> Introduction to Frank Lloyd Wright and Broadacre City

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) is probably the most famous name among the American architects. He was an architect, engineer, interior designer, planner and writer; many capabilities turn his work into comprehensive and organic masterpieces. What makes Wright's architecture so unique is the way he embraced the technological changes allowed by the Industrial Revolution. But, in contrast to what other modern architects did so patently, Wright considered the specific environment - and human spirit as well -, as an important part of a building. Organic Modernism became a possibility, and represents maybe the first American architectural style. Fallingwater, near Pittsburgh, is today a National Historic Landmark.

"Using this word Nature…I do not of course mean that outward aspect which strikes the eye as a visual image of a scene strikes the ground glass of a camera, but that inner harmony which penetrates the outward form…and is its determining character; that quality in the thing that is its significance and it’s Life for us, – what Plato called (with reason, we see, psychological if not metaphysical) the 'eternal idea of the thing'." (Wright)

Frank Lloyd Wright was a great utopian too. He was a dreamer, a dreamer obsessed with harmony. He established a standard dwelling called Usonian house (in spite of 'American' house), that is intended to be simple, cheap, affordable, easy to build, and consequently to transform the American suburban landscape. Despite the unwanted costs, the Usonian houses contradicts the individualism of American way of life, and were built in a very small quantity. Curiously, the urban sprawl in American cities are very consistent with Wright's ideals.

However, the most utopian vision of Wright was Broadacre City, which uses principles applied in Usonian houses and other projects more related to spatial planning. Some of these projects were constructed, but others, like 'Quadruple Block Plan' (images above), defines a radical change in urban form, and just remained as philosophy.

"As early as 1903, given the opportunity to lay out a neighborhood (in Oak Park, which was never built), Wright proposed a 'quadruple block plan' that placed an identical brick house on each corner of a block; he shielded the inhabitants from the public street with a low wall and oriented them inward toward connected gardens that encouraged exchanges with their neighbors."

More than an utopia, Broadacre City (images above and below) was a concept continuously worked by Wright. He wrote a lot about it ("The Disappearing City", 1932), produced drawings and scale models. Broadacre is an antithesis of a city because is intended to be a criticism to industrial cities. Indeed, this utopia uses the possibilities allowed by cars - or helicopters? - and communication technologies to merge the nature with urban quality of life. Incredibly what Wright's critics saw as an utopia, it is today a reality: immense motorways connecting 'cottages' with dispersed services, commerce, sport facilities and offices. Like Howard's garden cities, Broadacre wants to be a rural and decentralized unit that could be replicated infinitely.

"The 'broad-acre' city, where every family will have at least an acre of land, is the inevitable municipality of the future... We live now in cities of the past, slaves of the machine and of traditional building. We cannot solve our living and transportation problems by burrowing under or climbing over, and why should we? We will spread out, and in so doing will transform our human habitation sites into those allowing beauty of design and landscaping, sanitation and fresh air, privacy and playgrounds, and a plot whereon to raise things." (Wright)

"Broadacre isn’t a city; it is a landscape. Decentralised in organisation it is self-sufficient in supply, republican in constitution, and populated by auto-mobile citizens."

(Broadacre City represented in a 1997 computer animation)
(more info and photos about Broadacre here)
(Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website)
(citations taken from here and here)

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