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Usonia Wright Houses

Usonia assimilates with the landscape to sponsor a sense of unity and cooperative living. Diverging from suburban tract development, Usonia is the neighborhood realization of Frank Lloyd Wright’s concept to create a harmonious balance between the natural landscape and man-made structures within it.

6 Usonia Road, David Henken, Usonia
The angular home at 6 Usonia Road was designed by David Henken to features sharp corners as a method to fabricating indoor/outdoor connections. Photo courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence.

A pioneer of urban planning and architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright began envisioning the concept of Usonia homes as a charming, affordable house design for the American public. He sought to establish a new relationship between residents and their surroundings. Since the mid-1930s, Wright had taken on only single residence commissions with Usonia homes popping up in the Midwest and California. It wasn’t until David Henken, an aspiring architect, came across Wright’s work at an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art did the Usonia concept morph into an organizational structure for a residential community. Henken was captivated by the ideas expressed in Wright’s work and together with his wife Prescilia moved to learn and train at Taliesin, Wright’s studio in Wisconsin. After returning from Taliesin, the Henkens set out to find like-minded young couples to establish a cooperative with Wright at the helm.

Overview map of Usonia neighborhood

In 1945, 100-acres of wooded land in Pleasantville, New York was purchased to establish a new community named Usonia. In contrast to rectilinear suburban development, Wright would master plan the new neighborhood with organic characteristics and a communal spirit. Wright laid out a road system to preserve the backwoods setting and maneuvered through the development to retain existing trees and shield homes from the street. Housing plots were circular with minimal fencing to encourage property to flow into one another. Wright would design three homes within the community and approved the architectural plans for another 44 designed by his disciples including Aaron Resnick, Paul Schweikher, Theodore Dixon Bower, Ulrich Franzen, and Kaneji Domoto. Henken was one of the most prolific designers of Usonia homes having designed 13 homes including residences for his family and his parents.

26 Usonia Road, Kaneji Domoto, Usonia
Arranged around a stone hearth, the passive solar home at 26 Usonia Road was designed by Kaneji Domoto. Photo courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence

Each Usonia house was site-specific and bespoke to the homeowner, yet followed a similar design vocabulary prescribed by Wright. The Usonia houses tended to be small, single-story dwellings with flat roofs, large cantilevered overhangs, and built utilizing local materials. Typically l-shaped with a cantilevered carport, Usonia houses have a protected front, while the rear opens up to the outside with large windows, terraces and patios. Designed to coexist with the land, Usonia is noted for its early environmental design such as clerestory windows to support daylighting and cantilevered overhangs for passive heating and cooling. Only a handful of the original residents still live in Usonia. While homeownership may have changed, an appreciation for Wright’s design and a desire to live in tandem with the environment still proliferates throughout the community.

11 Orchard Hill Road, Usonia, Frank Lloyd Wright
The house at 11 Orchard Hill Road also known as "Toyhill" was one of three homes design by Frank Lloyd Wright in Usonia. Photo courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence

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