Wright sought an architecture that responded to nature and human needs. His focus was on harmonizing environment, structure, objects, outfittings, and inhabitants. Wright's design for Broadacre City, like his Usonian houses, first emerged during the 1930s. The Swiss-born Le Corbusier had proposed a "Ville Radieuse" in a 1932 article in the New York Times Magazine. Le Corbusier' s plan was a cluster of high-rises in the midst of large grassy areas.
Wright responded with his own vision in a March 20, 1932, New York Times Magazine article. He called it Broadacre City. Wright also described this plan for a decentralized yet urban America first in 1932 in The Disappearing City. In 1945 he revised and expanded it in When Democracy Builds in 1945, and again revised and expanded it in The Living City in 1958. (Taliesin, 1999) In these utopian visions Wright developed a master plan for ideal communities located away from large cities, viewed by Wright as unfit for human habitation.
Wright combined social ideas and values with concerns about the automobile, communications, electric power, and developing systems in construction, manufacturing, and transportation. While the city never developed into a concrete reality, his design for underground power lines, low-level lighting, well-planned developments, super highways, overpasses, and motels are inherent parts of our life today.
Wright often expressed contempt for 20th century American culture. He understood, however, better than most, the dynamic way in which the automobile would transform the pattern of human living and working and desired to create a life style with his architecture that would maximize the positive potential of that reality. He said, “Everyman's new standard of spacemeasurement . . . is the man seated in his car (Weinstein, 1997)." He loved and bought expensive cars and also designed a few. Under his plan at chosen crossroads, glass-covered markets were located where goods could be bought and sold. Around these markets would be clustered other civic uses and entertainment centers. This vision is reflected in the present day shopping malls.
Wright shared with Jefferson a belief in the spiritual benefits of close contact with nature, even if it was just that one acre. This has been a recurring theme in American thought and literature. At the top of an annotated plan for his city, Wright scribbled "minimum of one acre to the family (Sullivan, 1995)." This was to be a low-density development, with a few scattered high-rise buildings (all the structures were of Wrightian design). In the house he built for himself and his family of six children in the garden suburb of Oak Park, he made spaces flow. In his designs for private homes those broad organic spaces with low-slung roofs, overhanging eaves, assemblages of geometric shapes, thrusting decks and horizontal bands of windows became his trademark (Wallch, 1994). His concern was for the harmony between humans, nature, and form.
People were to own their own homes in Broadacre City; there was to be "no landlord or tenant," His heroes were Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and he wanted to reestablish the nuclear family in relation to nature.
In the winter of 1934-35, his apprentices built a model of Broadacre City. Wright frequently updated the model with new elements such as 10 lane highways. Beginning in 1935, a traveling show exhibited the huge 12 x 12 foot model along with models of some projected building types at Rockefeller Center in New York and elsewhere across the country. Currently, it is displayed at Hillside School, at Taliesin.
Broadacre City was built for the automobile, and now many of today's American suburbs depend on it. Broadacre City is only in part reflected in today’s outer-suburban developments, however. He envisioned a self-sufficiency that proved to be impractical; most of those who live in these areas must commute long distances. It remains to be seen if telecommunications will make his original vision more viable.
As today, sometimes money is more powerful than creativity. The designers of American towns were more often businessmen like William J. Levitt (of Levittown fame) rather than visionaries like Frank Lloyd Wright. The 1926 Supreme Court decision in the case of Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Company (272 U.S. 365, 71 L.Ed. 303, 47 S.Ct. 114) and the 1924 United States Department of Commerce Standard State Zoning Enabling Act shifted the emphasis away from plans, designs, and urban form to zoning, laws, and land use. Lawyers and planners were to replace designers and engineers as the leading professionals shaping urban growth policy. Walker's influential text (1941) reflected this shift from designs to words.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision of Broadacre City may not have come into being in his time and the cracker box houses of cities and suburbia do not uplift human dignity and closeness with nature as he envisioned. The influence that he had on the best of the modern mobile life, however, is great.
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