Saturday, 19 November 2005

Frank Lloyd Wright: Broadacre City

"Urban sprawl is one of the greatest enemies of good urban design," say some. I don't agree. Lack of choice created by a lack of freedom is the greatest enemy -- 'sprawl' gives people choices: the alternative is mandatory slums. Frank Lloyd Wright's 1932 concept of the 'Broadacre City' -- while somewhat nebulous, and by no means a libertarian vision; it includes for example the idea of benevolent architectural dictators -- shows at least that sprawl is not the enemy. Lack of choice, and lack of imagination are. Wright's concept of the 'disappearing city' represented an abundance of choices of how to live.

"Wright's pattern is closer to today's sprawl than it is to a city, but it is not the same as today's sprawl."

There should be as many kinds of houses as there are kinds of people and as many differentiations as there are different individuals. A man who has individuality (and what man lacks it?) has a right to its expression in his own environment. Wright 1908

[The houses in Broadacre City] would be especially suited in plan and outline to the ground, where they would make more of gardens and fields and nearby woods than now, insuring perpetual unity in variety. Wright 1932, 8-9

And here's something exciting: the good people at Columbia University have put together a series of very impressive digital images and movies of the Tower in a setting that includes some of Frank's other 'Usonian' designs. Visit and download, and live in Frank's world for a few minutes.

Read here about Frank's 'Broadacre City' concept - everything the planners hate -- and for Frank's own drawings which he prepared to indicate what such a place might be like, go here, and then scroll down past the sc-fi and Buckminster Fuller pictures. The concept sketches are almost a 'stamp album' of Wright designs.


  1. A very interesting post. Sprawl is not bad. 70 percent of us grew up in one. Generalizing things like saying sprawl is bad would not be fair, because all developments and situations are not the same. However, sprawl does not give much choice in general. Sprawl has caused our cities to be decentralized and we've become dependent on our cars. Frank's romantic vision has become our living to speak.

  2. I respectfully disagree. Sprawl homogenizes our environment around the wholly American ideal of convenience. We have our lovely plastic houses built down the road from any number of outlet stores and strip malls, all of which sell to us a wide assortment of things we do not need, and whose existence is predicated entirely on our want of them. Of course, we don't want them until we're told to want them, as advertisers aim to invent the need for iPods, rotisseries and sneakers with lights in the heels.

    If a person wants to live in such an area - a place that I had the misfortune of growing up in - that is their choice. Can't blame a guy for being boring.

    But the environmental effects of such desire - New Jersey, for example, which exists in a state of perpetual, inescapable drought due to our having paved over nearly everything in sight, effectively denying what fertile ground there is from absorbing rainfall - are dire.

    I'm all for freedom - and am attracted to some libertarian ideas... but we are not alone on this planet. Our individual desires, and carelessness in achieving them, have, are, and will continue to plague our societies and our ecosystem.

    We're going to buy ourselves into extinction. And, to be honest, I can't see how that's a bad thing.

  3. That sprawl provides choices or freedoms not present in proposed "smart growth" regulations is a mis-conception. Sparawl of today is the law, it is regulated, and every site plan most everywhere in this country is scrutized meticulously in planning commission meetings for conformity to the basic original vision of the anti-city: Large lot single-family (crappy) homes, strip commercial centers, and isolated work pods all accessible only to those without accessiblity issues of any kind, a driver's license, and enough money to own and maintain an automobile. We are all prisoners locked behind the wheels of our cars with no choice in the matter.

  4. Well written, eugenicsbeginswithyou. Furthermore, anyone that suggests dense city dwellings are mandatory slums has clearly never seen a city. My neighborhood is beautiful and I share walls with my neighbors! When the suburbanites become over-leveraged with debt and can no longer afford fuel for their cars, then we'll see where the slums occur. At least poor people in cities can walk somewhere. Last year more than 50% the of the nation's poor resided in the suburbs, a first, and the percentage grows.

  5. ¿hay algún libro de referencia para BROADACRE CITY?

  6. eugenicsbeginswithyou, why does it always seem to be the environmentalist misanthropes who see extinction as the best option for humanity, and also the ones who advocate that government tell people how to run their lives?

    People want choice, and most people prefer to live in single family dwellings and drive cars, and they universally do so whenever they can afford to. For some real perspective on sprawl refer to Professor Robert Bruegman's writings such as
    Or Randall O'toole - Why Government Planning Always Fails -

    Environmental arguments against "sprawl" make no sense when we'll eventually be driving hybrid or electric vehicles one day. There's nothing stopping people from building LEED housing today while providing massive carbon sinks in all the greenspace. Technology and markets will make it feasible to go off grid which makes more sense in low density areas anyway. Already happening in sunny California where you can lease solar panels and sell back the electricity.

    With all the cities passing bylaws allowing beekeeping, chicken coops and trendy interest in growing your own food, makes you wonder if all the urban densification hipsters don't secretly yearn for some low density, greener living.

  7. for the record, governent subsidies to pave the public right of ways skews the true cost of suburban living. zoning for low density is decidely in line with government central planning. everything about the suburbs is pro big government.


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