Meet Kevin Hogan
A single dad, Realtor, music aficionado, gourmet cook, University of Maryland grad who is intelligent, honest and fun. I love technology, black and white movies, my kids, and making buying or selling a home easy for people. Read more >>
Usonian is an acronym for United States of North America and was coined by Frank Lloyd Wright. Using elements of the prairie style he helped to popularize, these houses were a reaction to the economic collapse America experienced during the Great Depression. The simple design is reinforced by its construction methods and inexpensive materials. If you are not familiar with this design type, after seeing it you are able to understand its place in American architecture. There is a direct line from the prairie style of the early 20th century to the ranch style homes of the 1950s. These are some of the basic architectural features you find in Usonian style houses.
The first thing you notice is the use of a car port instead of a garage. It is one of the many innovations developed specifically for Usonian homes. The rest of the exterior is plain, employing a flat roof with a cantilevered overhang that reinforces the clean horizontal lines of the house. They were often L-shaped with a garden placed in the space created by the perpendicular wings. Board-and-batten siding is another common feature, along with walls of windows.
You see two types of windows in Usonian design, clerestory and walls of windows. The clerestory windows were used to provide natural light. They were installed along the inside roof line by utilizing a transom to seperate the window from the wall. The walls of windows provide a blurring of indoor and outdoor space. Usually in the rear of the house, along one side of the L-shape, you are able to view the garden from the comfort of your living room.
With no attic or basement, the open floor plan provided for a cozy, but spacious interior. The kitchen is centralized, if you are cooking you are able to see the living room or back yard. The Usonian style has three distinct areas, a living room, several small bedrooms and a kitchen-dining space. Some examples also feature modular or built-in furnishings and all are decorated in warm colors and textiles.
Many of the techniques used in the construction of Usonian homes were revolutionary at the time. You can see some of these ideas still employed in modern construction's attempts to build sustainable housing. All materials were natural like brick, wood and concrete. Since they had no basement and were only one story structures, a concrete slab was used as the foundation. Piping was laid before the concrete was poured and it provides radiant steam heat for the home. The walls were constructed by using concrete blocks, steel rods and grout covered with a waterproof membrane. This membrane was then covered by a board and batten wall.
Usonian homes were designed to be for middle-class folks. You found form and functionality in a reduced footprint, so you could build on a small or uneven lot without much trouble. The expansive design of the prairie style is pared down to some basic elements and then enhanced by innovative construction techniques. Not as widespread as its predecessor, or as widely known as the ranch style it inspired, these homes are works of art and much as a place to live.
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