Usonia, New York: Building a Community with Frank Lloyd Wright By Roland Reisley. Princeton Architectural Press, 2001. 172pp. £28
For Frank Lloyd Wright, Usonia - a term he coined in the late 1920s - stood for the suburban good life, writes Andrew Mead . It was expressed in one-off dwellings, such as the Jacobs House in Madison, Wisconsin (1937), and, above all, in his Broadacre City project, elaborated over a quarter century until Wright's death in 1958.
Surprisingly, Usonia is alive and well just an hour's drive north from New York. Close to the wonderfully named town of Pleasantville in Westchester County is a self-styled 'community'of 47 houses, all on irregular 0.4ha sites linked by serpentine roads, and almost all constructed between 1948 and 1956. There were no fences between the individual properties, three of which were designed by Wright himself, who also acted as architectural advisor for a while until a falling-out.
Roland Reisley, author of this well-documented and produced account of the settlement's evolution, was one of the original group of 'likeminded citizens' who sought to make Usonia a reality, and he and his wife still live in one of Wright's three houses (see opposite page). The picture he presents is of a highly stable, successful community - though he admits that the sense of community is now being somewhat eroded as those who struggled together in the early days are replaced by incomers. Yet more than half the houses are still occupied by members of the families who first owned them. Testimonies in the book record idyllic childhoods, and though nearby Pleasantville has expanded, Usonia remains 'a wooded rural enclave'.
It all seems a world away from contemporary gated developments. Reisley, clearly an admirer of Wright both as architect and as planner, puts the case for Usonia well. All the houses are pictured though there are few plans.