What is a Hemicycle? The Curtis Meyer House by Frank Lloyd Wright

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A "Usonian" Experiment in Michigan

Mid-century Modern Curved Hemicycle Home, White with Brown Trim and Accents, in a Wooded Lot
Curtis and Lillian Meyer House in Galesburg, Michigan, Designed in 1948 by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo by Michigan State Historic Preservation Office via Flickr.com, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (cropped)

In the 1940s, a group of research scientists who worked for the Upjohn Company asked the aging architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) to design homes for a housing subdivision in Galesburg, Michigan. Upjohn, a pharmaceutical company founded in 1886 by Dr. William E. Upjohn, was about ten miles away in Kalamazoo. The scientists envisioned a cooperative community with inexpensive houses they could build themselves. No doubt they had heard of the famous American architect and his Usonian style homes.

The scientists invited the world-famous architect to plan out a community for them. Wright eventually planned two—one at the original Galesburg site and another closer to Kalamazoo for the scientists who got cold feet thinking about traveling to work through the Michigan winters.

Wright designed the Kalamzaoo-based community, called Parkwyn Village, with Usonian homes on circular plots. For the sake of governmental financing, the lots were redrawn to more traditional squares, and only four Wright homes ever got built.

The Galesburg neighborhood, today called The Acres, apparently renounced government financing and kept Wright's circular lot scheme for their larger, 71 acre country community. Like in Parkwyn Village, only four Wright-designed homes were built in Galesburg:

Sources: Parkwynn Village History by James E. Perry; The Acres/Galesburg Country Homes, Michigan Modern, Michigan State Historic Preservation Office [accessed October 30, 3026]

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What is a Hemicycle?

Mid-century Modern Curved Hemicycle Home, White with Brown Trim and Accents, in a Wooded Lot
Curtis and Lillian Meyer House in Galesburg, Michigan, Designed in 1948 by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo by Michigan State Historic Preservation Office via Flickr.com, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (cropped)

You may notice many similarities between Frank Lloyd Wright's Curtis Meyer House in Galesburg, Michigan and his earlier Jacobs II House in Wisconsin. Both are hemicycles with an arched glass front and a flat, protected back side.

A hemicyle is a half-circle. In architecture, a hemicycle is a wall, building, or architectural feature that forms the shape of a half circle. In medieval architecture, a hemicycle is a semicircular formation of columns around the choir section of a church or cathedral. The word hemicycle can also describe a horseshoe arrangement of seating in a stadium, theater, or meeting hall.

American architect Frank Lloyd Wright experimented with the hemicycle form in residences and public buildings.

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Mahogany Details in the Curtis Meyer Residence

Mid-century Modern Curved Hemicycle Home, White with Brown Trim and Accents, in a Wooded Lot
Curtis and Lillian Meyer House in Galesburg, Michigan, Designed in 1948 by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo by Michigan State Historic Preservation Office via Flickr.com, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (cropped)

The Curtis Meyer residence is one of four houses Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the Galesburg Country Home Acres Development. Known today as The Acres,  the land outside of Kalamazoo, Michigan was rural, wooded with ponds, and explored for development by the architect in 1947.

Wright was asked to design custom homes that could be built by the owners, a planned design and construction process that Wright touted as Usonian. The Wright plans were unique to the terrain, with trees and rocks incorporated into the design. The house became part of the environment in a Frank Lloyd Wright design. The construction methods and materials were Usonian.

Along the eastern side of the Curtis Meyer house, a crescent-shaped glass wall seems to follow the line of the grassy knoll. At the center of the house, a two-story tower encloses a stairway that leads from a carport and bedroom down to the lower level living area. This house, having only two bedrooms, is the only solar hemicycle design Wright made for The Acres.

The Curtis Meyer house was built with commercial grade custom made concrete blocks and and accented with Honduras mahogany inside and out. Frank Lloyd Wright designed all the details of the house, including interior furnishings.

Source: Curtis and Lillian Meyer House, Michigan Modern, Michigan State Historic Preservation Office [accessed October 30, 3026]

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Mid-Century Modern in Michigan

Mid-century Modern Curved Hemicycle Home, White with Brown Trim and Accents, in a Wooded Lot
Curtis and Lillian Meyer House in Galesburg, Michigan, Designed in 1948 by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo by Michigan State Historic Preservation Office via Flickr.com, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (cropped)

The distinctly American ("USA") style was uncomplicated and relatively economical, according to the architect. Frank Lloyd Wright said that his Unsonian houses would encourage "more simplified and...more gracious living." For Curtis and Lillian Meyer, this became true only after they got the house built.

Learn More:

  • Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America by Amy Arnold and Brian Conway, Gibbs Smith, 2016
    Buy on Amazon
  • Mid-Michigan Modern: From Frank Lloyd Wright to Googie by Susan J. Bandes, Michigan State University Press, 2016
    Buy on Amazon

Source: The Natural House by Frank Lloyd Wright, Horizon Press, 1954, New American Library, p. 69