Rosenbaum Usonian
photo by Matt Taylor
August 6, 2005
What Makes an Usonian an Usonian?
This house was built over 65 years ago and expanded, by Mr. Wright, 57 years ago. It is a classic Usonian. This paper will explore what features make up the core Usonian principles and practices. My purpose is to understand these in context of my intent to recreate the Usonian practice in a modern context. The Usonians, like any work of architecture, had their quirks and flaws - yet, I consider them to be the most perfect solution to an elusive and difficult class of design challenges, that of an affordable middle class home that is also a masterpiece of the architectural art.
The Usonian concept is first and foremost a concept of a way of living. This is what made them unique. This way of living will not directly translate into today’s world although there is much of it that remains relevant. In fact, it is that which makes the Usonian life style seem old fashioned that needs to be considered the most. Each aspect, however, has to be rethought and recreated. I am certain that the present rejection of the Usonian Houses, on one hand, countered by intense interest on the other, is precisely an “argument” over these unstated values. It is with this subject that we should begin.
To understand the issue, I suggest an experiment. Take a vacation in an Usonian - there are several that can be rented - and leave the artifacts of the so-called modern life behind. Take books and good music and wean yourself, for a period, from the constant assault of media and the hyper connectivity of our time. It will not take long for you to establish a new base line and to understand the distinction between what Wright conceived of as a way of life and what the modern world of consumerism wants you to believe is necessary for your well being and happiness. There is great value to be derived from the choices we have today. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with global connectivity, hyper-fast media responses, the many products and services to be found in a sophisticated global marketplace. There is a problem in how most people employ these tools and artifacts, or more precisely, let these use them. The problem is not the choices - the problem is that few actually have the capability to choose.
The vast majority of North Americans alive today grew up in a mass market society and know of no other circumstance. The vast majority of modern, “affluent” people do little for themselves. They exist in an over-specialized economy. They provide a narrow, necessarily interconnected to be useful, service for others - for pay - while out sourcing most of their own lives to others. This appears to be efficient. However, if this system fails due to an economic down turn, an attack or a major storm then millions of people become helpless “victims” that cannot provide for themselves. If a shift in the economy means that an individuals narrow service is no longer needed in the array of services that actually produces something of value, the once-provider has to re-tool - often without warning or support. Our economy now has millions that have not been able to do this - some for generations creating a permanent under-class.
Much of modern living has become vicarious - failure, collapse and suffering, however, remains personal and real. Media is the main attractor and provider of this vicarious existence. The human mental architecture is particularly attracted to media. Few are aware of how it dominates their lives. Just as in eating, and almost every habit one has, periodic fasting is the only cure. The boundary of one’s personal living and working space must be the threshold that only the qualified can pass. One cannot be a citizen of the world if they are not first a citizen of their intimate private and community space. To Wright, Usonia was a community of sovereign individuals and families living with a measure of self sufficiency, independent and free with beauty, with Nature. To him this was the foundation of democracy.
One’s habitat is a sanctity. It reflects personal values and choices. It should ground a person, a family and their immediate community in the reality of their self-aware, deliberate, self-chosen values. This grounding must be in both the physical and metaphysical aspects of life. It provides immediate feedback of these values to the day-to-day experience of living. It is the base, the living habit, of a human existence and life. From this base, the vast array of choices a global economy has to offer can be tasted, selected and, if useful, incorporated into one’s life. If the entire variety of this larger system penetrates the sanctity of the home, unfiltered, unevaluated and consequently overwhelms it, the necessary base for living and legitimate action is destroyed and choice actually diminishes. One becomes a creature of a stimulus matrix; not comprehending, not autonomous, not thinking, not acting - an economic robot.
The act of creating an environment is the art of selecting the world you will live and work in. This means you decide what you see, hear, smell, sense. I requires that you select the work of others that you choose to surround yourself with. This kind of environment cannot be bought. You have to invest more than what money can purchase. It is not a matter of taste. It cannot be had by selecting this and that from an array of home magazines and the latest decorator fads. You decide how much of your inter world is expressed and how much of the outer world you allow into your sanctum - and under what terms. You decide (within your means) how much you will spend on this place you have created for your intimate family and self. Your environment is your values writ large. Other than your personal creative work and your family/community interaction, it is the greatest concrete expression of you life that you will ever make.
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GoTo: American Myth - the Flaw

Matt Taylor
August 7, 2005


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posted: August 7, 2005

revised: October 3, 2005
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(note: this document is about 20% finished)

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Copyright© Matt Taylor 2005

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