Maybe the purest example of Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian housing, the Rosenbaum House is on claass HAUS today.
One of Frank Lloyd Wright's earliest Usonian residences, the Rosenbaum House is arguably the most refined of the architect's affordable, middle-class housing experiments. Informal, efficient, and seamlessly integrated into the natural landscape, the Rosenbaum House offered a newly married couple a chance at the modern "American dream"- a house that could evolve and grow to meet the ever-changing needs of a young family. A striking piece of organic design, the house is purposefully detailed and practically arranged, a triumph of Wright's Usonian principles and a (mostly) successful domestic experiment.
Here are the ten things you need to know about the Rosenbaum House.
1. It's the only Frank Lloyd Wright building in Alabama. Located in Florence, the modest house sits on a corner lot overlooking the Tennessee River. At first glance the unadorned home seems rather unassuming, but each year, thousands of people from all over the world make the pilgrimage to this small Alabama town just to see the Usonian landmark.
2. Designed for Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum. Married in 1938, the Rosenbaums (Stanley was an English professor at nearby Florence State Teachers College and Mildred, a native of New York City, was a textile artist and model) initially approached friend and architecture student Aaron Green to design their first home. But with their limited budget, Green suggested that the couple contact Frank Lloyd Wright about one of his small, modestly priced starter homes. On the Rosenbaum's behalf, Green wrote to Wright who accepted the commission, providing plans for the house after working from maps of the property. (Later, Aaron Green would become Wright's apprentice and continued to work with him until his death in 1959.)
3. The Rosenbaum's initial budget was $7,500. As a wedding gift, Louis and Anna Rosenbaum (Stanley's parents) gave the young couple $7,500 along with a piece of property (directly across the street from their house) for the construction of a new home. But like many of Wright's projects, the initial budget failed to cover the architect's vision, and when the house (1,540 sq. ft.) was completed in 1940, the final cost was closer to $12,000.
4. One of Wright's first Usonian homes, it is perhaps the best example of the architect's modular philosophy. Designed in 1939, the elegantly appointed and efficiently planned, red brick and cypress residence displays the structural characteristics associated with the Usonian experiment, including a concrete floor embedded with a heating system, a centralized brick service core, sandwich paneled walls, structural brick chimneys supporting multiple flat roofs, and a modular planning grid. Utilizing simple materials, well-planned spatial dynamics, and human scale, the Rosenbaum House is a timeless, almost sculptural Usonian prototype, affirming Wright's organic principles and structural ingenuity.
5. In true Wright form, horizontality is emphasized. The long and low, one-story house complements the surrounding landscape with its massive projecting eaves, raked joints of brickwork, and chain of clerestory windows. On the interior, board and batten walls and shifting ceiling levels continue the overall horizontality.
6. Public and private spaces are clearly defined. Typical of Wright's residential work, the street facades (public) have been left unfenestrated except for a strip of small windows. On the rear elevation (private), the house embraces the landscape with glazed walls providing light and a dramatic sense of openness. The interior spaces are also organized by function with the communal areas tending to be larger and open, while the private bedrooms are confined to narrow wings.
7. Wright designed a complimentary addition in 1948. As the Rosenbaum family grew (they eventually had 4 sons), so too did the house. Wright designed an addition (1,048 sq. ft.) to the original L-shaped plan that included a dorm room, an enlarged kitchen, and a guest bedroom. The substantial addition clearly demonstrates the ability of Wright's Usonian module to evolve to meet the needs of a growing family.
8. Many of the Wright-designed built-ins and freestanding pieces of furniture were created using the rectangular (2x4) module. Following the same Usonian principles, Wright designed furniture for the Rosenbaum House using compatible materials (cypress) and proportions. But the family also had the freedom to reconfigure components and add other pieces when needed. For example, molded plywood Eames chairs purchased for the home fit easily into Wright's larger interior design.
9. Completely dedicated to Wright's vision, the Rosenbaum family lived in the house for sixty years. Mrs. Rosenbaum, in particular, remained devoted to Wright's Usonian ideals. She stayed in the house until 1999, leaving the property remarkably unaltered.
10. The property now belongs to the City of Florence. After an extensive restoration (this included dealing with some serious structural problems and issues with materials, no FLW restoration is easy, I guess), the Rosenbaum House opened to the public in 2002. Learn more about visiting the property here.
Image at top:
Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. The Rosenbaum House, Florence, Alabama, 2010. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, 2010640722.
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