Gabriel wants to be an architect. Admittedly, that brought a smile to my face, not simply because I once wanted to, but because as much as he loves Legos it just makes sense. The boy loves to build.

fatherhood and legos
Let’s be honest, shall we?

Beyond G’s fascination with bricks, I’ve been thinking about houses, moving, remodeling, and the possibilities that are spawned at the intersection of all that. The reasons why I’ve been ruminatin’ along them lines will come into focus soon enough … in later posts.

Usonian Homes in Legoland
But driving back home with him today, somehow the concept of the Usonian home came into the conversation. I think we were talking about designing our own place and how we’d go about it.

When he asked, “What’s a Usonian home?” I tethered the new concept to one he was familiar with: Frank Lloyd Wright. We’d visited Wright’s home and studio in Illinois several years ago (a birthday present to me), and I’d gone through some FLW books of mine with Gabriel.

Usonian? What the @*&# is Usonian?
After I’d explained enough and the 68mph buzz of the traffic filled the lull in conversation, I found myself thinking back to my own study of that distinctly Wright-esque design.

In pursuit of my Communications & Rhetoric degree, I chose the Usonian home as a research topic in an investigative writing class. My professor approved it (thanks, Killian!) and I launched into a series that I (perhaps hoity-toityly) dubbed “Usonian: A Concept of Life, Community, & Growth.”

I won’t bore you with the “mini-mini research paper,” which weighs in at a not-so-mini-for-a-blog-post 1,500+ words. However, what follows is the feature article from that series, written by a decade-younger Derek.

It ain’t published yet, so if you know of anyone who’s looking for some decent writing, please send them my way. (Typos, as originally included, are on the house.)

usonian homes

The Usonian Home: A Cursory Guide to an Architectural Concept
If you’ve ever been involved in the housing market – buying, selling, or fixer-uppering – then the concept of the ranch-style house is not foreign. But few people are aware of the origin of this design.

And what is the origin? In a word: Usonian. More than a short-lived buzzword, Usonian is a concept of affordable, simple housing with a strong visual connection between the interior and the exterior. Striking to those both familiar and unfamiliar with the term, the Usonian concept originates with none other than Frank Lloyd Wright.

Designed to satisfy a modest budget, harmonize with the environment, and please the owners’ aesthetic tastes, Usonian homes shared several characteristics.

  • Unpretentious in size (1,200-1,500 square feet)
  • Designed for the American working class
  • Energy-efficient, using much less energy than a modern home of similar size
  • Constructed for a cost-per-square-foot consistently lower than market price
  • Comprised of modular materials
  • Supplied solar heating during winter, natural sunlight during daytime, and cooling by virtue of the homes’ orientation and landscaping

In addition, many of these homes are, simply put, beautiful. The straight lines, natural materials, and hybrid of function and form that they seem to effortlessly crystallize assure their place in the annals of architecture. They are not as grandiose as other Wright works.

There were only around 100 designed and 60 or so Usonian homes constructed. However, their simple answer to the need for not only affordable, but pleasing working-class housing is indelible on the American landscape: Wright’s Usonian is considered the precursor to the modern-day ranch home. While she stated that belief herself, writer Suzanne Boyle admits it’s “a radical notion coming from an architect born in 1867.”

True enough, such monumental architecture as The Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the Fallingwater residence in western Pennsylvania come quickly to mind at the mention of an eccentric architect named Frank Lloyd Wright. Yet, the Usonian home, the more humble aspect of his genius, reaches American families living in their single-story, 2bed/1bath ranch homes still today.

And that makes the Usonian home an architectural concept that hits closer to home than we think.