Cohousing on the Prairie: Frank Lloyd Wright and Community Planning

Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright

Sustainable Building and Cooperative Housing

Like a number of other architects of his era, such as Daniel Burnham and the French early modernist Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright became interested in urban and community planning and gave it considerable attention throughout his career.

While it cannot be said that Wright was a direct pioneer of sustainable building and cooperative housing, several of his principles and practices in the areas of small-home construction and social planning looked ahead to these movements (I’ll talk about some connections to cohousing in this post and to sustainability in a future one).

Progressive Architecture

Wright was a progressive architect who believed architecture had a moral, social and even spiritual purpose—that the spaces people lived in shaped their values and quality of life. So it is not surprising that social planning would attract his attention. Also informing his views were the Progressive movement’s support for cooperative action and self-ownership of homes, farms and places of employment—in other words, self-sustaining and self-determining communities that practiced cooperative decision-making.

Broadacre City

Frank Lloyd Wright’s futuristic drawing of a Broadacre City community.

As early as 1900-1901 Wright had developed a ‘Quadruple Block Plan’ in which each home would be placed in an one-acre circle with commonly held and maintained landscaped parcels floating between the circles. His grander vision for community living came later, a proposal he called Broadacre City. In this plan, each family had a home on an acre of land each (hence the name “Broadacre”).

These homes would be grouped around open green space and community buildings which would be centers for the arts, recreation and relaxation, worship and education; however, the effect was more like a medieval village than a modern suburb. Each community would be self-contained and self-sufficient. While the auto made the creation of these communities in exurban locations possible, cars themselves would be pushed to the periphery of each settlement to make the community pedestrian-friendly.

In an upcoming post I’ll talk about sustainable design and Wright’s approach to the affordable single-family home, which has some Iowa connections.



– Joel Schorn is an editor and writer in Chicago who is also a volunteer tour interpreter with the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. He does not think Thursday is the new Friday.


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