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Did You Know…


Are you familiar with the term “Usonian”?  Here’s a word and a concept to add to your repertoire of design knowledge.

According to Jackie Craven (Your Guide to Architecture):

“In 1936, when the United States was in the depths of an economic depression, 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.

The word Usonia is an abbreviation for United States of North America. 

Frank Lloyd Wright aspired to create a democratic, distinctly American style that was affordable for the “common people”.


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 carports took the place of garages.


In the 1950’s, when he was in his ‘80’s, Frank Lloyd Wright first used the term Usonian Automatic to describe a Usonian style house made of inexpensive concrete blocks. The 3” 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.


Despite Wright’s aspirations toward simplicity and economy, Usonian houses often exceeded budgeted costs.”



Note:  More that a hundred Usonian houses were built.  A few of the most famous are:


  • Herbert Jacobs II House – Madison, WI – 1936


  • Bernard Schwartz House – Two Rivers, WI – 1938


  • Curtis Meyer House – Galesburn, MI – 1948


  • Zimmerman House – Manchester, NH – 1950


  • Hagan House – Kentuck Knob, PA – 1954


  • Toufic L. Kalil House – Manchester, NH - 1955

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