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Broadacre City

Frank Lloyd Wright
and his vision for the urban future
American System-Built Houses
Online since September 2008
Last changes: 6th of January 2015

'American System-Built Houses' 1911 - 1917, Frank Lloyd Wright | Web Images
IX.) Img. _01 X.) Img. _01


'American System-Built Houses' [American System-Built Homes, ASBH, American Ready-Cut prefabricated housing, American Ready-Cut System, American System Ready-Cut, American Ready-Cut System Houses] 1911 - 1917 V.), Frank Lloyd Wright …

» I do not want any mistake made about this new "System". These buildings are not in any sense the ready cut buildings we have all heard of where a little package of material is sold to be stuck together in any fashion. The American System-Built House is not a ready cut house, but a house built by an organization, systematized in such a way that the result is guaranteed the fellow that buys the house.
I do not want to lose sight of the central idea of using the machine and all modern industrialism to produce beauty. […] Simply selling houses at less cost means nothing at all to me. To sell beautiful houses at less cost means everything. […] «
I.) 1

Frank Lloyd Wright designed different housing units A.) for real-estate developer Arthur L. Richards, using a system of industrially manufactured and trimmed elements B.) assembled on site in order to reduce costs. C.) Small homes were advertised from $2.750, larger ones for up to $10.000 ($100.000). D.) Some E.) units have remained. The enterprise failed however. F.)

So far consent; further detail depends on the expert respectively.

  1. ^ The scale of the enterprise:
    Richard Cleary (2009) writes: » Wright produced designs for approximately three dozen residences […] (for which he planned 138 types) « II.) 2
    Allin Storrer [404] notices on his website in 2009: » The ASBH drawings alone count nearly a thousand. «
    According to Kamps/Das (in 1991) 966 drawings for 38 different designs of System-Built Houses are catalogued in the Taliesin archives. VIII.)
    Anthony Alofsin counts some 800 drawings in 1993 [page 343, note 57],
    and Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer reckons » [o]ver 900 drawings « in 2011. X.) 8
  2. ^ The system's engineering:
    Colin Davies (2005) identifies Wright's system as a 'balloon frame' construction.
    The MoMA specifies (2002) » wood framing, floors, joists, rafters, roofs, and trim « as its pre-cut parts. see XIII.) 15
    » Building components, including precut lumber, doors, and windows would be sent to the jobsite from a mill and warehouse in Milwaukee. The business plan had much in common with other mail-order-house enterprises of the time […] « II.) 2
    A ready-cut Sears home came in approx. 30.000 pieces - counting each and every nail … [IKEA concept] youtube.com [2007]

    Details are referred to: Kenneth Martin Kao 'Frank Lloyd Wright: Experiments in the Art of Building' published in Modulus 22, the Architectural Review at the University of Virginia 1993 [page 79-90] http://www.savewright.org/
  3. ^ Its assembly:
    Customers of a Sears kit-home would have saved 1/3 (even 40%) the price compared to a traditionally built house mainly due to the in-necessity of skilled labour. The houses could be assembled in a DIY fashion. [Possibly my rather than] Wright's ideal for the 'proliferation' of Broadacre City and common practice in his "Organic Architecture" a few years later. III.) 3

    But as Wright himself emphasised I.) 1 his system-homes were to be assembled by local builders and contractors stressing quality and depending on skilled craftsmen to implement their beauty.
  4. ^ Costs:
    … are simply [… even artfully I.) 7] avoided

    In 1918 the Sears most expensive 'Carlton' cost $4.875, the "Magnolia" $4.485 IV.) ( » Honor Built, already cut and fitted « ). "The Saranac" ( » Standard Built, not cut or fitted « ) was sold for $390.

    According to William Allin Storrer [2002] - referring to an announcement in the Chicago Sunday Tribune, March 4th, 1917 - small homes were offered from $2.750 to $3.500, larger ones from $5.000 to $100.000. [!] V.) 4 I.) 7 XIII.) 11 XIII.) 13

    This price range is either misprint or the true reason why the project never took of in the first place. Even at $10.000 (as quoted by Christopher A. Meyers XI.) 5 from the same advertisement XII.) ) the System Built House would have been (compared to its competitors) an up market product, not the low cost housing scheme for which it is generally perceived.

    Richard Cleary acknowledges: » The premise of the American System-Built Houses was to offer middle-class home buyers the opportunity to build customized homes with guarantees of price and quality. « II.) 2
  5. ^ Their number:
    Those 6 buildings in W. Burnham St., Milwaukee.
    According to Michael Lilek speculative investments intended to be sold of immediately, VII.) not show-case-houses demonstrating the system to potential customers (as one was previously led to believe), which would explain why 2720-2734 W. Burnham St. are [were] identical.

    And at least 9 other (remaining Houses) are listed. V.)

    There is a re-count:
    "Mysterious 29" ASBH have been [re]discovered in 2008.
    http://www.franklloydwrightinfo.com/ [404]
    http://featuresblogs.chicagotribune.com/ 2
    http://www.flwright.us/ 2
    http://www.isbnsearch.org/ PNG
  6. ^ The end:
    Most sources identify the United States participation in World War I (from April 1917 until November 1918) as the primary (economic) cause for the projects closure.

    Some explain the 'abandonment' of the project with Wright's other endeavours (Imperial Hotel) and a difficult phase in Wrights live. VI.) 6

    And there is the lawsuit between Wright and Richards in 1917 as an indicator… VII.) XIII.) 16

'Arthur L. Richards Duplex Apartments' American System-Built Houses 1916, (retracing) HISTORIC AMERICAN BUILDINGS SURVEY - 1991, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN
VIII.) Img. _02 X.) Img. _02


Retracing / crude reproduction of 'Arthur L. Richards Duplex Apartments' 1916, web image taken from:

The 'American System-Built Homes' by Frank Lloyd Wright on West Burnham Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53215 USA E.)

+43° 0' 37.47", -87° 56' 55.23"
All 6 buildings are situated next to each other!

'Arthur L. Richards Duplex Apartments' 1916
in 2720-22, 2724-26, 2728-30 and 2732-34 West Burnham Street

'Arthur L. Richards American System-Built Homes Bungalow' 1915
in 1835 South Layton Boulevard

'Arthur L. Richards Small House' [for $1835 compare D.) ] V.) 4 1915
in 2714 West Burnham Street

[Numbers are consistent with most sources, see also http://wrightinmilwaukee.org/.]
http://www.youtube.com/ (B1) 2
http://www.flwright.us/ 2 3




  1. IN: 'Frank Lloyd Wright: Essential Texts' edited by Robert Twombly, published by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. NY 2009

    'The American System of House Building' [page 181 - 185]
    » This excerpt from Wright's "recent" speech to an unidentified gathering of Chicago businessmen (most likely realtors) was published in the Western Architect, 24 (September 1916). «

    1 a [page 183] [page 185]
    First part very similar online: www.chameyer.net, www.appraisercitywide.com
    7 [page 181] » […] the least expensive advertised in the Chicago Tribune in 1917 for $2,730. « see also XI.) 5
  2. IN: 'Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward' published on the occasion of the exhibition 'Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward' at the Guggenheim Museum NY 2009, by Skira Rizzoli Publications Inc. 2009

    'Frank Lloyd Wright and the Romance of the Master Builder' by Richard Cleary [page 47 - 57]

    2 ^ a b [page 50] Emphasising » a degree of customization, unmatched by the competition. «
  3. 'Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian Houses: Designs for Moderate Cost One-Family Homes' by John Sergeant, published by Watson-Guptill Publications / New York, 1984 Paperback Edition (First published 1976 in New York, by Whitney Library of Design) http://books.google.at/

    3 [page 138 onwards]
  4. ^ Prices quoted from: 'Houses from Books Treatises, Pattern Books, and Catalogs in American Architecture, 1738-1950 : A History and Guide' by Daniel Drake Reiff, published by Penn State Press, 2000) http://books.google.de/ [page 192]

    Compare prices and architecture with the Sears Archive: www.searsarchives.com
  5. ^ a b 'The architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: a complete catalog' by William Allin Storrer, Frank Lloyd Wright, published by University of Chicago Press, 2002 http://books.google.at/

    'AMERICAN SYSTEM-BUILT HOMES' [page 198 - 210]

    4 a » As early as 1911, Wright was designing his American System Ready-Cut structures with "prefabricated" construction integral to their concept. […] « [page 198]
    » Arthur L. Richards Small House (1915) […] Its cost of $1835 may be compared with that of $15,000 for the Bogk [] home. […] « [page 200]
    » […] The project was announced in the Chicago Sunday Tribune, March 4, 1917, offering small homes from $2,750 to $3,500 and larger ones from $5,000 to $100,000 (advertising copy and brochures were written by novelist Sherwood Anderson). […] « [page 201]
    » The Oscar A. Johnson house in Evanston […] all included in a total cost not to exceed $4,000. […] « [page 207]
    12 S.204.1 + S.204.2 [page 205, 206]
  6. 'Frank Lloyd Wright: His Life and His Architecture' by Robert C. Twombly, published by Wiley-IEEE, 1979 http://books.google.de/

    6 [page 174]
  7. ^ a b 'The American System-Built Homes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Frank Lloyd Wright's earliest system of low-cost housing' by Michael Lilek, 2005 http://www.wrightinmilwaukee.org/
  8. ^ a b Historic American Buildings Survey, National Park Service, Survey No. WI-326, School of Architecture University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, drawn by: James Kamps, [Shapna Das, Brian Milnick, Todd Ovard, ], entered in 1991 [1991 Charles E. Peterson Prize Competition] http://memory.loc.gov/

    Img. 02 Retracing / crude reproduction of 1506.143 see also X.) Img. _02 [promotional materials] of 'Arthur L. Richards Duplex Apartments' 2720 West Burnham Street [sheet 1 of 4 sheets] http://flaminiogualdoni.com/
  9. Img. 01 Web images: see also X.) Img. _01

    Left and right image are likely taken from:
    Frank Lloyd Wright: American System Built Houses - 1999, Pomegranate Publishers

    Centre and right image are likely taken from:
    Frank Lloyd Wright: American System-Built Houses - 1994, Published by the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York
    www.steinerag.com 2
  10. 'Frank Lloyd Wright 1885-1916: The Complete Works' [Volume 1] by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, edited by Peter Gössel, published by Taschen 2011

    'Arthur L. Richards, American System-Built Houses', dated 1915, realised in » [s]everal Midwest locations « [pages 483 to 493, showing drawings of: VII A, 'urban house', D101, C3, A231, J902, D1, B1, J401, J400, E3 …]

    8 » Over 900 drawings were prepared, from preliminary sketches to presentation drawings and construction documents. […] There are approximately 81 presentation drawings, including illustrations printed by means of wood blocks, while the working drawings, rendered in black ink on tracing linen, number 816 sheets. « [page 483]

    Img. 01 Model J902 [page 490], Model C3 [page 489] see also IX.) Img. _01

    Img. 02 Retracing / crude reproduction of 1506.143 » TWO FLAT DWELLING VII A « [page 483] see also VIII.) Img. _02 http://flaminiogualdoni.com/
  11. » Gary - "America's Magic Industrial City" « website [probably] by Christopher A. Meyers, [at least] online since 1st of March 2000 [according to ]

    Since http://www.chameyer.net/ never bothered to answer any of my emails, I've got no lead that Christopher A. Meyers [Director of the Department of Planning + Development in the City of Gary] actually is the author of that website, apart from other sites relating the topic to him as well. So, if you feel discredited, complain right here.

    5 a '600 Fillmore Street' » A.S.B. designs were sold at a "guaranteed" or fixed price which included labor and materials. Prices ranged, as described in a Chicago Tribune ad from March 1917, "for small homes from $2,730 to $3,500 (and for) larger homes $5,000 to $10,000." « [http://www.chameyer.net/frame8665.html]
  12. ^ IN: 'Chicago [Sunday] Tribune'

    Advertisement September 17, 1916 http://www.loc.gov/ http://www.fold3.com/
    Project announcement ?, March 4, 1917 http://www.fold3.com/
    » Good News About Homes « , June 3, 1917 XIII.) 10 http://www.fold3.com/
    » YOU CAN OWN AN AMERICAN HOME « , July 8, 1917 [JPG] XIII.) 9 http://www.fold3.com/ [...]
  13. » PRELIMINARY STAFF SUMMARY OF INFORMATION: AMERICAN SYSTEM-BUILT HOUSES DESIGNED BY FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT: 10410 and 10541 South Hoyne Avenue SUBMITTED TO THE COMMISSION ON CHICAGO LANDMARKS DECEMBER 1, 1993 « by City of Chicago, Richard M. Daley, Mayor (Department of Planning and Development, valerie B. Jarrett, Commissioner)
    PDF [http://ia600808.us.archive.org/]

    9 Reproduction labelled: » FRONTISPIECE: Advertisement from the Chicago Tribune, July 8, 1917 « [frontispiece]
    10 Readable reproduction labelled: » Illustrated advertisements persuasively stressed the advantages of American System-Built Houses in the context of American family life. From the Chicago Tribune, June 3, 1917 « [last page]
    11 » Because the Ridge Homes development was marketed for the upper-middle class owners, the houses represented the larger and more expensive American system-Built designs. Both were two-story, three-bedroom houses costing approximately $6,000 each, not including the cost of the land. « [Page 3, referring to 'Guy C. Smith Residence' in 10410 S. Hoyne Ave. and 'H. Howard Hyde Residence' in 10541 S. Hoyne Ave. Both designated according to Storrer V.) 12 ]
    13 » At least two dozen designs for houses and small apartment buildings were initially offered, with prices ranging from $2,700 to $3,500 for "small Homes" and between $5,000 to $100,000 for larger buildings. (These prices were about 10-20 percent less than the prices of an average new house of the period.) For his efforts, wright received a royalty from the Richards Company for each building sold and other financial incentives. « [page 10]
    Cheapness is presumed SIMPLY because the advertisement said so:
    14 » Frank Lloyd Wright, the greatest architect America has known, is pouring his genius into creating this great AMERICAN SYSTEM of houses for the American people. […] He has designed many types of houses, each of them beautiful beyond belief, and each susceptible of infinite variation, and has worked out the design of these designs so practically that they can be built by ordinary labor under ordinary conditions at from 10% to 29% less than the ugly houses we have all been building so long. « [Advertisement text by Sherwood Anderson, page 15]
    15 » Challenged to create quality buildings that could be sold at costs below typical houses of the period, Wright's designs were devised to maximize the use of machine-produced standardized materials. All American System-Built designs were of wood-frame construction, allowing the efficient factory production of standardized framing members and trim. Factory shaping of wood members allowed the fabrication of complex joinery details that normally could not be achieved using standard on-site carpentry methods, giving American System-Built houses a greater degree of quality and structural stability over conventionally built houses. « [page 13]
    16 » Further complications may have derived from strained relations between Wright and the Richards Company over payment of fees and royalties, as evidenced by court records in which Wright sought to recover $1,535 from the firm in August 1917. « [page 15, 17]





more Broadacre


File Log

  • Preliminary version ...

    http://wrightinmilwaukee.org/ seems to have been restructuring its content. Hence links might astray. (February 2014)
  • Outlining Broadacre City became necessary in the course of my urban diploma project 16/3 in 1999. Published online the same year in German, this 'preliminary' English translation became available in 2007.
  • All links to http://contentdm.unl.edu/ [University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries] have been updated (25.11.2008).
  • Links to http://www.mcah.columbia.edu/ [Columbia University in the City of New York] added (2.8.2009)
  • All dates according to source [!]. Wikipedia and 'The Complete Works' by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer accomplish a certain 'conventionalisation', superseding conflicting 'chronologies' supported by [prior] publications of the time.
<h3>&copy; Franz Sdoutz, December 2011</h3>

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