"I believe in God, only I spell it Nature. Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you"
- Frank Lloyd Wright
In 1945, a rural tract was purchased by a cooperative of young couples from New York City, looking to flee to the suburbs. They were able to enlist Frank Lloyd Wright to build his “Broadacre City concept.” Usonia Homes is a planned community in Pleasantville, N.Y. Wright designed three of these homes himself and approved of the other 44, which were designed by several architects that were either protégés, heavily influenced by him or apprentices -- Paul Schweikher, Theodore Dixon Bower, Ulrich Franzen, Kaneji Domoto, Aaron Resnick and David Henken. Fifty Usonian-style houses, with much variety within the common theme, are spread around 100 acres of woodland, with common land and facilities shared as a cooperative.
The layout of the neighborhood was planned by Wright in a circular manner, which preserved most of the original trees and "encouraging the flow of the land". The balance of the homes were designed to be in the modern, organic style ordained by Wright.
Benjamin Henken house 1949**
“The Usonian houses would relate directly to nature, emerging from the earth, as it were, unimpeded by a foundation, front porch, downspouts, protruding chimney, or distracting shrubbery. Surrounded by ample space, they should open up to the elements in contrast to traditional, white colonial boxes arbitrarily punctured with a scatter of windows and doors. The materials of the Usonian house were to be recognized as nature's own: wood, stone, or baked clay in the form of bricks, and glass curtain walls, clerestories, and casement windows sheltered under overhanging soffits. Aesthetically as well as structurally, the Usonian House was meant to introduce a new, modern standard of form following function in home building.”1
These houses attempted to produce a well-designed, low-cost dwelling that average Americans could buy. The original assumtion were that these house would sell at $5,000, rather like many construction projects, they went over budget and cost about $10,000 each.
“His aim was to develop a truly American, and or as he later renamed Usonian, way of life which was not an imitation of European counterparts to foster creation. He was not entirely against the facets of the existing city, such as the skyscraper, but shunned the notion of large masses of them interspersed by the concrete jungle. Rather, he anticipated fewer of such structures within a open, beautifully landscaped terrain. There was a time when centralization was necessary, but with electrification, mechanical mobilization, and organic architecture there is no longer any difference between a few blocks and a few miles.” 2
“The simple nature of these homes, dedicated by Wright to the citizens of the United States, represented a reverence to organic life centering around individuality and family life. The homes gave the individual a freedom from others, especially since the 761 dwellings in Broadacre City were spatially placed in the model's four square miles. This distanciation of homes in the model city gave it a very low population density. But, the distance between the citizens was bridged by modern technology, namely, the growth of a system of telecommunications (i.e. the telephone) and the prevalence of the automobile. As telephone lines connected people communicatively, the highway (via the automobile) connected people spatially. Another important feature of Broadacre City is Wright's zoning of different institutions in conjunction with "activity and function". For example, the "Community Center" comprised Broadacre City's entertainment facilities ranging from art to athletics. Also of importance was the social gathering space that consisted of a public arena, a public announcement structure, a religious building, and various other institutions that brought the people of city together to share common experiences.”3
The common area to Usonia and a few of these residential woodland landscapes, most notably the Reisley house were designed by A.E. Bye. “An advocate of the natural over the formal since the 1950's, Mr. Bye was one of the first to promote the use of native plant materials and the restoration of native woodlands even as other well-known practitioners were installing vast, flat-plane lawns in their translations of corporate modernism into minimalist landscapes.”4
1. Rosenbaum, Alvin. Usonia: Frank Lloyd Wright's Design for America
2. Frank Lloyd Wright: His Life and Work
3 -Zygas, K. Paul, ed. Frank Lloyd Wright: The Phoenix Papers.
4. -N.Y.Tmes/Obits**images from Modernism magazine