When blogger Opinionated Mummy posted that her favourite houses were two by Frank Lloyd Wright, I sat up and paid attention. And when she said one of them was this ‘Usonian’ beauty, I realised all I’d posted of it so far was the floor plan. So let me remedy that now.
What does “Usonian House” mean? Wright designed fifty-seven of these little minimal-cost beauties from about 1936 on, of which exactly twenty-six were built -- each one utilising a similar style and grammar, and one of five different plan types [see page 17 of this pamphlet for a description of these]. In my view, as a whole these houses represent his finest achievement.
They were genuinely “green architecture” before that term became a byword for bullshit instead of the common sense and joy it was intended to be. (Frank Lloyd Wright reckoned that the job of architecture is “to make human life more natural, and nature more humane” – a job description that needs neither fashion nor compulsion to succeed, but which these days is made more difficult by both.)
Built for a college couple in 1939 for $12,000, the Rosenbaum House was one of the first Usonians and, at just 143sqm., one of the simplest – but like all of Wright’s small houses it had the soul of a larger house packed in there.
Usonian scholar John Sergeant calls the Rosenbaum house “the purest example of the Usonian.”
“It incorporates detailing improvements and combines all the standard elements in a mature and spatially varied interior. [It’s use of “nested space,” for example is superb.] Its exterior has an almost overpowering horizontality. The street facade forms a cypress wall from which springs the carport, a 20-ft cantilever itlizing concealed steelwork.
“Ten years after construction, the Rosenbaums had Wright extend the house. It thus becomes the first Usonian to be radically altered, something which owners of Wright houses were loathe to do, but which he himself saw as potentially inherent in an organic building.
“This addition [like the Hanna House addition] backed a second ‘L’ onto the first, containing a Japanese garden. With four sons in the family, extra sleeping accommodations were required. A quiet guest room terminated one arm, and the other contained a family, kitchen, bunk-playroom and utility room with second carport.”
PS: If you’re looking to learn more about these beauties, the two best books to hunt down are: