When we think about the connections we have to nature, there are plenty of complex systems that have been explained in a variety of ways which try to better illustrate our indirect impacts on the world that surrounds us. Whether in classes, or sustainability campaigns, or insightful posts previously made on this blog, there exists an effort to uncover linkages to our environment to which we may be otherwise in the dark.
These paths of thinking have helped me better conceptualize what effects we have as organisms and what role we play in a greater ecosystem, but I also think there’s a benefit to starting from a surface view.
Let’s take our direct contact to this planet as a starting point. What is more tangible than our homes? The constructed places in which we make our own declaration of space?
Frank Lloyd Wright was a pioneer of architecture, a visionary designer, and was arguably an early leader of the ’sustainable architecture’ movement, albeit under a different name - during his time, Wright proclaimed himself an educator of the style “organic architecture”, which he himself was the founder of as a field of study.
The buildings first thought of at the mention of his name are likely those best-known and frequently pictured on coffee table books and postcards. There’s the Fallingwater structure in Pennsylvania - so-named as it partially reaches out and over a waterfall. Or the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, for which Wright made the housing of numerous art pieces a statement in artistic vision itself. Then there's Taliesin, Wright’s own private residence, stretching along the particularly peaceful landscape of small village Spring Green in Wisconsin.
In these pieces, Wright’s early commitment to the reconciliation of artificial structure with the environment around is seen. But this underlying promise to a respect of environment persists even in his final projects - in particular, Usonia.
The Usonian houses and Usonian architecture movement were thought of initially by Wright in reaction to the Depression, which Wright saw as a swinging point in architecture, demanding a future in which the design of homes would need to reflect post-crisis concerns. A future which would necessitate the convergence of utilitarian, simplistic design and the principles of organic architecture.
The original Usonian homes were built by Wright, later on directly disseminating into the work of his students, and with time, reaching further on in later inspired works by those who had only ever had the chance to study Wright in reading.
Characteristic of the Usonian homes is a smaller structure, with an emphasis on natural building materials. Windows often extended the length of walls. Floors in Usonian homes were typically concrete - a practical choice, as they would retain heat in the winter and keep cool in the summer. Kitchens were small, and the houses themselves were often but one story.
Unique communities were built in the areas wherein multiple Usonian homes were situated. There were no fences, and land plots were circular rather than square. These elements, along with the opportunity to be custom-built a house by Frank Lloyd Wright himself, peaked the interest of those who would become future Usonian homeowners. Many of them would stay in these Usonian communities well into old age. Roland Reisley, a resident of one of the original Usonian homes built by Wright himself, said of his home “I came to realize after some years living here that there’d not been a day in my life when I didn’t see something beautiful."
Wright’s work never stopped at “working with” the land. It instead extended beyond, acting itself as an ode to embracing the space granted to us.