.
 
 
Kalil (S.387)
Copyright Douglas M. Steiner, 2007. (Kalil Study)
 
 
Tonkens (S.386)
Copyright University of Nebraska Library, Messana Collection.
 
 
Turkel (S.388)
Copyright Rebecca Mazzei, Detroit Metro Times, 2005. (Additional photographs.)
 
 
Tracy (S.389)
Copyright Douglas M. Steiner, 2001.  (Tracy Study)
 
 
Pappas (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

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.  (Continue)

 
 
 
Related Items From the Usonian Automatic Traveling Exhibit
 
 
Books, Brochures, PR, Articles
 
 
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
 

FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT 'IN THE REALM OF IDEAS' PUTS BELLEVUE ART MUSEUM IN THE REALM OF MAJOR ART EXHIBITIONS

By Regina Hackett
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 5, 1989

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.  (Continue)

 
 
Related Reading
 
"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
  Banff National Park Pavilion (S.170)    Bitter Root Inn (S.145)    Blair Residence (S.351)    Blumberg Residence (Project) 
  Brandes Residence (S.350)    Browne's Bookstore (S.141)    Como Orchard Summer Colony (S.144)    Copper Weed Urn & Weed Holder  
  Disappearing City (1932)    Elam Residence (S.336)    "Eve of St. Agnes" (1896)   Frank L. Smith Bank (S.111)    Gordon Residence (S.419) 
 
Griggs Residence (S.290)    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)  
  March Balloons    Midway Gardens (S.180)    Midway Gardens Dish (S.180)    Nakoma Clubhouse    Opus 497   Pebbles & Balch Remodel (S.131) 
  
Roloson Rowhouse (S.026)    Shavin Residence (S.339)    Sixty Years Exhibition 1951-56    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)   
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.
 

 

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