LITEHaus Architecture | Insights from Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘USONIAN’ style.
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Insights from Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘USONIAN’ style.

Insights from Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘USONIAN’ style.

In a bid to investigate the measures put into designing and constructing these series of projects – intended to create cost effective housing – a visit was made to the ROBERT GORDON HOUSE. Silverton, OR. Usonia was a term developed by Frank Llyod Wright in the 1930s. Speculations abound on how he came about the word and how he interpreted it in practical terms. Although originally situated to overlook the Willamette River, the house finally made his home in Silverton, Oregon. It is managed and preserved by the Gordon House Conservancy. Frank Llyod Wright (1867 – 1959), a towering player in 21st Century Architecture, left an indelible mark in architectural practice. He began his experiments in residential designs that would later revolutionise how people live and experience residential architecture.

Realizing that depression had recast both economic conditions and social outlook, Wright reconsidered the model of low-income housing in American dwellings to produce what he called “USONIAN HOMES”. Aside the use of certain architectural features, he emphasized the use of inexpensive local materials with simple techniques of economic construction. This model would later become the vehicle for Wright’s solution to single family housing for the rest of his career. Many of the usonian versions of his organic architecture began to influence and commingle with other developments in the design and construction of modern American homes.

The USONIAN house concept that Wright envisioned would be built to suit the client and their needs thus making them unique and different but still in accord with his vision of what Usonian and organic architecture meant to him. To cut costs, Wright often encouraged his clients to get heavily involved with the building which in turn would also help them obtain a deeper connection with their new residence. Wright drew inspiration from the building site upon which the house would eventually sit and used local materials to bring his vision to life. Wright’s Usonian home designs tend to resemble a polliwog or tadpole with the body being the living-room area and the kitchen. In the case of the Rosenbaum and Baird houses, a study was added to the body of the home. The tail encompassed the bedrooms for the parents and children which were often small with built-ins in the rooms for storage purposes. The narrow hallways in this part of the house were narrow and also included built-in spaces for storage. Usonian homes also contained built-in pieces of furniture, pianos, and chairs designed by Wright for the home. Wright felt that pictures on the walls and furniture were not necessary unless the walls built-in or included in the wall.

INSIGHTS FROM THE VISIT:

Rationality: – Just recovering from great recession, Wright thought it necessary to design buildings that will respond to the cultural and economic realities of its context, yet meeting client’s need for convenience and comfort. He believed the buildings should be constructed at moderate cost for the average man without losing its artistic excellence and originality.
Organic: – “out of the ground, into the sun”…those were the words of the maestro himself.. He wanted a building in perfect harmony between the earth and the sun, perhaps his conceived this as a cost effective savings Frank made use of LOCAL materials while the building itself sits well in relation to its environment. The materials were painstakingly crafted off the site in exact size and specifications as dictated by the drawing and shipped to be coupled on site.

Sustainability: – The systems in USONIA are revolutionary. Frank conceived the systems as mostly dependent on Sun for light and energy. He used deep windows often running floor to soffit to allow maximum daylight thereby exposing the interior keeping it within reasonable temperature level. The massive masonry walls and heated floors (unlike typical basement for large radiators) prevented extreme temperatures- either wet or cold – from the floors. Since most of the human nerves end in the feet against the conventional method of keeping the floor cold and the roof warm. He strongly believed the house should cool itself without any form of mechanical air conditioning.
Deep Connections through detailing: – Frank was surprised that Robert will find the dining chair he designed very uncomfortable. So in order to satisfy him, he sent an apprentice to understudy Robert’s most comfortable furniture. The apprentice realized that the preferred piece has a back rest that is slightly reclined at 15o degrees – hardly noticeable. This inclination was carried through in the design and detailing of the building – the ‘saw-band like’ features, edges and other details sufficiently carried through. He also ensured that the client actively participated in the construction with the mindset that he is well familiar and could extend the buildings as he pleases.

Solanke Abiodun is a licensed Architect practising in Lagos. He is the apostle of sustainability, local materials and appropriate technology. Please engage him further on abbeylight@gmail.com.

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