Famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright first coined the term Usonian during the 1930s. Wright came up with the term to describe his vision for the look and feel of the cities and buildings in the United States, hence the “US” prefix. Wright imagined that these homes would be an affordable but elegant option for the American middle class.
At its lowest, in 1940, the price of a Usonian home was expected to be, according to Wright, only $5000 US Dollars (USD). Compared to the $7500 USD the average home cost at that time, Wright’s Usonian home was quite a bargain. Motivated by the philosophy that these pleasant dwellings would create a happy, satisfied society, Wright designed about fifty of these Usonian houses in 1936. The first was to be built was the Jacobs House, in the mid-19030s. Wright believed that these houses, coupled with widespread ownership of automobiles, would eventually led to the end of urban living.
Each Usonian home had several distinctive design features, engineered by Wright so that a Usonian home could be built in many different types of environments. Each had a concrete slab foundation and was attached to a carport instead of a garage. Usonian homes were one story high. Steam heating was another innovation Wright included in each Usonian home. Steam heating replaced more expensive radiators.
Constructing the exteriors of the houses out of glass and waxed-over brick and wood was another way to keep the cost of the Usonian home down, because paint was unnecessary. A fireplace was the center of each house, intended to be a symbol for the heart of the family who lived inside it. A Usonian home had open interiors divided into two wings. Each wing had a distinct use. The first wing contained the private bedrooms and the second contained public living areas. These two wings were laid out in an L-shape, with a practical kitchens and bath was at the house’s center. The L design left a garden space outdoors.
Perhaps the most famous example of a Usonian home is the Rosenbaum House, built in 1939 and located in Florence, Alabama. Though the Rosenbaums lived in the house their whole lives, the Rosenbaum house is now owned by the city of Florence and is open to the public. The house was designed in the traditional Usonian layout, but the Rosenbaums’ growing clan made an addition necessary in 1948. A guest bedroom and dormitory to accommodate the family’s four sons was designed by Wright and added onto the house.