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A Primitive Prairie: Broadacre City, Usonia, and the Dialectics of American Identity

By Matthew Allen (M2 student) | Abstract: This case study attempts to ascertain the role of the ‘primitive’ in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City idea–an ideal model that inspired the settlement of Usonia in Mount Pleasant, New York. The word “primitive” can sometimes appear to be an ambiguous term used to denote an archaic or basic human condition in terms of social structures or technological capabilities. The term, which was used by architects and theorists such as Gottfried Semper and Le Corbusier, refers to a point of origin or the beginnings of the human condition in time. In the Usonia context, the primitive serves as a means to gauge or reference the architectural past to evaluate contemporary practice and theoretical discourse. From the turn of the century to the postwar period, Wright’s interpretation of the primitive referred to an idealized, utopian notion of a harmonious human coexistence with nature and other members of society.

Allen_figure 1

Figure 1. Usonia Homes Site Plan, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1947, Mount Pleasant, NY.


Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) states in his text The Disappearing City, “our own ideal society, Democracy, was originally conceived as some such organic unity – that is to say – the free growth of many individuals as units in themselves, functioning in a unity of their own making.”1 Within this quote FLW is referring to the social structure fundamental to Broadacre City, a new social order conceived to correct the misguided American identity and planning strategies he felt had contributed to the Great Depression. This concept derived from America’s Jeffersonian agricultural roots, portrays a modern community comprised of citizens each labeled as Individuals living close to the land, free from the congestion characteristic of urban environments. In this setting Wright argues that the character inherent within the Individual necessary to restore American democracy and identity lost during the depression and interwar era, would be instilled within the American citizen. In this context I posit the Individual rooted in the primitive, does not refer to an autonomous member of a nuclear family, but a member of an extended family embedded within a regional community through its organic architecture and planning strategies. Likewise Wright’s communities such as Usonia Homes, a housing cooperative in Mount Pleasant, New York have within its DNA the primitive strains of the Individual, depicting an extended family structure generated through its design.

To fully understand the relationship between the Individual and its place within an extended family, the primitive as an architectural term and concept must be considered. For Wright the primitive served two primary purposes, in one sense offering a means of comparison across geographic regions and times while secondly portraying a utopian image of society. The former implementation acts as a gauge or reference point to assess contemporary conditions with those of the past, while the latter taking a utopian perspective, depicts society harmoniously engaged with the land, resources and their fellow man. In both applications the primitive depicts a human ideal, a condition never truly realized but serves solely as a fictional precedent.2  For Wright, the implementation of both of the primitive’s theoretical concepts enabled his Broadacre City to parallel the Jeffersonian societal model upheld by his transcendentalist  family and mentors. In both utopias, an idealized model citizen is necessary to found and sustain their inherent communal atmosphere; the land-owning farmer in Jefferson’s concept and the Individual in FLW’s Broadacre City.3

For FLW the primitive’s role in his architectural theory and vision for the Individual began during his childhood days spent in the “Valley,” a name he gave to his maternal grandfather Richard Lloyd Jones’ family farm near Spring Green, Wisconsin. In An Autobiography, FLW  fondly  reflects  on the times spent around his mother’s extended family which was to become a physical and mental safe haven for him during the final years of his parent’s troubled marriage when the unity of his immediate nuclear family was disintegrating. Around this event the origins of the Individual as a unit within a larger extended family was conceived.

Wright’s time in the “Valley” after his parents’ divorce was marked with ambivalence, the disheartened “boy,” as Wright refers to himself latches on to his grandfather and uncles, viewing them as father figures. His uncles would go on to teach him the skills possessed by the American farmer while his grandfather instilled within him the notion of “truth against the world,” a philosophy born from the families prideful self-reliant isolation within the Wisconsin countryside. During these early years in the family valley of Wisconsin, Wright came to realize his idealized extended family, which would later inhabit his Broadacre City, would need at a minimum one-acre of land in order to maintain its integrity. Here parallels emerge between the Lloyd-Jones’ cohesive autonomy as a family unit with Wright’s belief that amble space is critical to preserving the identity of the Individual within the democratic order of American society.4 Wright goes on to remark in his autobiography his gratitude towards his mother for bringing him to the “Valley;” here she provided “private schooling for her boy, the Gifts, the household and the transcendentalism” of the Lloyd Jones family; these becoming lifelong influences for Wright and his vision for the Individual.5 For Wright the “Valley” would become a precedent for his Broadacre concept with its organic structures such as the small Lloyd Jones’ family church, his uncle’s gristmill and his aunt’s community school; but also serve – as discussed later in this text – as the site for the Taliesin Fellowship, his sociological laboratory where he would test the ideas described within The Disappearing City.

Broadacre City

Broadacre City aimed to solve the decentralization process created through the financial downturn of the depression era, however as altruistic as Wright’s intentions may have been the concept was never truly realized on a large scale. In turn, the best understanding one has of Broadacre City beyond Wright’s texts are the model he prepared for exhibition at the Museum for Modern Art (MOMA) in 1935 as seen in Figure 2. At the center of the concept and model was the one-acre nuclear family land unit, a module that would then be arranged into residential communities four square miles in size, each containing approximately 1400

families and several schools.6  These family units each possessing a Usonian House, would be loosely aggregated into Wright’s concept based on his theory of organic architecture, a philosophical belief that a holistically designed structure was synonymous with the life of its residents and respective site. For the typical Usonian house, which Wright designed to target middle-class families, would in theory pose less of a burden on the pocketbooks of his clients as Wright saw the citizens of Broadacre City as members of one uniform economic class. Wright’s Usonian houses were designed using mostly modular, prefabricated construction systems to lower labor and material costs, while featuring reduced square footage in comparison to his Prairie style homes.7 In this model Wright allocates the majority of the square footage to the living spaces within the residence now anchored around the kitchen serving as the heart of the home. In turn, the typical Usonian house follows an L-shaped plan, the two wings containing the living and bedroom spaces. This form was then utilized to integrate the residence into its site, creating an outdoor room allowing for many interior, exterior spatial ambiguities.

With this housing type, Broadacre City would then be an environment where architecture, landscape and man would be synthesized with one another; “the outside would come inside and the inside would go out, each seen as part of each other.”8 Thus the Individual would represent one’s respective demographic within Usonia and its social relations at large further suggested by Wright’s belief that any organic architectural condition, as he states, would be reflective of the style, character and identity inherent to the democracy of its place.9 In turn, the Broadacre concept transforms the entire American landscape into an organic representation of mankind’s nature and social condition.10

Allen_figure 2

Figure 2. Broadacre City Model as exhibited at MOMA. Frank Lloyd Wright, 1935, New York, NY.

As Wright fondly looked upon the the Lloyd Jones’ family structure, architecture and organic way of life; the Individual within Broadacre City would be equipped with modern renditions of these same elements through the implementation of emerging technologies. The Broadacre concept was founded upon the rise of technologies such as the automobile, telecommunications and machine manufacturing,  all of which allowed for relatively easy transportation and communication. These elements were integral to the overall planning strategy for Wright as depicted in his MOMA model. As envisioned each Broadacre community would be thoughtfully designed around its site, however without one, Wright resorts to the “neutral universality of geometry” to design and order his model for exhibition.11 Here Wright implements a cruciform highway system to structure the city, inserting the residential zones in the relative center and using the cruciform to arrange functional zoning types around them. These zoning types take on the form of industry, recreation, farms and administration  all within walking distance of neighborhood districts. To note, Wright did choose to include and selectively site vertical towers around the periphery of the community, these building types saved for apartments and various forms of industry.12

To limit the size of each Broadacre City and preserve the pristine horizontality of the surrounding landscape, each city would be limited in size to a 300 mile diameter. Ideally Broadacre City would eliminate the dense urban cities Wright despised, as each community would contain all the devices necessary to sustain itself. In doing so the Individual as central to this planning strategy, would not be subjected to the landlord or the rent of land characteristic of the city and its vertical orientation. Instead “man himself as an organic feature of his own ground” would possess his own house and land.13  Wright elucidates on this concept by expressing “the true center of Usonian democracy, is the individual in his true Usonian family home. In that we have the nuclear building, we will learn how to build.”14 This suggests FLW’s model for the Individual resides within a nuclear household, but by association becomes a fundamental component in a social system of intercommunal relations. The Broadacre citizen, in turn does not exist as an autonomous entity as Wright’s ancestors sought to in the Wisconsin countryside, but becomes a member in a collective body possessing the spirit of democracy. In Wright’s autobiography he comments the spirit fundamentally possessed by each member of the Broadacre utopia would be “one of cooperation… and not selfishness and violence,” cooperation would then become an inherent character of the utopian citizen, where “private human initiative flowers as prosperous public enterprise.”15


Shortly before publishing The Disappearing City in 1932, Wright opened the Taliesin Fellowship, an institution devoted to training aspiring architects. FLW originally sought not only to create this institution as a means to generate cash during the depression era when architectural commissions were scarce, but also as an effort to recreate an image of the Hillside Home School (HHS), an educational facility established earlier by his aunts on the Lloyd-Jones’ family land in 1886. While the HHS had closed decades prior to the founding of Taliesin, Wright chose to reuse many of the schools buildings and adopt its “learning while doing” pedagogy. For Wright, the Taliesin Fellowship was not a school per se, but as he writes its “goal is to create upon the thousand-acre farm and the architectural workshops… a way of life… and establish a convincing example of indigenous American culture.”16 Refusing to be thought of as a teacher, Wright emphasized the institution was created with the intention that participants might learn something by working with him side by side, for he believed one could foster the true character of the Individual through collaborative efforts. Taliesin in turn, would hybridize the communal and extended family structure characteristic of the Lloyd-Jones’ family farm with the learning environment of the HHS, in turn transforming it into a laboratory for Wright to test the social structures and their respective relationships he sought to instill within the Broadacre City concept and the Individual.

Allen_figure 3aAllen_figure 3bFigure 3. Floor Plans, Taliesin East (1928) and Taliesin West (1937). FLW Foundation, Spring Green, WI and Scottsdale, AZ.

Over the course of Wright’s career the Taliesin East and West armatures evolved into perhaps some of the best examples of Wright’s organic architecture representative of the lifestyle synonymous with the one he sought to engender within the American social fabric following the depression years. The Taliesin establishments  vary in subtle ways, primarily in their designs which address their respective landscape, however common threads surface through Wright’s organic architecture that can be used to better understand the translation of architecture to familial structures evident in the Taliesin compounds. Taliesin East located in the prairie landscape characteristic of the Wisconsin countryside is anchored atop a knoll commanding a power view of the farmland below. Wright orients the many building extensions – each evolving over time – around a central garden court; the living, drafting and functional spaces arranged so as to capture views, natural light and prevailing winds conducive to the nature of the spaces within.

Taliesin West located in Scottsdale, AZ is planted within the flat desert landscape as a series of low lying structures forming a garden court with program arranged along its periphery similar to its eastern counterpart in Wisconsin. Through these architectural maneuvers, Wright instinctively unifies the bucolic settings of both sites with the everyday activities experienced by members of this community. As can be seen in Figure 3, the proximity of drafting spaces to the living quarters communally shared by the Fellowship are close suggesting the unification of architectural theory with the Taliesin lifestyle. In organic architecture, circulation becomes reflective of the daily chores and social activities experienced as well; adjacent roads, paths, and terraces line the outer contour of the buildings encouraging group interaction throughout the day while creating spatial transparencies reinforcing Wright’s belief that architecture and the Individual are one and the same.

Furthermore, roof eaves, window glazing and terraces seem to extend the inhabitants mind and body into the landscape. In turn much of the organic architecture evident in Taliesin is rendered as roof planes that merely cover interior space from the elements, suggesting that while the living room for example is protected from the weather, the occupants are never truly indoors but always tied to the land. Lastly, the construction methodologies and material practices implemented at each of these campuses is native to each of their contexts. Taliesin West, framed predominantly out of standardized lumber on rock foundations and Taliesin East, built from locally harvested rock and poured concrete unify the spatial relationships and material palettes implemented through their tectonic and stereotomic practices.17

The ritualistic activities changing with the seasons were documented by the Fellows and neighboring peoples through newspaper columns, personal diaries and first-hand accounts; many of these emphasizing the strenuous yet rewarding lifestyle demanded  of every member. Of the Fellows, Wright would appoint and routinely rotate apprentices, called the “chief of the fortnight,” to direct work on the farm; this system as noted by the Fellows was conceived with the intention of establishing a sense of unity and equality amongst the community. Through this endeavor Wright sought to continually produce the Individual within the social laboratory, “each term for a fortnight… rotating through the group, aimed to instill the significance of their unity,” thus growing one through individual experiences. Through this practice the individual apprentice was able to grasp the relationship of his peers to the group at large and their respective duties whether it be kitchen work, planting, entertainment, or drafting thus preserving the vitality and success of the Fellowship.18

In turn, the realization that Wright’s idealized Broadacre citizen existed not in isolation, but within a larger social order was fundamental to his utopian vision.

The social experimentation at Taliesin was notably influential in many of the lives of the apprentices. “At Taliesin,” a newspaper column published by the Fellows, allowed every member of the community to write and comment on any facet of the social order they wished to. One member noted that each apprentice was privileged this freedom as Wright considered their voice to be a contribution to the community; their individual column discussing what they considered to be “of interest relative to his understanding and comprehension of Wright’s organic way of life and motives behind the group.”19 While many apprentices wrote about chores or recreational activities, apprentice Frederick Langhorst noted in his personal column, “we apprentices like pruning’s of old city growth which are… transplanted into the rich soil of the county… with hope the new shoots we put forth will be healthy and strong, as future limbs for the fresh tree of culture.”20

The remarks such as Langhorst’s, reflecting an appreciation for Taliesin’s organic lifestyle, aim to create an Individual instilled with a sense of integrity and appreciation for the simple yet fulfilling way of life. Each member, “neither forced nor coaxed” into participating in this lifestyle would naturally become a model citizen for Wright’s extended family structure. Other participants in the Taliesin lifestyle noted, that the Fellowship existing not as an educational institution but a model for life, and sought to engender within its members an appreciation for people and a cohesions between individuals. “Our ambitions is to send into production people, or the work of people,” commented a Fellow, “that possess a satisfaction and appreciation for the ideals of family and community, facets native to the simple agrarian ways of life over the characteristics of the dollar and materialism.”21

Emphasizing the inherent value within personal identity and the relationship of the Individual within the community at large was instrumental to understanding Wright’s primitive motives. For Wright the notion of culture and organic architecture became integral themes which he and his apprentices lived upon, thus the relationship of individuals to their community was synonymous with the worker and his labor, the architecture and its place, and the community with its planning strategies. In turn, this philosophy unifies the many artifices of individual identity and collectivism into a cohesive social structure representative of the harmony within the primitive’s concepts. This harmony then surfaces at Taliesin, for Wright – who sought according to his own words – only to work with his apprentices in order to translate his design principles to the next generation, was adopted by the group as more than a mere instructor. Wright as noted by a former apprentice John Rowe, was seen by many of his students, “as their center of inspiration. Life at the Taliesin Fellowship was similar to that of a large family, Mr. Wright as the patriarch with Mrs. Wright at his side to keep things running as smoothly as possible.”22 The relationships generated within the social order resemble those between members of an extended family; the reliance on the collective whole becomes manifest through the dependency members had on one another to keep the Taliesin mechanism functioning.

Allen_figure 4Figure 4. Taliesin Fellows clearing the ground. Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ.

While Wright never explicitly states he saw the Individual as a member of an extended family, it is worth noting the role he played as patriarch or a father figure in the eyes of many of his apprentices. One apprentice noted how the Fellowship would, as one accord, work the vegetable garden after breakfast each morning during the planting months. This scene, similar to the one captured in Figure 4, was noted by a Fellow resembled “a very picturesque image, like those of romantic movies of peasants in a field,” and in turn would render Wright as the patriarch, teaching his apprentices how to pull weeds and check crops while distilling architectural lessons imbued through such acts.23 These first-hand accounts parallel many of Wright’s own childhood experiences recorded in his autobiography, where his mother’s extended family taught him his transcendentalist ideologies and agricultural skills he so fondly held. This connection begins to suggest Taliesin served as a surrogate family to some extent, its members unanimously committed to the lifestyle Wright romanticized for his model Individual.

Finally it is worth noting the Taliesin Fellowship as an extension of Broadacre City and a precursor to Usonia Homes, was not entirely a workers camp devoted to the organic architectural lifestyle. Life at Taliesin was filled with recreation activates, each providing for Wright and his apprentices the opportunity to commune with one another apart from the fields and drafting rooms. For the Fellows, the ritual of afternoon tea, the practice of singing songs, or performing theatrical acts offered the opportunity to release built-up stress through leisure and entertainment.   Taliesin, while existing as an autonomous entity within the countryside, enjoyed minor community interaction through its weekly movie nights. Apprentice Curtis Besinger, who attended the Fellowship for more than 16 years, commented that “if a visitor enjoyed the film shown… he would sometimes stay to talk with others in the audience, where Mr. Wright would then ask them to stay for dinner or tour the grounds.”24 Despite Wright’s cantankerous nature and poor reputation amongst the Spring Green community largely due to his debts, the willingness to socialize and entertain visitors demonstrates the Fellowships desire to share its meager yet wholesome lifestyle with those interested. Their existence was not merely to enjoy their interests in isolation, but when possible share them with the world in hopes of their organic lifestyle taking off elsewhere.

Usonia Homes

David and Priscilla Henken, a young couple who saw Wright’s Broadacre City model on display in the Museum of Modern Art in 1940 were immediately drawn to the idea of the Broadacre project and organic lifestyle. The couple moved to Wisconsin where David apprenticed under Wright in order to experience firsthand the lifestyle native to the Broadacre concept. Over the course of David’s two year stay he began to devise a housing community that would possess the character and spirit inherent in Wright’s utopia. In turn Usonia Homes located in Mount Pleasant, New York was born. For the Henken’s and other families interested in the Usonian dream, the post-war building market led them to pursue a cooperative structure which offered a framework not only to finance such an ambitious project, but also to bypass many of the political, racial, and ethnic differences and work towards a common goal.25 In turn the cooperative owned all land and residences, each member possessing a 99 year lease for a one-acre parcel of land with a single-family house either designed or approved by Wright following his Usonian architectural style. The cooperative also mandated that for each acre devoted to family housing, another be added for community purposes.26  Thus a 100-acre wooded neighborhood, whose master plan was designed by Wright, as can be seen in Figure 1, contained only 47 circular one-acre housing plots. Within each tangential space created by the circular lots, Wright planned spaces to serve as playgrounds, swimming pools, gardens, small farms, ball courts and community centers.27

The role of the Individual in Usonia takes two paths, one tracing the origins and physical construction of Usonia; the later seen in the community atmosphere exhibited in contemporary times. As a cooperative, the collective agreement of the many families who bonded together in pursuit of a common dream, necessitated risk and sacrifice on many levels. The Individual as member of an extended family naturally flourished in such an environment. Mortgages were impossible to achieve in early Usonia’s history due to the involvement with Wright (regarded as a controversial figure), the difficulty reselling modern homes and the frequent failure of housing cooperatives. This required the founding families of Usonia Homes to collect 120,000 dollars cash in 1948 to build the first five houses out of their own pocket as a pilot project.28 In turn as early Usonians remember, the construction of these houses almost collapsed the cooperative. Post war building prices had quadrupled; the construction estimates based on interwar prices jeopardized the community’s ability to get off the ground.

Allen_figure 5Figure 5. Usonians watch the start of the first foundation work. Pedro Guerrero, 1948, Mount Pleasant, NY.

However the model Individual surfaces within the citizens of Usonia Homes as Roland Reisley, an early member notes, “many Usonians were commuting to the woods, rain or shine to help construction. They knew they had to combine forces to ensure the success of the project and keep costs down.” Reisley also notes, “Usonians who could hardly afford professional builders, turned cooperative construction into social occasions,” as captured in Figure 5.29  The Resnick family, the first to move into their home, lacked many amenities however “it was a stage at which Usonia became a community. Once we had settled in our homes, there was a good deal of visiting among us and as I now think of it as an obvious sense of trust. Extended family was indeed family and trust did abound among us,” remarks early Usonian Julia Brody.30

Here the Individual becomes evident not only through the joint investment building the early Usonia development, but also through the integration of Wright’s Usonian architecture and organic philosophy into the neighborhood. The majority of the homes in Usonia were either designed by Wright or his apprentices, however the entire community adhered to the organic architectural vision. Homes were designed along modular grids, limiting building costs and allowing for relatively easy construction  given the level of unskilled labor available at the time. Designers such as David Henken, who led the communities design board, championed the inclusion of elements such as natural light, articulated views and selectively placing the structure on its site. These strategies guaranteed the pristine wooded landscape would be preserved while allowing the trees sacrificed for the communities cause be reintroduced into their construction  usually as siding. Lastly through Wrights master planning strategies community roads and lots were designed in contrast to the American and European development models typical of the time. “Zeilenbau –block housing laid out in lines- prominent in Europe during the early 20th century favored orthogonal community design,” however Wright chose to treat the community landscape in a romantic fashion by organically winding the roads along prevailing topography and around dense vegetative areas, creating a more continuous organic experience for the residents.31

The second manifestation of the Individual surfaces in the community atmosphere the residents of Usonia enjoy in some manner to this day. Characteristic of all communities  are civic projects aimed at improving their environment, however the manner in which Wright’s organic architecture and spatial planning influenced the individuals who participate in these activities is unlike other housing developments, for this environment facilitated group contact. Communal spaces were desired as Usonians note, to share with one another the mutually held dream of life in the country. 32 While community homogeneity in terms of race, religion and political views is not present as Usonians have championed the integration of new residents from diverse backgrounds throughout the years, the salubrious atmosphere of Usonia is sustained by the group’s collective investment in its neighborhood and cooperative structure. Usonia’s first community project beyond the construction of its single-family residences was the establishment of the Orchard Brook Pool, a man made pond featuring a small sandy beach. Other projects to follow, built in the tangential spaces designed by Wright, were tennis courts and playgrounds. In the creation of all community  spaces a Usonian states, “we did it like we did everything, we got together and formed a group.”33

This group mentality is also present in the joint interest and investment in Usonia’s children; every month the community collectively buys presents for its children having birthdays that month. These activities have been observed in studies where nuclear families have been noted to rely upon extended family members, particularly kin such as grandparents in raising children. This structure termed cooperative breeding is typical in subsistence based communities. Studies also show as families move towards wage-based societies, they now rely on non-kin based help to raise their children; “such help, whether purchased in the market or provided by the state, may be less reliable, of lower quality, or less readily available” compared to help from kin.34 Here in Usonia families living far from their extended biological families seek to establish close relationships and community cohesiveness in hopes of establishing similar extended family structures native to agrarian communities. Not only do these structures offer support for parents raising their children, but instill within children a deeper sense of belonging and community. Thus as reflected upon by Amy Resnick, who grew up in Usonia, “every Usonian child knew the location of every refrigerator in virtually every home.” Another Usonian remarks, “Usonia raised me, taught me powerfully. It is not a thing I did or place I live…Usonia is a spirit, an eternal state of being.”35

Allen_figure 6Figure 6. Aerial views of Usonia. Westchester Department of Planning, 1947, 1963 and 2000, Mount Pleasant, NY.

However despite the fond memories amongst the multigenerational residents, it is no true utopia. As the primitive states, it offers a nostalgic reference to a fictional society only. Usonia like all communities  and extended families has had its own problems, negative criticism from the outside world, and the faults behind Wright’s Broadacre concept extensively documented. For the Broadacre concept only addresses middle-class Americans, as Wright seemed to ignore the poor, however to note Wright did envision Broadacre as containing only one socioeconomic class. Other issues state the social structure is anachronistic in that it was conjured from Wright’s idealized single-family house of the 1880’s and focused solely on heterosexual, nuclear family dwellings.36 Usonians also remember the early years when the predominantly conservative Mount Pleasant community alienated them, largely due to their isolation in their wooded community; the community referring to the as “liberals in the woods.” However some say the isolation by the outside community was critical to the group’s success and made it stronger.37 And of course the most startling detail was the community’s decision to remove the Henken family, the founders of Usonia, from its civic order, for reasons not quite known, after having lived there several years. The Henkens were allowed to remain within the community but ostracized from group communal decisions. Despite these dysfunctional tendencies, native to all extended families, Usonia remains a relatively cohesive community. Residents today do state there is an absence to Usonian patriotism by newer members, as they failed to share in the older generations struggles to make agreements, finance and build the development which originally bonded the community so tightly.38

However as the neighboring Mount Pleasant community has transformed from rural farmland as seen in the left most image in Figure 6, to a suburban environment typical of America today, Usonia has remained unchanged, a defining factor in the communities unity, owed largely to the organic architectural vision of Wright. To date as residents of Usonia Homes reflect on the accomplishment of establishing a housing cooperative based on FLW’s principles. In Usonia everyone lived both a private life within the seclusion of their wooded one-acre lot, while also living in close enough proximity to have personal interactions and relationships with everyone in the community, a feature stemming from Wright’s early years within the family valley of Wisconsin.39

FLW who was raised and practiced architecture on the grounds of his mother’s family farm, conceived a utopian vision for an American society rooted in the Jeffersonian origins of the nation. For Wright the Individual as key component in his utopia, would require the mutual belonging and support of his nuclear family and community beyond, thus establishing an extended family structure. With this ideal in mind, Wright experimented with this model at the Taliesin Fellowship and later implemented in Usonia Homes. Here the primitive strains of humanity at harmony with their surroundings and peers is evident through the community atmosphere and joint investment in social well-being. While the Broadacre concept never materialized on its intended scale, the Individual and his one-acre lot exist as the heart of Usonian order, demonstrating Wright’s vision for the modern American landscape.


1 Wright, Frank Lloyd. “The Disappearing City.” In The Essential Frank Lloyd Wright, edited by Bruce Brooks  Pfieffer, 235-275. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008, p. 241.

2 Forty, Adrian. “Primitive: The Word and Concept.” In Primitive: Original Matters in Architecture, edited by Jo Odgers, Flora Samuel and Adam Sharr, 3-14. New York: Routledge, 2006, p.8.

3 Morton and Lucia White. The Intellectual Versus  the City: From Thomas Jefferson to Frank Lloyd Wright. Cambridge: Harvard University Press and The MIT Press, 1962, p.13.

4 Fisherman, Robert. Urban Utopias in the Twentieth  Century: Ebenezer  Howard,  Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1982, p. 100.

5 Wright, Frank Lloyd. An Autobiography originally published in 1932. London: Quartet Books, 1977, p.37.

6 Marty, Myron. Communities of Frank  Lloyd Wright: Taliesin and Beyond. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2009, p. 160.

7 Alofsin, Anthony. “Broadacre City – Ideal and Nemesis” American Art  25, no. 2 (2011): 21-25

8 Wright, “Disappearing City,” p.285.

9 Madden, Edward. “Transcendental Influences on Louis H. Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.” Transactions of the Charles  S. Pierce Society 31, no. 2 (1995): 286-321

10 Wright, “Disappearing City,” p. 256.

11 Johnson, Donald Leslie, “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Community Planning,” Journal of Planning History 3, no. 1 (2004): 2-28

12 Johnson, p. 20

13 Wright, “Disappearing City,” p. 253.

14 Wright, Frank Lloyd. The Living City. New York: Horizon Press, 1958, p.207.

15 Wright, “Autobiography,” p. 598-595.

16 Besinger, Curtis. Working with Mr. Wright: What It Was Like. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 111.

17 Frampton, Kenneth. Studies of Tectonic Culture. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001, p. 93-97.

18 Henning, Randolf, comp., At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship 1934-1937. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992, p. 25-26.

19 Henning, p.36

20 Henning, p. 36.

21 Henning, p. 24.

22 Marty, p. 115.

23 Besinger, p. 81.

24 Besinger, p. 86.

25 Reisley, Roland. Usonia, New York: Building a Community with Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2001, p. 4.

26 Henken, David. “Usonia Homes: A Summing Up,” In Realizations of Usonia: Frank  Lloyd Wright in Westchester. Westchester: The Hudson River Museum, 1985, p. 14.

27 Henken, Priscilla. Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012, p. 214.

28 Beard, Rick. “Introduction” In Realizations  of Usonia: Frank Lloyd Wright in Westchester. Westchester: The Hudson River Museum, 1985, p. 9.

29 Henken, “Taliesin Diary,” p. 39.

30 Reisley, p. 45.

31 Alofsin, p. 22

32 Reisley, p. 109-110.

33 Reisley, p. 110.

34 Bengtson, Vern. “Beyond the Nuclear Family: The Increasing Importance of Multigenerational Bonds.” Journal of Marriage and Family 63,(Feb.  2001): 103.

35 Reisley, p. 115.

36 Alofson, p. 23

37 Reisley, p. 123

38 Reisley, p. 124

39 Reisley, p. 121.


Alofsin, Anthony. “Broadacre City – Ideal and Nemesis” American Art  25, no. 2 (2011): 21-25, http://www.jstor.org.librarylink.uncc.edu/stable/10.1086/661965 (accessed May 8, 2015).

Beard, Rick. “Introduction” In Realizations of Usonia: Frank  Lloyd Wright in Westchester. Westchester: The Hudson River Museum, 1985, p. 9.

Bengtson, Vern. “Beyond the Nuclear Family: The Increasing Importance of Multigenerational Bonds.” Journal of Marriage and Family 63,(Feb. 2001): 103, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.00001.x/full (accessed April 5, 2015).

Fisherman, Robert. Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1982, p. 100.

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