A shortened version of the United States of America, the term “Usonian” was first employed in an architectural sense by Frank Lloyd Wright. Rather than use the term “American”, which could apply to North, South or Central America, Wright preferred the term Usonia to describe the unique landscape of America.
Mr. Wright’s Usonian homes were smaller versions of those homes that he is now famous for, such as Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. In order to be more accessible to average citizens, Wright designed smaller homes that were typically L-shaped with little extra space. The radical shape was used to best take advantage of oddly sized, inexpensive building lots. Wright was also careful to utilize materials that were extremely affordable, including cement block, wood and brick. In order to benefit from passive heating and cooling, Usonian homes have large, cantilevered overhangs. Clerestory windows provide natural lighting while radiant in-floor heat keeps energy bills low. These are also the first homes to use the newly named carport, rather than a traditional garage or carriage house. As with all of Wright’s designs, these homes merge seamlessly with their outdoor space.
Although the Usonian homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright number only sixty, the style influenced a generation of architects. Several of those impacted by Wright’s use of native materials and clean lines found themselves drawn to the western boom town of Denver. Among those early visionaries are Victor Hornbein and Edward Hawkins.
These enthusiastic architects made their mark on Denver real estate. Their touches can be seen in some of Denver’s most unique neighborhoods. Edward Hawkins would eventually develop the mid-century modern treasure trove of Arapahoe Acres. Victor Hornbein would also scatter his genius throughout the Mile High City. Unlike Hawkins, whose main focus was on residential work, Hornbein is responsible for 80 public buildings as well as Denver homes.
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