Observations, photographs, and video of the construction of a Frank Lloyd WrightUsonian house which serves as the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center on the campus of Florida Southern College, located in the South Lake Morton Historic District of Lakeland, Florida. Follow this link for visitor information.
The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists. | G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
By Michael Maguire | November 23, 2014 at 09:09 AM EST | No Comments
The southern cypress seems to generate a warmth you can almost feel as you arrive. The low, multi-level ceiling of the carport ( a Wright innovation ) offers a cozy refuge and beckons you in. Doesn't it?
By Michael Maguire | November 09, 2014 at 09:26 AM EST | No Comments
Well, no, of course. It's neither rubber nor road, but the principle is the same here, where the cypress meets the blocks. Where the rubber does meet the road is where the reality of a concept is proven and the test truly begins. In the case of the Usonian House, these delicately and precisely cut window moldings are made to meet the complex geometric relief patterns of the delicately and precisely fabricated concrete blocks that form the identity of the house. Nothing less than perfection could succeed. Next time you're there, give it a moment.
By Michael Maguire | October 26, 2014 at 08:00 AM EDT | No Comments
Consider the humble concrete block.
Then consider, and then learn, what the modern world would, and would not, be without it. From Rome to home, the history of concrete tells the tale of civilization. The Usonian House mason, Ken Uracius, poured his art and soul into developing the best compound to achieve precise color, strength, and durability. Learn more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concrete
By Michael Maguire | September 07, 2014 at 08:16 AM EDT | No Comments
Wright wanted people to live in his structures, to be "alive" in them, not merely to be present or to just "come home" to them. Unless you deliberately look up, you are unlikely to see or pay much attention to your ceiling, but Wright would have none of that. He surrounds you with the natural elements in all directions.
By Michael Maguire | August 31, 2014 at 10:19 AM EDT | No Comments
Ledger writer Gary White and photographer Ernst Peters have produced an exquisite pair of articles on the Usonian House and Tom Sharrett whose company fabricated and installed all of the cypress features and accents. The work appears in the current issue of PolkLife. The online versions can be found here and here.
By Michael Maguire | June 29, 2014 at 10:46 AM EDT | No Comments
The college has now installed a permanent plaque in honor of "Geno" Castonguay, a master carpenter working in North Brookfield Massachusetts, who created all of the complex molds that were used to fabricate the 47 different blocks designed for the house.
Geno died in 2012 at the age of 80. As you can see from the video of our visit to North Brookfield, He was vibrant and effective and very much at ease executing his highly refined craft, Visit "The Blocks" for the whole story.
The plaque lies at the northeast corner of the entrance area, in easy view of all visitors.
By Michael Maguire | May 04, 2014 at 10:50 AM EDT | No Comments
While the roof workers were pressure cleaning the roof we got a chance to see a nifty design feature that we weren't expecting: the roof drain that sits over the planter at the southeast corner of the house. No need for a watering can in the rainy season, eh?
By Michael Maguire | November 18, 2013 at 11:54 AM EST | No Comments
It will hardly ever be just another house in the neighborhood, but on this serene, brightly-lit November morning, it seemed to be what Wright intended - a natural part of the landscape. See more in the November Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | November 01, 2013 at 08:00 PM EDT | 2 comments
The moment has arrived.
With the exception of some minor details, the house is now complete, and the principles of its construction are ready to sit and savor the accomplishment. There will be more to do, and there will be adjustments and refinements - more like "polishing" what's already been done.
This blog will continue to follow and report on the life and times of the house, but as today's entries are posted in the November Gallery, we too are ready for a brief respite and some reflection of our own. It has been a complete pleasure and a lucky circumstance that brought us the opportunity to meet and come to know such fine and dedicated artisans, craftsmen, and professionals.
Next up are an interview with Tom Sharrett, the installation of the last of the glass inserts and more of October's push to the finish. Check back often.
By Michael Maguire | October 29, 2013 at 08:50 AM EDT | No Comments
Tom Sharrett works on the final fitting adjustments for the bedroom's corner doors. This pair, and two other sets like them, open like the french door pairs but must meet and latch to each other with a highly-specialized design. See more in the October Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | October 23, 2013 at 08:05 AM EDT | No Comments
The historic bungalow that will become the college's gift shop is being restored to its original condition on the outside, but is definitely taking on a Frank Lloyd Wright look inside. More to come of course, but there's already a lot to see in the October Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | October 21, 2013 at 09:39 PM EDT | No Comments
The countdown to the premiere has moved inside ten days. It's starting to feel a little like working on an engine while it's running. Details change by the hour. Check the burgeoning October Gallery to see what we mean.
By Michael Maguire | October 17, 2013 at 02:49 PM EDT | No Comments
Please pardon a brief building-the-Usonian-House-project timeout for news of a buildingtheusonianhouse.com update. As we approach the "premiere" of this amazing undertaking, we thought it would serve us all to refresh and re-construct this site to take advantage of improved technology and experience gained over the course of two-and-a-half years as a "sidewalk superintendent".
The photo above was first one taken. We'll be sure to publish one taken from the same location when the house is finally ready for its close-ups. Thanks to all of you who have been "walking along" with us.
Here's a brief summary of our improvements: whenever possible, videos have been re-mastered to play in high definition, and some have been re-edited to tell the story better; a lot of "tidying up" throughout the site to make things easier to find and explore; and we've loaded all of the 2011 blog-entry headlines right here on the home page sidebar. The "live blog goes back to January 2012.
Please take a thorough look and make sure you refresh the site to avoid visiting a cached version, and if you find a failure or a flaw, please let us know. A lot of people who haven't been watching all of this unfold will be dropping by to see how it happened. We'd like to make that an excellent experience.
By Michael Maguire | October 16, 2013 at 11:42 PM EDT | No Comments
The tangible fundamentals of Wright's Usonian houses are of the earth, but he clearly wanted to use them to showcase the most important and ethereal element: light. It's almost as if every detail is destined to capture, reflect, or direct light into the windows of every viewer's soul. See more in the October Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | October 10, 2013 at 08:04 AM EDT | No Comments
The house is now wearing a little protective gear. As the number of workers increases so does the risk of "injury". A tool-belt ding in a door frame could cost a lot of time and money to repair. Stay with us while we watch the frenetic action leading up to the October 31st premiere. See the October Gallery here.
By Michael Maguire | October 03, 2013 at 10:21 AM EDT | No Comments
All of the crafts and trades were aboard today, sawing, nailing, fitting, digging, pumping, drilling, etc! The deadline for its debut, October 31st, is pushing the work and workers forward at a full but deliberate pace. Check the video here and see more photos in the October Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | September 30, 2013 at 11:12 PM EDT | No Comments
Eight striking colors, nine extremely precise geometric shapes, and nearly 5,000 perforations to fill mean that Ken Berman and his crew will be on the site as much as possible during the final stages of construction. Lakeland is home to Berman's stained glass studio, The Glass Onion, so his commute is an easy one. However, he will have to travel halfway across the state to meet Ron Bearer who fabricated the inserts. Ron considers the delicate "L"-shaped ones too fragile to ship via normal carriers, and so will meet Ken in the middle to make sure they arrive safely. See more in the September Gallery and of course throughout October.
By Michael Maguire | September 19, 2013 at 04:02 PM EDT | No Comments
The work continues apace and details from the drawings are becoming real, three-dimensional components. This is truly a hand-made house, and while the blocks tend to define it, the wood is warming it up and refining it into Wright's vision and into the essential Usonian construct. See more in the September Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | September 04, 2013 at 12:01 PM EDT | No Comments
The experts at DeMoss are hard at it now, milling, shaping, fitting, finishing, and installing. The ceilings are nearly complete and work has begun on the door jambs. Doors and built-ins and window frames are all on the punch list and the saw dust is flying! See more in the September Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | August 29, 2013 at 11:43 AM EDT | No Comments
The ceiling planks move smoothly from the interior to the exterior, almost as if the walls weren't even there. The precise alignment and continuity are crucial to the successful realization of Wright's design. See much more in the August Gallery. Work on the gift shop bungalow, the parking lot and the grounds.
By Michael Maguire | August 18, 2013 at 08:50 AM EDT | No Comments
It doesn't have to just be right, it has to be "Wright". Tom Sharrett works to ensure that all of the ceiling planks line up and match the grid system that characterizes the Usonian design. Like most aspects of the house, the work is proceeding deliberately, but once a part is installed, that's it! Done and done. More to come, and more to see in the August Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | August 14, 2013 at 08:21 PM EDT | 1 comment
Tom Sharrett and an assistant got back into the house today and started putting the ceiling boards into place. Made of the same southern Cypress as the roof trim, the planks have a warm natural glow and an obvious precision, cut to conform to Wright's design. See more as the work moves forward by visiting the August Gallery regularly.
By Michael Maguire | July 10, 2013 at 07:23 PM EDT | No Comments
Activity is picking up as the Usonian grounds are surveyed, cleared, and contoured. Click here to look back at a photo from May of 2011 that shows the surveyor's marker that was being used today. Click here for a look at the video. As the area gets cleaned up it becomes easier to see how the house sits on the lot and will be seen by passersby. See the July Gallery here.
By Michael Maguire | June 06, 2013 at 11:16 AM EDT | No Comments
Sorry about that. It was a little too irresistible. But the carpenters are happy to be working on the bungalow. The beam will be installed across the front, resting on the two corner pillars, creating a wide open invitation to enter. The house is being expanded to accommodate visitors with restrooms, refreshments, and a gift shop. See it all in the June Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | May 31, 2013 at 02:04 PM EDT | No Comments
Work continues on "the little green house" which will soon be more like brown or tan. The intent is to restore it to the proper condition of its original era. Authentic style wood siding is being installed and you can see some craftsman-like details emerging in the window framing. See the May Gallery here.
By Michael Maguire | April 24, 2013 at 08:22 AM EDT | No Comments
What we've been referring to as "the little green house" is being fitted with temporary siding across it's eastern face, while carpenters remove the worn, original siding from the rest. The whole house will be covered in new, historically correct, board siding. The restored bungalow will house the restrooms, gift shop, and refreshment area for visitors to the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center - the Usonian House. Nice weather means it's nice to work outside. See more in the April Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | April 08, 2013 at 08:43 AM EDT | No Comments
Street views are updated only occasionally, but the satellites are snapping away and a recent project for students at Florida Southern uncovered this image. The Usonian house is in the upper left corner and is shown with the roof completed. The view also shows the water dome in operation, a lucky shot, because it only runs on a limited schedule. Nice work, Google!
By Michael Maguire | February 17, 2013 at 02:40 AM EST | No Comments
Jeff Baker addresses members of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy during their tour of Florida Southern College on Saturday. The group was treated to a detailed history of the school's architectural planning and development, close-up inspection of Wright's original western campus structures, and a peek inside the Usonian house.
By Michael Maguire | October 22, 2012 at 02:43 PM EDT | 1 comment
The soffitt and fascia are done!
There's a little blue tape to remove along the cypress boards, which the roofers will probably do this week. They used it to protect the wood while they were creating the final seal along the edges. Next up, interior fitments, doors and windows, and built-ins. Stay tuned ... and check the October Gallery for more pictures.
By Michael Maguire | September 28, 2012 at 09:42 AM EDT | No Comments
The rainy days have given way to an abundance of sunshine, and even though the leaves are starting to change in cooler climes, it's still the dead of summer here and hot! The Sharretts are making their way around the roof line, and Wright's vision of how it would be seen from eye-level at the street is coming into view.
By Michael Maguire | September 16, 2012 at 08:16 AM EDT | No Comments
While the roof workers were pressure cleaning the roof we got a chance to see a nifty design feature that we weren't expecting: the roof drain that sits over the planter at the southeast corner of the house. No need for a watering can in the rainy season, eh? See more in the September Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | September 06, 2012 at 07:36 AM EDT | No Comments
Summertime in Florida is hardly the best construction season, and the carpenters - more like furniture makers - have to make the best of any opportunity to work in dry, sunny conditions. On Wednesday, that only lasted half a day, as usual. But as with the blocks, once the beautiful cypress is installed, it's done. No painting or decorating needed, so each new board adds a "finishing touch" as soon as it is put into place. See more in the September Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | August 14, 2012 at 12:05 AM EDT | No Comments
Board by handcrafted board, the cypress finishing lumber is being installed, as fascia, soffitt and, as seen here, as a ceiling for the carport. The fine woodworking will continue until the house is complete because it will comprise all of the rest of the major work, including window and door frames, built-ins, shelving, and lighting recesses. See more detail in the August Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | July 20, 2012 at 10:08 AM EDT | No Comments
The Sharrets have installed all of the soffit and fascia on the "high" roof and are making progress on the "middle" roof. It's not hard to imagine the difficulty of working with masonry in the rainy season, so add a couple of degrees for wood work! Lots of details on the July Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | July 05, 2012 at 11:45 AM EDT | No Comments
We met the Sharretts today as they prepared to work with the first of many loads of Florida and Louisiana cypress that will be used for soffit, fascia, furniture, cabinets, windows, doors, and ceilings. See a little more in the July Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | June 15, 2012 at 12:43 PM EDT | 2 comments
The house's "flat" roof is really a lot like a shower drain, and each of the three levels is designed to move the rainfall toward copper scuppers (being installed today), that will drop it into a copper "tub" inside the chimney structure. A drain there drops it into a pipe that moves it under the house and into the local drainage system. See more in the June Gallery. You'll also find a tantalizing hint of what's to come for the fascia and soffit.
By Michael Maguire | June 12, 2012 at 09:21 AM EDT | No Comments
Prompted by a question from a blog reader, we have updated our "Resources" page with plan and elevation drawings, and a note from Jeff Baker regarding the original site plan and its history. Click here to go there, and here for the blog entry comment.
By Michael Maguire | May 26, 2012 at 11:35 AM EDT | 4 comments
It looks like the masons are about to wrap things up, so we turn our attention to the carpenters. Wright designed this roof to be "invisible" to street-level viewers, so the fascia and soffit details are very important. One last look at the supporting structures in the May Gallery. Take a walk through the interior here.
'Usonian' is a term usually referring to a group of approximately sixty middle-income family homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright beginning in 1936 with the Jacobs House. (Seen above)
The "Usonian Homes" were typically small, single-story dwellings without a garage or much storage, L-shaped to fit around a garden terrace on odd (and cheap) lots, with native materials, flat roofs and large cantilevered overhangs for passive solar heating and natural cooling, natural lighting with clerestory windows, and radiant-floor heating. A strong visual connection between the interior and exterior spaces is an important characteristic of all Usonian homes. The word carport was coined by Wright to describe an overhang for a vehicle to park under.
Variants of the Jacobs House design are still in existence today and do not look overly dated. The Usonian design is considered among the aesthetic origins of the popular "ranch" tract home popular in the American west of the 1950s.
Origin of the word
The word Usonian appears to have been coined by James Duff Law, an American writer born in 1865. In a miscellaneous collection titled Here and There in Two Hemispheres (1903), Law quoted a letter of his own (dated 18 June 1903) that begins "We of the United States, in justice to Canadians and Mexicans, have no right to use the title 'Americans' when referring to matters pertaining exclusively to ourselves." He went on to acknowledge that some author had proposed "Usona", but that he preferred "Usonia."Perhaps the earliest published use by Wright was in 1927:
But why this term "America" has become representative as the name of these United States at home and abroad is past recall. Samuel Butler fitted us with a good name. He called us Usonians, and our Nation of combined States, Usonia.
–Frank Lloyd Wright on Architecture: Selected Writings 1894–1940, p. 100.
By Michael Maguire | April 15, 2012 at 10:50 AM EDT | No Comments
Concrete Products magazine, a monthly publication serving concrete industry professionals, presents a thorough discussion of the block-making process and highlights the diligence of the project principals who worked to ensure historical accuracy and future sustainability. Read more here
By Michael Maguire | April 10, 2012 at 09:02 AM EDT | No Comments
Not quite as glamorous as the "textile" blocks the house is built from, but just as crucial to its success. Workers are now installing the site's connection to the local sewer system. Like a lot of highly skilled work, this too will be unseen when the project is complete. See more in the April Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | April 05, 2012 at 03:14 AM EDT | No Comments
Lakeland-based EarthLinked Technologies gave us a tour of their headquarters today and a primer on how their geo-thermal heat pump will work to heat and cool the Usonian house. It was nice to discover that the project didn't have to leave home to find the right stuff. Learn more about it all in the Resources section.
By Michael Maguire | March 29, 2012 at 08:33 AM EDT | No Comments
Plumbers are on site now to install the sewer lines, so once again the earth has been moved to make way for a project. Masons are on site too, installing the wall caps, which involves custom fitting by hand grinding, and drilling holes in the caps to match the steel rods emerging from the floor. See everybody at work in the March Gallery.
By Michael Maguire | March 20, 2012 at 09:33 AM EDT | No Comments
Heavy equipment was on the site yesterday to dig out the second half of the geo-thermal field, an eight-foot deep pit about 30 feet wide and 90 feet long. Workers in the pit continuously check the depth and rake the ground to ensure a smooth, flat surface. Today, others are installing the copper pipe system that will provide heating and cooling to the house. See more photos in the March Gallery and see the video here.
The Premiere of the historic Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian House took place October 31st. Dignitaries from the city, the county, and the college joined the donors, craftsmen, and professionals who made it all possible.
Watchour interview with Ken Berman who installed the glass inserts, and see how all of the 10,000 board feet of southern cypress was turned into ceilings, walls, shelves, and doors.
On May 20, 2010, Dr. Anne Kerr announced Florida Southern College's plans to construct a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed "Usonian House" which will serve as a new education and tourism center.
Click here for a slideshow of the announcement posted on flickr in the fsc.mocs photostream.
The site of Florida Southern College's latest addition to its Frank Lloyd Wright collection - the largest in the world in a single location - is on McDonald Street between Johnson and College Avenues in one of Lakeland, Florida's oldest historic neighborhoods.
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