22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
"Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian Houses" is well-presented introduction to an important phase in the career of this legendary architect. Author John Sergeant has combined an insightful text with detailed floor plans and photographs of the Usonian homes themselves. The result is a book that serves equally well for light browsing and intense study.
The book is not without flaws. Some of the floor plans are so tiny that they are difficult to analyze. And the floor plans have no captions labeling each individual room; the reader is left to decipher the plans on his/her own. But these drawbacks aside, this is an excellent work.
Sergeant has truly captured the innovative power of Wright's genius. Look at the clustered circles of the Jester house project, the interlocking hexagons of the Bazett house, or the bold "solar-hemicycle" of the second Jacobs house, and you will get a sense of Wright's remarkable vison. Virtually every page brings a stunning image or insight. If you are fascinated by Wright's work in home architecture, you will love this book.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2002
Sergeant has made a wonderful and complete effort to balance both the technical information about the famous Usonian houses with the very concept of Usonia and how Wright envisioned the possibilities of what organic architecture could become. At the risk of becoming too reverent to the architect, the book attempts to cover Wright's somewhat anachronistic philosophical views as well as paints an idealised picture of the man. The book is lacking greatly in visual aids. The author takes pains to ensure that the ingenuity and the complexity of the design and construction of the homes is understood, but this is backed up with poor illustration. The homes are displayed in black and white photos that lack the neccessary detail needed to understand what their literary descriptions mean. The floor plans are small, undimensioned, and are not clearly captioned. This coupled with close in photography of specific features of the homes without showing the whole, is frustrating. The literature is complete and well ordered, but a reader just entering the realm of FLLW would be well advised to find a more picturesque book on this topic before diving into Sergeant's text.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 1999
This is a great book for anyone who is considering an architect for a new home, or is a Wright fan. This book comprehensively discusses and illustrates a type of house design that is actually affordable in this day, unlike many of Wright's more famous Prairie designs (which preceded the buildings examined here). This is the only book on Usonians I know that deeply analyzes and lets you see how Wright's magic was worked, although that can become rather technical in nature. But if you are planning a home, and want it to be an exhilarating work of art, I think you need these details badly. About the only thing I didn't learn of Usonians here was the importance of the diagonal, or oblique, in developing Wright's floor plans, generating their "overlapping" spaces and spatial flow despite the rigid basic module.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2005
I asked a Usonian "fanatic" about buying this book, and he told me that he owned it, but "never could get through it." I bought it anyway, and now I see what he means. Excerpt from page 62: "Symmetrical implications of the wig-wam roof-form of the living area are immediately combated by the off-center core and built-in seat and table."
WHAT? After five minutes of staring at the floor plan, I finally deduce that this must be some reference to a group of unmarked "things" there in what must be the living room. Of course, nothing is marked, and I still can't be sure what this sentence means because there are no useful photos or sketches to clarify the point. Lack of decent illustrations makes this book a nightmare to read. Another example, Page 68: "... utility... sensations...and...materials all make the Pew house, for me, the greatest of Wright's late career." This is accompanied by a single 3" x 5" high contrast, B&W photo of the house from a distance, partially obscured by trees. The author calls it the greatest work of Wright's career, and it is impossible to tell what it looks like.
Thank goodness I also bought "The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion" so I can actually see some decent photos and floorplans. This book could just as well be written in Braille.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2000
This book is a must have for anyone who is interested in Frank Lloyd Wright's 'organic' philosophy. It is one of the few books that actually discusses his building philosophy in depth. His 'Usonian' concepts are well illustrated although more up to date color photographs are probably required. This book also contains a quick biography of FLW as well as articles from the 'House and Homes' magazines written in 1958. In one of these articles are 32 extremely valuable Frank Lloyd Wright pointers on how to get the most from a small space. This book is a real gem.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
It seems that this important phase in Wright's illustrious career has not been given the attention it deserves. As Frank Sergeant noted, Wright was most proud of his Usonian Homes and actively promoted his vision of a "Broadacre City." Unfortunately, Sergeant's book was the product of the 70's. He offers a good text, but poor photographs and mediocre illustrations that don't give the reader a compelling vision of these homes.
Wright started with the Jacobs House, built in the late 30's, which got the ball rolling. With a lot of sweat and material contributions by the owners, they were able to keep the cost near the $5000 budget Wright had set. He wanted these homes to be affordable, clean, efficient dwellings that reflected his streamlined view of America. Wright abhorred the wasteful society America had become, and envisioned a "Broadacre City" that would satisfy Americans' insatiable appetite for detached homes, without destroying the landscape in the process. He incorporated many passive solar features into these homes, relied on natural materials, and as always created an open plan that characterized the democratic nature of society.
More enticing books are now available on Usonian homes, but Sergeant's book is a good place to start in getting an impression of the quality of these homes, and how they came to shape America's suburban lifestyle.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 1999
All modern movements in home design found precedent in the Usonian design principals. This book is a must read for anyone, even the serious scholar of sustainable home design that brings people lives joy. The information contained covers the entire spectrum of integrated design from master planning to the efficient details of thermal design for a specific climate and the details in between. Offered are insights for those looking to design or build a well thought through home that expresses your individual belief in simplicity, repose, and a connection to nature, in a honest, sincere, and beautiful expression that elevates your life everyday.
Anyone who has ever beheld a Usonian home will agree that color photographs would make this book even better. However, books with great color photographs often do not have detail photographs, text and floor plan drawings this good.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2006
My impetus for purchasing this book last month was a visit to the home my parents built in 1956 in New Jersey. They designed it themselves with a bit of help from books by Frank Lloyd Wright and others (his "Natural House", for instance), but the interpretation was their own. I was a middle-aged adult before I realized that the house could be classed among the "Usonians", although it was not a Wright commission, and this visit stimulated my desire to know more about the "real" ones. I bought this book as a start and agree with the other reviewers here that the book is a bit too "design-driven" to answer all one might want to know. But it is a basic book on the subject (published 1984--about when I discovered the Usonian possibility), and it covers well the principles of the Usonian: affordability, open plan on a grid, built-in essentials, and underfloor/radiant heating. The book's many appendices allow the reader to see how Wright organized his business and related to his clients. Twenty-two years after it was published this book is still a good starting point for learning about the Usonian house and Wright's commitment to 'everyman/woman'.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 1997
Frank Lloyd Wright's greatest contribution to American home design is his to answer to questions about how do you build low-cost housing suitable for the modern middle-class American family. His answers were the several dozen Usonian homes he designed from the 1930's until his death. These were usually smaller homes suited for middle-class budgets and needs. The Usonian and Organic design ideas have influenced all modern homes. Our open informal designs with great rooms connected to patios and decks, carports, and the use of plywood and other standard manufactured materials to lower on site construction costs are just some of the ideas popularized by Wright's designs.
John Sergeant gives a very complete analysis of the five principle types of Usonion design: polliwog, diagonal, in-line, hexagonal, and raised. Floor plans and photos accompany the text. Very good cross referances and extensive notes for those interested in further study.
The analysis goes beyond Usonian homes. Sergeant also addresses FLW's ideas on city planning, environmental awareness, and cooperative communities. "Appendix A: A Spatial Analysis of Usonian Houses" shows that FLW's ideas regarding space and environment are much more advanced with the Usonian designs even though these homes were quite a bit smaller than his more famous residential designs.
If there is failing, it is the lack of information relating to the actual design details. No drawings from the FLW archives regarding the furniture design (not even the builtins), fireplace design, and outdoor landscape plans.
This book is well worth adding to your home library because it offers much of value after second and third readings.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2012
John Sergeant (now Professor Emeritus of Architecture at Cambridge University) wrote this book in the mid 1970's (published 1976) after visiting every Usonian, interviewing many of the homeowners (most of whom were still occupying their homes in the early 1970's when Sergeant interviewed them), and conducting archival research at Taliesin and many other places. Sergeant also conducted first hand interviews with many others; of particular note are his interviews with Harold Turner, one of Wright's favorite master craftsmen who built many pre World War II Usonians and Stuart Richardson of the Richardson House in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, whose photographs and descriptions form the core of Sergeant's discussion of Wright's construction methods. Sergeant makes clear that many Usonians were built by their owners with assistance from Wright or his students.
Does this mean that you can buy this book for plans? The answer is no, you cannot. The plans in the book are mostly accurate, but the originals and reproductions in this book are mostly for purposes of appreciation. Sergeant says you should not rely on this book for plans in his introduction. You can find more accurate reproductions of Wright's plans elsewhere, particularly the Storrer books. However even these are are not going to be sufficient for those interested in building one of Wright's designs. My advice: hire a local licensed architect to help you out if you are interested in building a Usonian.
While the book's description and history of Wright's Usonian houses contained in the first three chapters is solid, the best parts of the book are contained in the last three chapters, which furnish perceptive and subtle interpretations of Wright's Broadacre City precepts and their basis in Wright's philosophies of organic architecture. These chapters contain much food for thought, particularly for planners. Sergeant makes clear that Wright eschewed the architectural determinism of his time--which unfortunately continues in our present time, particularly in New Urbanist public housing schemes (where would New Urbanism be without the public housing petri dish?)--and understood the relationships between culture, democracy and architecture. Wright's philosophies of urban decentralization are found in his books "The Disappearing City" (1932), "Architecture and Modern Life" (1938), "When Democracy Builds" (1945), and finally in "The Living City" (1958).
Students and practitioners of sustainability or neighborhood development will find much of value in Sergeant's insightful discussion of Wright's thoughts on these matters. I think one can say with some degree of assurance that Wright would find many things awry with current fads such as LEED-ND and aspects of New Urbanism. Read this book to find out what Wright's criticisms would probably have been.